Tusk to Tail: Heading to Athens via battlefields and distilleries
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It feels pretty good to be 4-0. It’s kind of like getting your progress report card and having all A’s when you expected to have a couple of C’s at this point in the season.
The football Hogs have been a welcome surprise for a fan base that has felt lost from at least 2016 to 2020. No matter what, the SEC is a football conference first and foremost. Sure other sports matter, but it’s only the schools that aren’t winning at football that bring up the other sports first. I honestly feel like Arkansas and the Hogs are different. The fans here truly do support three sports, all equally and passionately. No other school in the country can match the level of support Hog fans shower on football, basketball, and baseball.
The program as a whole had a great spring in what would become known around the SEC as the Year of the Hog. The athletic department under Hunter Yuracheck’s guidance would win 10 conference titles. The Hogs finished 2020 with a disappointing, but promising 3-7 SEC record in the sport that mattered most.
I think most of us figured to be 2-2 at this point with an outside chance of being 3-1. But here we are, 4-0. That was too much to hope for in my opinion. Now, today, 10-2 is not crazy talk. It’s a stretch, but nobody would want a blood test if you tried to justify it.
This week’s game is a free shot, #2 Georgia on the road in Athens. I’m not sure the Hogs are the #8 team in the country, but I’d say they have played well enough at this point to be somewhere around the Top 10. Looking at the other teams in those spots, you feel like the Hogs could take them. This Hog team has a good defense, Georgia’s offense did not perform well against the last decent D they faced in Clemson. The line at 18 seems high. I’d say the Dogs pull out a tight one but by less than a touchdown. That being said, if the Hogs win, I’d not be shocked. Coach Pittman has them believing in themselves and that matters.
Tusk to Tail had this game circled three years ago as a must go-to game, regardless of who was coaching. We all attended the game the Hogs won back in 2010, but we did not tailgate. This year we vowed to do so, never dreaming that the ESPN Power Brokers would give Georgia an 11 a.m. conference kickoff.
As a result, we have dialed back our plans for Saturday. We will have a cocktail bar serving some John Daly’s that morning to host about 30 of our crew and friends who are traveling over for the game, and not much else. It was frustrating to make that call, but it’s a lot of gear and trouble for just three to four hours and no games to watch. We can pull up ESPN Gameday on our phones and listen to what they may have to say about our game from our parking spot.
To spice it up a bit, some of us are hitting the Jack Daniels and the George Dickel Distilleries on the way over Thursday. We are then touring the Chickamauga and Lookout Mountain Battlefields before hitting Atlanta for dinner Friday night and Athens Saturday morning.
For the record, Athens is right up there at the top of SEC road trip destinations. They have a beautiful campus and six streets like Dickson to explore for dinner and drink options. The stadium is nice, but nothing too special. It’s a neat setting in a bit of a valley and it does get loud, but the fans are mostly nice as you would expect.
Traveling through Birmingham is the quickest route, but pay attention to what time you hit Birmingham and Atlanta. The traffic is bad in both spots but Atlanta is always terrible. Rush hour on a Friday is its own level of hell.
Some Athens spots I have collected over the years that are worth checking out include the following:
Dining: Last Resort Grill, Pulaski Heights BBQ, The World Famous, Cali & Tito’s, Mama’s Boys, Five & Ten, and South Kitchen & Bar.
Bars: The Expat, Bourbon Street
We hope to enjoy one of those spots after the win and then head for home on Sunday.
Go Hogs, Beat Dogs!
Editor’s note: Now in its 10th 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.