Tusk to Tail: Lost the game AND party

Following another Razorback disappointment where we learned that Def Leppard’s one-armed drummer could throw for 300 yards against the Hog secondary and the Burl’s Kids could start on our offensive line, it seemed appropriate to focus on the tailgate.

For a few weeks, Tusk to Tail had adopted the Ole Miss philosophy of “We may not win the game, but we have never lost a party.” Then the girls next door at the Hogwarts castle were awarded first prize in the “Ain’t it great to tailgate” contest, broadcast on the stadium’s giant video screen. Despite our delicious Italian cuisine and the live entertainment provided by Sara Morgan and Jason North, we found that we can, in fact, lose a party.

Since this is our last home Tusk to Tailgate for a few weeks, we thought we would pull back the curtain a bit to show the reader what goes on inside the Big Top. Below is a running diary of events surrounding this weekend’s game.

Sunday afternoon
We have licked our wounds following the Alabama loss, and begun to plan another party. One of our tailgating partners has offered to fry some catfish, but we decide to postpone that until Kentucky comes to town on Oct. 13. Being able to call the meal a WildCatfish fry trumps the assumption that the game will most likely be played at 11 a.m. Hushpuppies and vodka, breakfast of champions. Instead, we plan an Italian feast fit for the cast of Jersey Shore.

Monday, 10:11 a.m.
Dale Cullins sends the first e-mail announcing the menu to determine headcount. We expect more than 70 people to attend our Italian soiree.

Friday, 8:53 a.m.
Dale begins shopping for all of the food and supplies. Several hundred dollars later, he has enough meats, cheese, breads, and salad to feed a small villa. After dropping off everything that needs to be refrigerated, he goes to lunch with some of his Fayetteville tailgating associates. These meals begin as a meeting to plan final tailgating preparation, but typically evolve into a celebration that the game weekend has begun.

Friday, 5:15 p.m.
Earning the title “the hardest working man in football,” Dale meets Greg at our tent to begin the initial setup of the Tusk to Tailgate. Banners and lights are hung, while tables and chairs are unfolded and placed where they belong. This will save Dale and Greg the better part of an hour on Saturday, so that they can devote more time to … setting up the tailgate.

Saturday 6 a.m.
My alarm clock goes off.
6:10 a.m. My alarm clock goes off.
6:20 a.m. My wife threatens to leave me if I hit snooze again this early on a Saturday. The early wakeup is because Craig May, Jack Clark, and I are making this a day trip with our sons. Today will be Craig’s 86th consecutive Razorback game, and 166th of the past 167. For nearly every home game, that means driving back home to Little Rock, usually arriving well past midnight. He will not share driving duties, commanding the wheel under the influence of a roll of Spree candy.

7:11 a.m.
Craig and his son Lawson pick up Jackson and me. Though not going to the game, Craig’s daughter Mallory joins us to get Shipley’s donuts for kids and Starbucks coffee for adults. We would normally pick these up on the way out of town, but Jack has to meet his landscaping employees at a job before he can leave, so we are taking care of these things in the meantime.

7:33 a.m.
We meet Jack and his son Henry at Craig’s house. Wheels up! This term is generally reserved for aircraft, but at the speeds Craig drives, it fits. The road to Fayetteville is generally lined with speed traps on game day, but we leave so early that most cops are still pulling over eastbound traffic.

8:40 a.m.
Dale texts that the tailgate setup is complete. They will be enjoying their first morning cocktail before we have finished our coffee. In the meantime, soccer games have begun for Sean’s four children. Tusk to Tail’s resident ginger will spend most of the day under the unforgiving sun at the soccer fields, eventually losing the energy required for the evening kickoff.

9:57 a.m.
We pull into the drop-off lane for our tailgate spot at Victory Village. I am mildly surprised that the wheels are not smoking or the back fender of a Ford Escape is not dangling from Craig’s grill. You do not want to drive slow in front of Craig in the fast lane.

11 a.m.
Mark Wagner arrives at the tailgate. He has been visiting with friends at another tailgate since around 8 a.m., which is when he had his first, but certainly not last drink. In about four or five hours, he will leave to pick up his media credentials to photograph the game. Good thing he is a professional.

11:37 a.m.
We are having a sausage party at the grill. Grilling nearly 70 gourmet sausages on a small portable grill takes a lot of time, which means that a lot of guys will come by and stand around it. We are drawn like moths to a flame. Before all of the meat is cooked, Sara and Jason begin setting up guitars, microphones, speakers, and amps nearby. My request for Guns N’ Roses is off to a shaky start once they choose water and Gatorade over beer and vodka. I cannot be both Slash and Axl.

1:15 p.m.
It is time to get pictures of the area tailgates. If it seems like most of the pictures Mark takes contain several attractive young ladies, that is no accident. Our unscientific research shows that both women and men will click on pictures of pretty girls, but almost nobody wants to see a picture of guys at a grill or watching football on TV. We walk around the East side of Victory Village, through “the Pit” of Lot 44, and across to the area surrounding the Alumni center. The usual electric aura of the tailgates seems to be lacking today. This is probably not a good sign.

3:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, Tusk to Tail is rocking. Sara and Jason are playing, games are on both big screens, and dozens of people are enjoying lasagna, chicken parmesan, mozzarella stuffed prosciutto and a fabulous caprese salad. Once Craig begins accidentally spilling beer on Seans’ two year-old daughter, it is officially a party. Sean later pours a little sweet tea vodka on her to ensure she will one day require a 12-step program.

Saturday night:
The party continues for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. There was also a football game that night. Once it concluded, we returned to help Dale and Greg break down the gear before returning to Craig’s car for the ride back to Little Rock.

Sunday, 1:03 a.m.
I am back home. The Hogs are 1-3. Guns N’ Roses went unsung. We will begin next week’s preparations in just a few hours.

The Tusk to Tail “Show us your Tents” winners are members of the Redneck Skybox. Though the tailgate grounds were hardly buzzing, we found one at the Redneck Skybox. Amongst a bevy of courteous tailgaters was Ben Cleveland, the former Springdale tight end who caught the winning touchdown against Alabama in 2006. The winning spirit carried over to everything the Skybox did, from their warm welcome of strangers to their delicious dips.