Tusk to Tail: Godfather and the others all in for another Hog season

The Bret Bielema era at Arkansas has officially turned a corner. After enduring more rebuilding years than Pope County’s stretch of Interstate 40, the Razorbacks finally got off the schneid last year, whipping LSU, Ole Miss, and Texas by a combined score of 78-7. The close loss at Missouri was the Hogs’ only setback during the tail end of the season.

Bielema has pulled the football program out of the literal and figurative ditch where former coaches Bobby Petrino and John L. Smith crashed. Grades are up. Penalties, turnovers, and arrests are down. Arkansas signed a Top 25 recruiting class that should begin to pay dividends this season.

Losing redshirt sophomore stud defensive lineman Darius Philon to the NFL draft and senior leading rusher Jonathan Williams to injury was disappointing, but their replacements have filled in adequately and admirably. Bielema treats his players like family, creating a sense of camaraderie and confidence that have been lacking for years on The Hill.

Tusk to Tail is all in.

Meanwhile, change is afoot in the SEC. Only about one-third of the teams in the conference, including Arkansas, return established starting quarterbacks. Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss, and LSU are still trying to decide on a starter less than two weeks before the opener. Of course, all four are ranked higher than the Hogs.

Florida’s Jim McElwain is the only new coach in the league, but 14 new coordinators (7 offense/7 defense) were hired to make an immediate impact like Lane Kiffin had at Alabama and Robb Smith brought to Arkansas last year. Many of the new coordinators are household names to football fans. Auburn brought former Florida head coach Will Muschamp back to run the defense, while Texas A&M poached John Chavis from LSU to do the same. On the other side of the ball, Georgia hired Brian Schottenheimer from the NFL, and Bielema lured Dan Enos away from his head coaching duties (and lower salary) at Central Michigan to “speak Hoganese.”

I honestly have no idea how it will all shake out. Teams like LSU and Texas A&M could struggle to make a bowl game or play their way into the playoffs, and neither outcome would surprise me. I think Bama will be good because Bama is always good, but head coach Nick Saban seems to have the disappointed dad face in every post-practice interview I have seen this month.

Tusk to Tail will make game predictions all season long starting next week, but suffice it to say, this football season is as hard to handicap as any I can remember. Until the games start, one of the few things that is certain this year is uncertainty.

But at least one other thing is certain: If the Razorbacks are playing football, Tusk to Tail will be there. We are the next generation of Arkansas travelers, a group of fans following the Hogs to every game, every season. Craig May, our resident Godfather of Tailgating, has not missed a game in ten years, and only missed one since 1999. The rest of the gang is usually with him.

Tusk to Tail cannot be called fair weather fans. Even when the Hogs were bad, we were nationwide, flying to the swamps of Florida and the New Jersey mosh pit at Rutgers. Tusk to Tail refused to succumb to the disgruntled fan base throughout that dark era. During the 17-game conference losing streak that ended last fall, each of us remained thoroughly gruntled as we sat through every. single. game.

There has been a recent national trend of declining attendance at sporting events by those who would rather stay home and watch the games on TV. To that, Tusk to Tail says, “Hogwash!” We want to be where the action is. When you’re hungry, would you rather eat a steak or watch the Food Channel?

With great football comes a great party, and Tusk to Tail has been doing it since there were tails to gate. Our pregame ritual takes place every Saturday under tents bigger than most of Fayetteville’s apartments. We have patio heaters for when it’s cold, and a gigantic water-filled “swamp cooler” fan for when it’s hot. Two big screen TVs, fed by separate satellites, allow us to watch any game we choose, broadcasting the sound over amplified speakers. Multiple generators keep the food hot in crockpots and warming trays, and we have enough cooler space to rival a small restaurant. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.

That reminds me. We also have a bar. During the losing streak, I frequently quoted P. J. O'Rourke: “Only one way to cover a story like this, and make that a double, bartender, please.” Tusk to Tailgates were often better than the game.  But whereas we once drank to drown our sorrows, we now raise a glass to victory!

The whole shebang is meticulously planned and organized by Dale Cullins, known as the Hardest Working Man in Tailgating. Greg Houser hauls the goods in his work trailer, then assumes his position as Grillmaster. PhotoHog Mark Wagner crams a full day of tailgating into a few hours before reporting to the stadium to professionally shoot the game. By the time Jack Clark and Sean Casey arrive following their kids’ sporting events, our tent is buzzing, filled with up to a 100 revelers debating the age-old question, “Turn down for what?”

So here we are, at the cusp of another Razorback football season. Despite the Hogs finishing at the bottom of our division for the past few years, most fans are feeling optimistic. Chances are great that you or someone you love is predicting that Arkansas will win at least 8 games. Check back here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to see how it all unfolds.

Tusk to Tail strives to pull back the curtain to our big top, presenting full boar coverage of the Arkansas tailgating scene.

Now watch us whip, now watch us nae nae our way across the SEC.