Tusk to Tail: No love in Athens, bad omens, and no barbecue for you!
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Before last weekend on The Hill, Tusk to Tale was tired of winning. We said, “Please, please, Hunter Yurachek. It’s too much winning. We can’t take it anymore!” Obviously, that never happened.
But Arkansas baseball opened the season 7-0 for the first time since 2016, and Eric Musselman’s Hoops Hogs were back from the dead following an 86-69 revenge win over Tennessee. The basketball team was facing a stiff road test at Georgia while the Diamond Hogs headed to Houston to take on Oklahoma, Texas, and Baylor.
TTT had small groups traveling to both events. Jeff Laman headed up operations in Athens and Dale Cullins led the brigade Southwest. These are their stories.
Dale Cullins: We should have seen it as an omen. But as faithful Arkansas fans pulling out on a long trip, we decided to be hopeful that the promise of warm weather and baseball would overcome any obstacles thrown our way.
First, Clay Gordin announced he had forgotten his jacket with some worry in his voice as we were loading up at 4:45 Friday morning. We dismissed that and said we would call ahead to Brad Davis in McKinney, Texas, and have him grab an extra. Then as we blew through the tunnel on a dark and cool I-49 South at 5:15 a.m., Greg Houser used a few colorful metaphors to inform us he had left the cash he had wanted to bring laying on his kitchen counter. I quickly chimed in that I would pull some out of the ATM in Houston and he could pay me back upon our return.
However, when we pulled into the Van Buren McDonald’s at 5:30 a.m. and my wallet was nowhere to be found, we should have turned around. I quickly realized I had left the wallet in my jacket pocket the day before, but thought I had left it in my car door while loading up for the trip. Yet again, we had an answer. The guys would cover me, and we’d get my wallet overnighted to me at the hotel in Houston. It would all work out and be a great weekend.
And for the most part it was.
We grabbed Brad on time in McKinney and pulled into the hotel in Houston at 2:15. That gave us 45 minutes to walk to the game just five short blocks away. There was a lot of LSU purple and Texas burnt orange on the streets, but very little OU crimson. Hog fans far outnumbered the Sooner fans, but little did it matter. The Sooners beat the Hogs 6-3.
On Saturday, we found a nice breakfast spot, did a little bourbon hunting at some of the more well-known liquor stores in town, and then headed out to the World Championship BBQ Contest at NRG Stadium. It was an impressive set-up. I’m guessing some great brisket was to be had, but none for us. You had to know someone or be invited into one of the cooking tents to try anything. We felt like we understood how frustrating it must be for some folks walking down Maple Street on football game days looking into our tent, seeing all of the fun but not being invited in. It was disappointing, but we understood. We cut our losses and headed to St. Arnold’s Brewing Company for lunch and beers. They’ve got a great location, and I recommend a stop if you are in Houston with some time to kill in nice weather.
We stopped by the hotel to grab my wallet which had arrived, and then headed to a sports bar across the street. We met up with Greg’s parents and some of our close traveling friends from the HogFather’s tailgating crew to watch the basketball team take on Georgia in Athens. As we all now know, things did not go so well for the Muss Bus. Jeff Laman offers his take from that game below.
Saturday night’s baseball game against the Short Horns did not go much better. Texas jumped out to what we thought was an insurmountable 8-0 lead. We had to listen to it from their fans for three innings before the Hogs began to chip away at that lead. Inning by inning, the lead would shrink and the Longhorn fans would get quieter and quieter. That also could have been because the Astros left the roof open, and it was getting cold and pushing 11 p.m. It was a long five block walk back to the hotel as the Hogs came up short once again.
The Razorbacks would lose again the following day, though we did not stick around to watch the Baylor game. We departed at 8:30 Sunday morning for the drive home.
Jeff Laman: The Razorbacks’ visit to Athens provided a rare chance for a few ex-pats dwelling in Georgia (Arkansas will always be home) to see them play. On Saturday afternoon Chris Burnley and I met up to carpool to Athens. Traffic in the Atlanta metro area is as brutal as you’ve heard. As we rolled up I-85, we worked through that.
Our first stop was Fresh Air Barbeque in Bogart, just outside of Athens. The chopped pork was moist and tender and incredible. My sides (beans and fries) were solid, but I regretted not leaving room for a third helping of pork. When the Razorbacks visit Athens for football in a couple of years, this will likely be on a menu list for the tailgate.
We made our way to campus and to Stegman Coliseum. It had been more than a few years since I’d been inside the “Stegosaurus” as it has been called for decades. It also hosts the gymnastics team, as well as women’s basketball. At some point over the last ten years, Stegman was renovated and remodeled to some extent with a nice. well-lit concourse. A beautiful scoreboard with four large HD screens was installed. They also moved the court closer to seats on one end, but the result is a large gap between the seats and the court on the other end. It is far from ideal.
The Bulldogs shot lights out and the Hogs obviously got off to a slow start to put the team in an 18-point hole. UGA also had quite a size advantage with almost every player. Arkansas kept scrapping, and closed the gap to 8 before halftime.
There were a number of other Razorback fans scattered throughout the arena, but the official Pantone 201 Razorback Red didn’t stand out enough from the red worn by the home team to really know how many. At halftime we met up with some other TTT friends. Scott and Dory Thornton, who moved to Dallas after spending a number of years in Atlanta, were back visiting Seth and Sara Ford, who have been in Atlanta for years.
The comeback effort at the end of the half had us optimistic about the outcome of the game at that point. We felt Coach Musselman would make some additional adjustments and we’d get a win. However, despite those adjustments and good play from a number of Hogs, they never could tie it or take a lead. We talked afterward about the Hogs postseason fate. Some felt like the NIT is the destination, no questions asked. Others thought that winning out in the regular season and winning a couple of games in Nashville would be enough for Arkansas to receive a bid.
Dale Cullins: We had a great time but it sure would have been sweeter to have come home with three wins instead of three losses. Make it four if you want to count basketball. On the bright side, the track teams, women’s basketball, and the softball team had a great weekend. Maybe we should start following women’s sports.
Go Hogs, Beat Somebody!
Editor’s note: Now in its eighth 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. Tusk to Tail sponsors are the Arkansas Lottery Scholarship program and Turn Key Construction Management. The diehards may also be followed on their Facebook page. Or follow the crew on Twitter and Instagram, all @TuskToTail.