Tusk to Tail: Gambling, drinking and sinning all in another year of the pigskin pursuit

The college football landscape is changing on a revolutionary scale. Players are getting paid, and payers are getting played. Student athletes have become free agents available to the highest bidder. If dissatisfied by his present surroundings, a player can be beamed to another campus via the transfer portal.

There has been a seismic shift within the athletic conferences, catapulting Southern California teams to midwestern Big Ten country, while Oklahoma and Texas align with a formerly Southeastern Conference. The aftershock is expected to cause several less fortunate conferences to collapse.

Of course the revolution will be televised. The Big Ten just signed a $7.5 Billion-with-a-B deal with three networks to air their games for seven years. Meanwhile 36 states, including Arkansas, have passed legislation allowing sports gambling not just at casinos, but from a computer or mobile device as well. Fans can bet on games while watching them live from the stadium or at home.

To bastardize a Hunter S. Thompson quote, college football has become “a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

Welcome to the 2022 edition of Tusk to Tail.

Our roving gang of Hog fans saw plenty of the negative side of college football over the past 10 seasons. Arkansas cycled through two athletic directors and four-and-a-half head coaches since Bobby Petrino’s Harley Davidson slid into a roadside ditch that ill-fated April Fool’s Day, dragging Razorback football down with it. Tusk to Tail has seen more rebuilding years than Interstate 40.

We thought losing to Louisiana-Monroe back in 2012 was rock bottom, only to discover far lower and rockier bottoms. In less than two seasons, Chad Morris lost to the likes of Texas State, Colorado State, San Jose State, and possibly Quaker State without ever beating an SEC team.

TTT coped with our post-Petrino depression by really leaning into the tailgate gatherings we hosted. Taking a page from the perennial also-rans at Ole Miss, we might not win every game, but we never lost a party. As the losses mounted, there was no denying that the tailgate had become better than the games. What was once the icing was now the cupcake.

We fiddled under our bigtop tents at the misfortunately named Victory Village while Arkansas football burned. Our officially licensed Arkansas Razorbacks portable bar saw a lot of mileage. As the wins became fewer, the cocktails got stronger. P.J. O’Rourke would say there’s only one way to cover a season like this and bartender, make that a double, please.

Things got so bad that our friend Craig once chose to stay home rather than witness another guaranteed slaughter. It was only the second time in 20 seasons, a streak spanning 240 home and away games, that the Godfather of Tailgating wasn’t in the stands. You vote with your wallet, as they say.

Hunter Yurachek’s hire of Coach Sam Pittman following the Morris debacle seems to have revived a winning culture on The Hill. The Hogs dismantled Penn State in the Outback Bowl to cap off a 9-4 record last season. There is an unfamiliar sense of hope and optimism surrounding the Razorbacks these days, as several national experts and analysts appear to be high on the Hogs.

Yurachek and Pittman have also successfully navigated the business end of college football as the game continues to evolve. Bryan and Mandy Hunt’s Athlete Advocate Consortium has enabled Razorback athletes to sign lucrative deals using their name, image, and likeness (NIL). Pittman has landed key players from Oklahoma, Alabama, and LSU through the transfer portal. And Arkansas was on the forefront of conference expansion, fleeing the Southwest Conference for the vaunted SEC in the early 1990s.

As Al Pacino said in The Godfather: Part III, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

Back when Craig was watching the game from home, he discovered how nice it could be watching multiple games at a time in a climate-controlled house stocked with refreshments and a clean restroom. I understand the appeal, but nothing beats the electric atmosphere of actually being there. Would you rather watch the cooking channel or eat a steak? Watch porn or … well, you get the idea. Goose bumps are practically guaranteed when the team runs through the A before a big game, something a televised game just cannot recreate.

Arkansas plays in the SEC, the apex of modern college football. The conference slogan is “It just means more,” which dovetails nicely with TTT’s philosophy of “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.” The days of sharing a bucket of chicken and cooler of beer on the literal tailgate of your truck before a game have gone the way of the leather helmet. With great football comes a great party.

Tusk to Tail will be at every game once again this season, typically starting our journey before sunrise and not pulling up the stakes until well after the final whistle. We will continue supporting the Hogs by hosting a bacchanalian feast before, after, and sometimes even during the game. Where we once drowned our sorrows, we now raise a glass to victory! The BYU game will be like a Bizarro mission trip where we travel to Utah to teach locals the joys of sinning.

I would apologize for our lack of professionalism, but we are truly not professionals. As you may have gathered, we are not sports writers relying on credentials, statistics, and press releases furnished by University. Tusk to Tail is a group of lifelong Hog fans who willingly buys the tickets and takes the ride, sharing our experiences with you along the way. Our observations are generally preceded by an afternoon of cocktails at our world class tailgate, which only serves to strengthen our convictions. Nobody has ever been wrong following a day of drinking. In this era of fake news allegations, Tusk to Tail is about as real as it gets.

TTT is feeling cautiously optimistic for the coming season. You’re not a true Hog fan if you don’t add another win or two to your expected win total every August. Chances are good someone you know and love is predicting as many as 10 wins for the Hogs, bless their heart.

The Razorbacks appear to have the pieces assembled to succeed, but as part of an evergreen story, the schedule makers didn’t do Arkansas any favors. Every single opponent the Hogs will face made the playoffs or postseason bowl game last year. Arkansas is the only team in the country with that distinction.

We’ve got predictions, previews, tailgating tips, and recaps of all the action coming your way starting later this week. Come join us along the way. The 2022 season looks like it’s going to be one hell of a ride.

Editor’s note: Now in its 11th 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.

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