Tusk to Tail: Bielema’s Fayetteville ‘fizzle’ and his ‘dumpster fire’
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As the sun rose Saturday morning, Dale Cullins introduced Tusk to Tail to a phenomenon known as the “Fayetteville fizzle,” occurring when the mountain elevation pushes smaller rainstorms either north of south of town to create a perfect sunny day. Not unlike the Razorbacks’ Flop in the Rock last week, the Fayetteville tailgate scene sizzled while the football fizzled, and the Hogs fell to another non-conference foe.
Jack Clark was feeling the fizzle from the get-go. Clark had carried his bike up from Little Rock to get a little taste of the vaunted Mount Sequoia trails before the tailgate. But after pedaling up to the top of the long hill, Jack popped a tire and had to walk the bike all the way back down in the predawn light.
Driven by Craig May, the rest of the Little Rockers were en route to join us. May had literally seen better days as well, losing a contact lens under his seat during an attempted mobile saline rinse. No big deal. The Godfather of Tailgating was just driving back and forth to Fayetteville in a span of 18 hours, with a whole lot of football, ribs, and whiskey in between. Who needs both eyes for that?
We were missing key contributors Greg Houser, Sam Atkins, and Clay Curtner, so all hands had been requested on deck for our tailgate load-in. Despite missing the better part of both set-ups this season, I knew I had big shoes to fill. My son Jackson, who earned Cullins’ praise last week for his tailgating acumen, was unable to join us due to soccer obligations.
Tables and chairs were decorated and arranged as our televisions snapped to life and the bar was erected, then stocked. The first drink of the morning is the favorite of Cullins, known as the hardest working man in tailgating. Like an ice cold brew after mowing the grass in the summer, this is the moment the group gets to sit back, visit, and bask in the awesome power of a fully operational tailgate tent.
Craig Jones provided a deluxe feast of Whole Hog barbecue to mark the return of the tailgating prodigal son. Jones, an Arkansas alumnus living in Houston, arrived with fans of both Arkansas and Texas Tech. The number of Red Raiders’ fans who made the long trek from Lubbock was a tad surprising, until I was reminded that nobody wants to stay in Lubbock.
Before long, the Tusk to Tailgate was blowing and going as strong as ever. An old iPhone filled with music from my office computer was replaced by Dale’s tailgating playlist once guests with actual taste began to show up. Though Widespread Panic’s new album “Street Dogs” served the perfect morning soundtrack, telling Tusk to Tail’s first lady Kara Cullins that 22 minutes remained in a Grateful Dead tune delivered the death knell.
You can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning, and the bar flowed like a mystic river of sin. Beers and bloodys, gin, and myriad flavored vodkas were the call of the day as the horde below our big top began to get turned up. Clark and Sean Casey, generally among the most sober at our parties, were both seen with full cups and unclear eyes at various points in the day. I even supplied a little Fireball, an alcoholic example of “just the tip,” picking up two small bottles on impulse near the cash register at the liquor store. The first bottle was left at the bar, first-come first-served, but I kept the second tucked in my ass pocket, granting myself first right of refusal. The ceremonial shots were fired just before game time, with bride-to-be Whitney Key being the biggest beneficiary.
The emergence of Fireball at last year’s tailgates coincided with the Hogs shutting out back-to-back ranked opponents, and it was wondered if the Devil Juice could bring back some football mojo. But alas, the Razorbacks were ripped up and worn down by the Red Raiders’ fast paced attack.
The first drive by Arkansas resulted in a punt, which is something Texas Tech never attempted throughout the entire game. The teams continued to swap touchdowns for the rest of the half, resulting from fast and efficient drives by them, and methodical, grinding marches by us. The offenses appeared so evenly matched that when Brandon Allen arm-punted a deep interception, the Red Raiders returned the favor three plays later.
Defense was another matter completely. The point of Bielema’s ground-and-pound philosophy is to wear down smaller quicker opponents with sheer brute strength. As has been discussed ad infinitum, Coach even cancelled two-a-day practice sessions, citing the physical toll and general drag of spending afternoons in the Arkansas summer heat. The team failed to get the repetitions to get in football shape, much less acclimate to replacing current NFL players Trey Flowers, Martrell Spaight, and Darius Philon, and on Saturday it showed.
Now consider this: 2015 was supposed to be Bielema’s good year. A fifth year senior returning starting quarterback, tons of returning experience and size on the offensive line, more 4-star tight ends than you could legally play at the position, and one of the best running back tandems in the country had us all feeling good about the state of the Hogs. But with the exception of some of those tight ends, many of the other pieces will need to be replaced next year. And next year’s Power 5 non-conference opponent, the role played by Rutgers and Texas Tech in recent years will soon be replaced by currently second-ranked TCU and a resurgent Michigan team. So tack on a few more dreaded rebuilding seasons before this whole mess plays out.
To be honest, I’m looking forward to some new blood. Brandon Allen has paid his dues, and his commitment to Arkansas Razorback football can never be questioned. But he’s had a chance to prove he’s a winner these past two weeks, and well, look at the result. As May’s brother Chris texted, “Brandon Allen’s short arm throw on 3rd down in the red zone was the most Brandon Allen play of all time.” That possession was chock full of fail, including Hunter Henry’s offensive pass interference call wiping out a touchdown, and ending in a field goal attempt that, so help me God, appeared to doink off the deep snapper’s head.
As you can imagine, Tusk to Tail is fairly upset by the Hog’s unexpected slide. I’m personally upset less by the slide than the fact that it was unexpected. I’ve been watching us suck since Bobby Petrino laid his employee/girlfriend and custom Harley Davidson down in a ditch. I should have seen it coming.
Losing, in and of itself, is not the worst outcome of a game. Losing without dignity is. Last week Bielema sniped about the schedule of defending champion Ohio State, then went and blew it against Toledo. This week we learned that the well-compensated oaf went before the Texas high school coaches convention to denounce the rising popularity of the hurry up-no huddle offense.
Texas Tech Red Raider’s coach and alliteration lover Kliff Kingsbury is the son of a Texas high school football coach. According to Kingsbury, Bielema said, “If you don’t play with a fullback, we’ll kick your ass. If you throw it 70 times a game, we’ll kick your ass.
Kingsbury continued, “He just got his ass kicked twice in a row and probably will by A&M as well.”
Sadly Sean’s reply was equally accurate. Kicking Bielema’s ass has not been a very high standard at Arkansas.”
While voicing my displeasure in our coach and red zone offense Saturday night, an agitated fan a couple rows down wheeled around and told me he would like to buy my season tickets, so he wouldn’t have to suffer next to me in the future. I’m not going anywhere, but he couldn’t afford to buy me out anyway.
I could show him my season ticket invoices for those same exact seats going back to my grandfather buying them 75 years ago when the place was built. Or perhaps he would be interested in Tusk to Tail’s collective ticket stub scrapbook. We call May the Godfather because he has only missed one of the 203 games since 1999, with most of the gang and our families right beside him for most of them. So excuse me if I feel invested in the program. If you pay a big enough portion of one’s salary, it should be personally acceptable to call him a stupid goddamn fat ass son of a bitch, particularly when it seems most of the facts could be verified.
I now turn it over to the Godfather, who says things a tad more eloquently. “I couldn't be more frustrated with this football season. All the goodwill built up from the end of last season is gone and the fans are left with nothing but a dumpster fire to deal with. I understand this team is being devastated by injuries, but this season was lost in August when the staff didn't take advantage of two-a-days. Our offense lacks toughness and our defense lacks a pulse.”
May continues, “Coach Bielema spent the off-season telling everyone we were ready to be competitive in the SEC and complaining about the toughness of Ohio States schedule. The awful start to the season has damaged our coaches reputation, embarrassed the fan base, and will no doubt affect recruiting going forward. There is only one person to blame for this debacle.”