Tusk to Tail: Celebrating ‘Hogsgiving’ with a group of tailgaters who epitomize ‘Never Yield’
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story by David Rice
Editor’s note: Welcome to the fourth season of Tusk to Tail – 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. Members of the Tusk to Tail Team are Sean Casey, Jack Clark, Dale Cullins, Greg Houser, Craig May, David Rice and Mark Wagner. Tusk to Tail is managed by The City Wire. Legal representation is iffy at best and professional psychological help is typically ignored, if not mocked.
The diehards may also be followed on their Facebook page. Or follow the crew on Twitter — @TuskToTail
Once a reason to give thanks, family gatherings devolve into a festival of American overindulgence. Too much food. Too much to drink. Traveling pilgrims and gracious hosts awash in frenetic preparation. Awakening from a self-induced coma to watch full day football marathons with people you might otherwise go another year without visiting.
Thanksgiving is a lot like a Tusk to Tailgate. And for the 12th weekend of the last 13, our cup runneth over again.
The conditions for the Missouri game Friday were less than optimal. You have to really love the Razorbacks or really hate your family to choose to spend the day out in the cold, pouring rain.
A frequent Thanksgiving blessing is for a roof over one’s head, and Tusk to Tail is no exception. Our 600-foot Big Top tent was buttoned up tight, warmed by three glowing patio heaters. Unfortunately, the ground below our feet was saturated by the never-ending deluge, leaving our makeshift floor as soupy as the crock pots full of chili and cheese dip. At the lowest points, the mud ran over my boot laces, despite a half dozen bales of straw spread throughout.
“This place looks like a drunken nativity scene,” I said while looking for a dry patch of straw by the bar.
In addition to my son Jackson, Sam Atkinson and Chris May rode with me from Little Rock. Chris flew in from Philadelphia earlier that week. His young son Owen had planned to join us for the game until catching a glimpse of the forecast. Sam had knee surgery just two weeks ago, but justifiably believed a stocked bar in the shadow of Reynolds Razorback Stadium makes as fine a recovery room as any.
The rest of the crew had been there since the soggy 7 a.m. setup. If Dale Cullins is the “hardest working man in tailgating,” then Greg Houser must be second. When Greg isn’t hauling his ever-expanding family on vacation, he is likely humping our gear to Victory Village in his 8-foot trailer. The Houser clan returned from a week of Disney just in time for the holiday.
Craig May also had his share of family on board. Craig earned his Godfather of Tailgating title by missing only one away game since 1999, a streak now spanning 131 games. His son Lawson is typically in tow, but this week they kicked it up a notch. Craig’s wife Georgia and daughter Mallory were joined by Georgia’s parents, her brother Walt, and all of Walt’s family for Hogsgiving, virtually the only way to get the family together for game week.
When considering the weekend’s MVP, look no further than Craig’s sister-in-law Lisa Gall. Lisa flew to Arkansas for Thanksgiving with Walt’s family, celebrated their son Carson’s third birthday, and navigated a raucous muddy tailgate while 7-1/2 months pregnant. Had it not been for the miserable conditions, she planned to stay for the game as well. When she learned that my wife Rebecca would not be joining us, it became evident that she was never told skipping the party was an option.
That level of tenacity runs rampant within Tusk to Tail. This season I saw Jack Clark require two trips to the doctor, a shot of steroids, and a cycle of antibiotics – just so he could keep doing what got him under the weather in the first place. Craig passed a kidney stone two days before a road game, and yet his streak remains intact. Billye Veteto postponed her own knee surgery for several weeks just so she didn’t have to miss a game.
We have raised our children to be Arkansas strong. Sean Casey’s son Jake wore a bandage on his chin from a sports injury, but knew better than to complain. Jackson and Lawson have sprung out of bed before dawn to spend a day in miserable conditions like Friday at least half a dozen times this season, and if I told them there was another game in the morning, they would gleefully go set their alarm clocks.
Our group of tailgaters has been doing what we do for years. As the fight song says, we never yield. That means slogging through more than our share of three- and four- win seasons. That means sitting through a lot of cold, rainy games like the one against Missouri.
On a day like Friday, you take a look around. Perhaps more than any other trait, Tusk to Tail seems to honor loyalty above all else. These are the people you want in your foxhole when the going gets rough. Bret Bielema says he wants uncommon men to be Razorbacks. Well, brother, stop by our tent on game day. We serve uncommon by the bottle.
Of course you don’t have to drive 5,000 miles a year just to be loyal to a friend. Our loyalty extends to that group of young men clad in cardinal and white that we will likely never meet.
Despite the frigid conditions, Jackson and I entered the stadium 30 minutes earlier than usual. Friday was Senior Day, and we felt we owed it to Brandon Allen and the rest of his class to make some noise. In the spirit of giving thanks, B.A. deserves a lot of it. He and his pickup truck have gone through a literal trial by fire, only for him to emerge as one of the best quarterbacks in the land. Not two months ago, it seemed most Hog fans were questioning if Allen should be the starter. Following our bowl game, B.A. stands to leave as the best passer in Razorback history.
It would make a nice story if Allen’s final game on The Hill was as spectacular as the previous week’s 7-touchdown effort against Mississippi State. Alas, not many quarterbacks can pad his stats throwing a cold, wet football in the rain. B.A. seemed perfectly content to earn the win by handing off to two running backs who were likely also playing their Fayetteville finale. Junior Alex Collins churned out 130 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries. After rushing for 3,518 career yards, there is little more he can prove in a Razorback uniform.
Kody Walker celebrated what seemed like his ninth straight Senior Day, running for 77 yards and another score. It was more than enough to dispatch the hapless Tigers, whose offense may still be on strike as they threatened a few weeks ago.
Despite the wet chill lingering in the air, the tailgate teardown was as spirited as ever. Once Houser’s trailer was loaded, we all stepped back inside the Big Top for the final drink of the year. This is the last time some of us will see each other until the season kicks off next September.
We joked and laughed and carried on far more than one might expect following a middling 7-5 season. In this time of giving thanks, it was evident. Our cups truly runneth over.