Tusk to Tail: And then a football game broke out near our golf course party
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These are just some of the words used to describe the first ever matchup between the Arkansas Razorbacks (5-3, 1-3 SEC) and Arkansas Pine Bluff Golden Lions (1-6, 0-4 SWAC) Saturday at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium. It was the first time the Hogs played an in-state opponent since 1944, before the war was even over, much less memorialized.
The postgame reviews weren’t so kind. Back at the tailgate, nobody thought the Razorbacks got any better spanking their little brother 45-3. Once the Arkansas starters raced out to a 45-0 first half lead, their backups failed to score in the second half, which seemed to have been shortened by a running clock. At times, the action on the field more closely resembled some of the high school games played other weekends at the rustic stadium. Though UAPB’s offensive linemen appeared to each weigh in at over 300 pounds, they clearly lacked the athleticism of their SEC counterparts.
The first two Arkansas touchdown plays, a 16-yard KJ Jefferson pass over the top to tight end Blake Kern followed by a 49-yard jet sweep by receiver Treylon Burks, have had just moderate success for the Hogs in the past. Burks continued to boost his draft stock, adding 18- and 39-yard touchdown catches to his long rushing score. The scoring just looked a little too easy against FCS competition.
Arkansas punt returner Nate Parodi was somewhat of a scapegoat in last week’s loss to Auburn. Parodi responded by returning a UAPB punt 80 yards for a touchdown, the Razorbacks’ first punt return score since Joe Adams’ 51-yarder in the 2012 Cotton Bowl. The fact that Parodi’s name will forever follow the great Joe Adams in the record books says just about all you need to know about this matchup.
Watching from home, our friend Michael called the second half scoring drought “a yawner, possibly the most boring Hog game ever.” There was clearly good reason the game was played at 11 a.m. besides that becoming the Hogs’ official television time slot. Without a vested interest in one or both of these programs, there probably wasn’t a whole lot to see.
But the TV eye can’t capture the spirit of community between the two schools, such as honoring a group of Arkansas graduates from Pine Bluff, as well as notable Pine Bluff alumni who have made an impact on the state of Arkansas. Television viewers couldn’t experience the performance by UAPB’s M4 Band, the Marching Musical Machine of the Midsouth, who probably drew the loudest cheers and applause the entire afternoon. And those stuck at home definitely missed out on all the pageantry of the greatest tailgate atmosphere anywhere in the SEC.
“It was a game of firsts for a lot of reasons,” our friend Kerri told me. “But it was the first time I saw people leave the tailgate to go watch the band, then come back to the tailgate when halftime was over.”
THE TAILGATE TENT CITY
By the time I arrived on the old War Memorial golf course around 7 a.m., an entire tent city had sprung up. A diverse palette of tailgaters continued to load in smokers and grills, folding chairs and tables, ice chests, flat screen TVs, and gas powered generators. About every other tent had a booming sound system. Any available street parking throughout the surrounding Hillcrest neighborhood was quickly filled by visitors.
Once set up, the Tusk to Tailgate was approached by our neighbor. The recent UA grad had brought two SUVs full of mums and other fashionable fall tailgating accessories, but didn’t know how to raise a tent. She was looking for pointers, or more specifically asked if we could just put it up for her. TTT is always willing to lend a helping hand, and before long, her group had laid out a spread worthy of Southern Living magazine.
As I poured the first of Cami’s famous Bloody Marys, a gentleman who had been standing nearby stepped up to our officially licensed Arkansas Razorbacks bar. He asked if I would pour a shot in his empty cup. Calling him homeless wouldn’t technically be accurate, because I got the feeling the former golf course was his home. I was the visitor, as far as he was concerned. I have no idea how many other tailgates he visited, but I saw him drinking from the same cup as I was leaving more than eight hours later. He never seemed to bother anybody.
From mimosas to beer pong, alcohol always plays a leading role at a War Memorial tailgate. I watched a man take a Jello shot with his grandson, and was told of a guy who drank so much before the game Saturday, he got sick at the stadium. They got him back to his father in law’s truck, where he promptly got sick again. Nobody seemed particularly phased by the story. About the most compassion I heard was, “That golf course will get you,” as we nodded silently.
DANCERS AND POLITICIANS
As the golf course started to buzz, a group of approximately five young ladies and three enormous men stopped by, asking if they could borrow an ink pen. The girls were dancers from the brilliantly named Peppermint Hippo, and needed the pens to fill out some calling cards. Each of them scribbled their names and working hours on a stack of cards before leaving to pass them out to prospective customers. If anyone happens to see Iris sometime between Thursday and Saturday nights, please send our regards.
The hustle certainly doesn’t end with the Hippo’s dancers. Electioneering is another staple of the WMS fall tailgating scene. Everywhere I looked were candidates’ yard signs, stickers, and at least one banner pulled by an airplane asking for our votes. Someone under our tent asked what the banner said. “Fire Houston Nutt,” replied Dave.
I’m not knocking the politicos. In fact, a prosecuting attorney candidate and a judge running for Court of Appeals both secured my vote after dropping by our tailgate Saturday. Stickers for a particular gubernatorial candidate did not fare as well, quickly getting wadded up and thrown away by Craig. When Dave informed him that candidate would, in all likelihood, be our next governor, the Godfather of Tailgating begrudgingly agreed.
“That doesn’t mean I support her now. You’ve got to draw a line somewhere,” Craig said, mixing a Red Bull with vodka.
PACKED, LOADED, AND LOADED
Like the Razorbacks, the Drive-By Truckers play a single date in Little Rock this fall. Following a full day at the aging War Memorial, it would be tempting to reference The Truckers’ greatest hits compilation, titled “Ugly Buildings, Whores, and Politicians.” But that would be a dirty half-truth, even by Little Rock standards.
If you were there, you know. The simultaneous diversity and sense of community could be felt throughout the sprawling grounds on this sunny Autumn Saturday. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves as far as the eye could see. Kerri described her walk across the golf course as a mashup of This is Your Life and Razorback tailgating, running into people from college, former jobs, and other mom friends along the way.
I saw Pine Bluff’s drum major at a tailgate after the game. I know he was a major because he was still holding his giant major’s staff, definitively proving “there ain’t no party like a M4 party because a M4 party don’t stop.” The other tailgates showed no signs of letting up long after our mobile party was packed, loaded, and ready for takeoff two hours after the game.
Tusk to Tail leaving a tailgate early? Now that is historic.
Editor’s note: Now in its 10th year, Tusk to Tail is the sport of tailgating as organized, performed and perfected by a group of Hog fans who have been tailgating together sober and otherwise for more than a decade. The primary focus of Tusk to Tail will be to follow the Hogs through the fans’ perspective with their insightful, irreverent, smart-alecky and sometimes practical style. The diehards may also be followed on their Facebook page. Or follow the crew on Twitter and Instagram, all @TuskToTail.