Tusk to Tail: ‘Gating before the disaster

With David Rice missing and Dale Cullins last seen incoherently weeping amidst the rubbish on a War Memorial golf course green, I reluctantly agreed to share some thoughts and impressions on my first Razorback football game and tailgate in The Rock. 

The Johnson family and Mr. Jason Parker graciously hosted the tailgate in addition to Tusk to Tail’s Godfather of Tailgating, Craig May. They had a great spread of hand-pulled pork, beef brisket, baked beans, various side dishes, appetizers and beverages to satisfy the most discriminating tastes. (No Jackson, the punch is not kid-friendly.)

With a setup inviting and comfortable, they maintained the perfect balance of staging areas for fans to watch other football games, eat, mingle and find refreshment. Well done.

I’ve visited various other SEC venues, including a couple of bowl games, and tailgating is a carnivore delight married to our most popular gladiatorial sport, football. The lone exception being The Grove, where Ole Miss fans brag about their “Party” in an effort to overlook their football program, a tactic duly noted by some Razorback fans.

After greeting and trading insults with the other Tusk to Tail members, and with Greg as my guide, I explored tailgating in Little Rock.

Tailgates consume a golf course adjacent to War Memorial Stadium. It was a condensed press of tents and humanity: Throngs of people representing cultural and ethnic diversity, which was a pleasant surprise. We witnessed quite a few outstanding tailgates including an ambulance converted into a one-stop tailgate.

Greg Houser and I saw various metal fabricated smokers, grills, and tables with suspended televisions. One even incorporated a Big Green Egg brand smoker. We stumbled into the middle of what appeared to be a college party complete with summer dresses, sarcasm, and awkward posturing unique to the college crowd. It was a nice reminder that but for certain economic realities, I might never have left college.

Little Rock breaks tradition with other locations, because the tailgate seems more important than the game. They like a party.

At 5:48 p.m., I made my way to War Memorial stadium. War Memorial, that tired relic, is a throwback to yesteryear capturing a spirit earned through years of football games, great victories, and some other less spectacular moments. War Memorial captures a grittiness more akin to Omaha’s Rosenblatt than to Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The stadium seating is such that fans embrace the field, close to player, coach, and official alike, creating an intimacy not seen at other monuments to football found throughout the SEC — Mississippi excluded. During Tevin Mitchell’s horrific injury, a fan yelled at ULM’s No. 80 to take a knee and No. 80 took a knee.

We had the privilege of sitting with Butch, Buster, Norman and their kind and patient wives. Often more entertaining than the game itself, these gentlemen provided a spirited and rowdy commentary on the game, the program, and how Athletic Director Jeff Long can fix this situation. I had a great time with these guys despite the dumpster fire on the field.

It was a quiet, surreal walk back to the tailgate.

The hosts were finishing the cleanup of the tailgate. There was a lot of grumbling, swearing and disbelief. I overheard various and sundry comments.
“Rawl Tahd.”
“Guess I better cancel my reservations in South Beach.”
“Fire John L.”
“Fire Jeff Long.”
“Fire Frank.”
And my favorite: “Hey Jeff, I answered The Call.”

This was my first game in Little Rock. It was disturbingly reminiscent of the first Razorback football game I ever attended on Sept. 5, 1992, versus The Citadel in Fayetteville. That’s right. My first game at both home fields of the Razorbacks resulted in the two worst losses in program history.

Regardless, I had a great time. The fans were great, and the tailgate was great. I can’t wait to come back to The Rock. (Thoughts and prayers for Tevin, Kody, Tyler, et al.)