Tusk to Tail: Disappointment, liquor and barbecue in Alabama
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New season. New coach. Exact same result.
The Razorbacks and Tusk to Tail head home from Tuscaloosa fresh off an Alabama ass-whipping where the score was identical to last year's 52-0 thrashing of the Hogs in Fayetteville. If the Crimson Tide's mascot is an elephant, Arkansas has become the zookeeper. We're going to need a bigger shovel.
The Razorbacks are on a five-game skid, losing the past three by a combined score of 134 to 14. We have been outscored 104 to 0 since scoring a touchdown on our first drive against South Carolina last week.
Tusk to Tail has traveled more than 7,000 miles this season to witness the weekly public execution, fiddling at our tailgate parties while Bielema's team burned. We expected a rough year while the coach began to rebuild in the aftermath of last year's Season From L, but it has been difficult to remain optimistic about our immediate future.
There is no shame in losing to Bama on the road, but we had hoped to see more signs of improvement by this point. Arkansas was the only underdog in the SEC that was unable to pull off an upset Saturday. It didn't help matters that two of the surprise victories were orchestrated by first-year coaches at Auburn and Tennessee.
Following the game, Bielema sounded perplexed, threatening to replace ineffective players with young committed to winning. We hope it provides the necessary spark.
Attempting to glean any positive outcomes from the game, we determined that even though quarterback Brandon Allen continues to throw interceptions, at least they are no longer returned for touchdowns. So if nothing else, our offense appears to be tackling better.
While the Hogs may not win many games this year, Tusk to Tail strives to never lose a party. This weekend was no exception. Sunday's breakfast at McDonald's was the first time since we pulled out of Little Rock Friday morning that I had consumed anything other than barbecue and liquor.
THE TUSCALOOSA TREK
The Friday departure began as Greg Houser picked up Scott Audrain, Sean Casey, and Dale Cullins in Fayetteville around 8 a.m., driving to Craig May's Little Rock home to meet May, Sam Atkinson, Mark Wagner, and yours truly. Clay Curtner drove from Newport to join our caravan in Brinkley. That evening, Tusk to Tail's one man wolfpack Jack Clark traveled to Tupelo, joining us Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
Our first stop was in Memphis, home of Elvis and the ancient shrine to barbecue known as the Rendezvous. Rendezvous has been cranking out their famous ribs since the days of leather football helmets, and Tusk to Tail orders full racks almost every time we pass through the bluff city.
We had barely taken our seats before our table was covered with pitchers of beer and plates of sausage, cheese, and pickles topped with their delicious dry barbecue rub. Before long we each dove face first into a full rack of meat candy, feasting long past the point of being full.
Our Tuscaloosa trek continued until shortly after sundown, a beautiful full autumn moon illuminating our path through Mississippi and northern Alabama. Our soundtrack alternated between long Widespread Panic and Phish jams to classic rock and folk songs punctuated by Wagner's stories from the days those songs ruled the airwaves. After learning that Jim Croce came to his dorm following a Fayetteville concert while Wagner was a U of A student, we were disappointed to learn that he never hung out with any other singers or bands.
We checked into the inappropriately named Econolodge for the game weekend rate of $220 per night before going out on the town. Audrain's son had recommended a rooftop called the Bear Trap, where we spent the next several hours drinking and watching the St. Louis Cardinals storm their way into the World Series while the Louisville Cardinals bumbled their way out of a spot in college football's BCS Championship race.
About half of our gang chose to go eat pizza and burritos nearby while the rest of us stayed to listen to an acoustic guitar duo setting up in the corner. They did not sing any Croce songs, but they did pack in a crowd. When the others tried to return to the Bear Trap's roof, they were told they would now have to pay a cover charge, which helped convince them it was time to go home. The rest of us had a few more rounds before calling it a night sometime after 1 a.m.
We awoke on Saturday to an unexpected rainstorm, which was perfect because if we're going to watch our team get slaughtered, we may as well have bad weather too. Luckily the rain stopped early, and we were completely dry as we set up our two tents in the grass lot by Alabama's intramural fields.
THE TUSCALOOSA TAILGATE
This was the first time in a year that we had set up our own pop-up canopies, and it was soon discovered that we had brought a 10-square foot roof for a 9-square foot frame. The eyesore wasn't up to our usual high standards, but combined with another tent, it provided ample shade for another rollicking Tusk to Tailgate.
Dale's famous cheese dip was melting, cocktails were poured, and our big screen television was broadcasting SEC football in high definition well before noon. Jeff and Hope Laman arrived with four racks of ribs and three pounds of chopped pork from Archibald's, a historic Tuscaloosa barbecue shack that rivaled the Rendezvous fare.
Last week we hosted guests from Alaska in Fayetteville. This week's farthest travelers were former Arkansas native Michael Stout and his friend Brian Grzymski from Portland, Maine. Tusk to Tail is taking over the Great White North.
Guests from Little Rock and Fayetteville continued to drop by as our tailgate became quite spirited. About an hour before kickoff, we each poured one for the road before walking to the stadium. It was our last moments of happiness before the shellacking began. Once Alabama scored their fourth touchdown in the first half, we knew it was time to go back to the tent to watch better games.
This weekend will be the season's first bye week and both the team and our merry band of misfits need the time off to lick our wounds. Tusk to Tail has discussed May's consecutive games streak in this space many times, but even the Godfather seems weary. Eight consecutive weeks of this lifestyle takes its toll. We are hopeful that better days are ahead, but in the meantime our entire group is grateful for a week of rest.