The away-from-home Tusk to Tail attendees.

Tusk to Tail: Of plunging … necklines and hopes

The week got off to a rocky start. It was clear from the get-go that we would be missing our friend Dale. Dale has been called Tusk to Tail’s General Patton, and if you have met him, you know there is no higher compliment.

He was skipping this game to watch his daughter cheer at Owasso, Okla., Friday. In his absence, what should have been a short group text to plan Saturday’s Ole Miss trip mushroomed into three different threads as we struggled to add someone without iMessage.

“We can’t even start a group text without Dale,” quipped Sam.

By the time we’d loaded two trucks worth of tailgating gear at 7:30 Saturday morning, Dale was sitting at home, feeling some remorse for skipping a road trip with his buds He said it felt like sending the kids off to college. We were wheels up shortly after 8 a.m., rather late by TTT standards. It was too hot to hurry. The high in Oxford Saturday was 96 degrees. The humidity and stifling lack of air movement in the overflowing Grove created a “feels like” temperature of Satan’s balls. Our tailgate was set up in the shade next to the “Tad Pad,” the former basketball arena for the Rebels. Getting a few hundred yards from the crowd allowed a breeze to flow through our tent.

When his brother asked if he had seen a game in the old gym Craig confirmed he had, and a Widespread Panic concert as well. The Godfather of Tailgating has experienced harmonic convergence across the SEC. Though we missed both shows, it was also noted that Jason Isbell had played shows in Northwest Arkansas and Memphis the previous two Friday nights, truly following the Hogs. I’ve been a huge Isbell fan since his days in the Drive-By Truckers, and his best songs are poignantly dark and full of despair. What better soundtrack for the 2019 Arkansas Razorbacks?

Sam had us whipped into shape long before we were watching Army fall short to the evil republic of Michigan. He served smoked duck breast and a crockpot of cheese dip with substantially more kick than the family friendly version we make on The Hill. Sam had things running so smoothly I heard someone call him Dale Jr., which is hilarious for multiple reasons. I countered that Sam was nobody’s junior, but rather the Yoda to Dale’s Luke Skywalker. That may have been after the White Claws got ahold of me.

Last week I was all about the Bon and Viv pinky drinks and I will happily swim with the mermaids again, if someone brings them to our tailgate. But the Claws are selling faster than hotcakes. Seriously, who do you know that regularly buys hotcakes? I assure you someone you love is buying Claws. Sam raised his nose at spiked seltzers, calling them a passing fad. He may be right. Racing against white women to find an elusive 12-count variety pack looks an awful lot like the Beanie Baby craze of the late 90s.

“It’s basically LaCroix meets crack,” Craig’s brother said of White Claw. I’d buy that.

Just like last week, I cycled through each flavor in the variety pack, but that was enough. I couldn’t imagine drinking a whole bunch of LaCroix in one sitting either. Though I grow tired of seltzers somewhat early, nothing from our cooler of Lost Forty beer has ever let me down. Both the Hunter Oktoberfest and the Second Rodeo really hit the spot after spending time in the sweltering Grove and stadium. We were grateful to have Arkansas beer for our Arkansas tailgate.

The Grove is tailgating mecca. If I could have found an uninhabited patch of grass, I might have wallered around in it. They take a small secluded oak grove, cover every square inch with tailgating canopies, coolers, and coeds, and essentially host a weekly contest to see who can overdo hosting a cocktail party while accentuating a plunging neckline.

Playboy magazine once featured “Girls of the SEC” but if they just ran 12 issues of “Girls of Ole Miss,” the print edition may still be thriving. Maybe it’s the longer growing season down there, but a walk through the grove surreally feels like mingling with pageant folk. Sure they have some unattractive fans too, but they’re not allowed to tailgate adjacent to the main thoroughfares.

We had been invited by OneSouthernMan blog to visit the kind folks at the amazing Zebra Tent.
Never before have I been so humbled by a tailgating operation. They openly invite 5-700 guests each week to eat and drink with them before the game.

Lantz Foster of Canton, Miss., began the Zebra Tent with his wife Jane soon after they married. Jane goes all out to extend world class hospitality to anyone who drops by. Lantz seems like he could have written NY Times bestseller “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” a decade or more ago. Come one, come all. The more, the merrier. Lantz will go into the game 30 minutes before kickoff like usual, but please stay and have another sandwich or a drink. If it’s a morning kickoff, help yourself to the mimosa fountain. Hotty Toddy.

While the Grove was rolling deep with fans in their cups Saturday, significantly fewer stumbled to the stadium. Wide swaths of empty seats remained unused everywhere from the student section to the donor’s domain between the 40 yard lines. Ole Miss was limping into this one following a 15-10 loss at Memphis. Arkansas, 2-10 last year, meekly held off FCS opponent Portland State. The game got primetime Saturday night billing on the SEC Network, likely because it was the only intraconference matchup in week 2. Or maybe the network thought the SEC equivalent of midget wrestling would be more entertaining if people had time to quaff a few Claws.

The Ole Miss fans around us were somehow both hospitable and passionately vocal about their disdain for us, sometimes in the same breath. The woman sitting next to me in one of the highest rows with her husband and son saw an iced tea vendor lagging up the steps with his last four cups.

“If I buy all of those, can you go take a break and cool off,” she asked.

He nodded, and they exchanged currency for fructose. She offered me the extra cup.

“I still hate Arkansas, but you can have some tea,” she said.

I had hardly had a sip before noticing the vendor walking down the stairs one section over, carrying a fresh full rack of tea.

Ben Hicks had been named the Arkansas starting quarterback these first two games, in part for his ability to know where each player should line up for any specific play. Apparently everyone else has been keeping that a secret. It was astounding how many times I saw players literally grabbed by the hips and moved a few feet by another player, or a ball thrown by backup QB Nick Starkel to a spot where a receiver was supposed to be, but wasn’t.

We know this team is young, and depth practically needs to be developed faster than it’s ready. Is it too much to ask of eleven players on offense, eleven on defense, and however many special teamers to know exactly where they’re supposed to be by week 2? Maybe I set my expectations too high.

One thing both Ole Miss and Arkansas fans can agree upon is extreme displeasure with Houston Nutt. We both more or less ran him out of town on a rail. But Nutt had about six plays that everyone on the field knew how to execute. Four of them involved players running the ball in various directions, but still, they were effective in their simplicity. Even Paul “Fredo” Petrino successfully scripted the first 15 plays during John L. Smith’s “Season from L.” The Razorbacks were not very good after those 15 plays, but they held their own for the first couple of drives.

Why can’t offensive coordinator Joe Craddock choose a small set of plays for various downs and distances based on field position, and focus just on those plays? At key times in both games this season, the no huddle could not hurry up without having to look back at the multiple play cards being shuffled on the sideline. Perhaps a script could take away the wildly unsuccessful trick plays, pulled out at midfield Saturday when the Hogs finally had some legitimate momentum.

We are two games into the second season of the Coach Chad Morris era. Both seasons began by requiring a quarterback change, which doesn’t seem like a good sign. There have been a few glimmers of hope this year, most notably when Starkel stepped up into the pocket and quickly delivered to freshmen receivers Trey Knox and Treylon Burks. But all too often, it doesn’t look like everyone on offense knows what is going on. Craddock need to get that corrected over these next ten games. Morris needs more time and will get it, but a coordinator’s seat can get hot a lot earlier.

Following the 31-17 loss, we began the journey home. We arrived around 2:30 am, about 18 hours after we had first met up. I was no longer feeling hydrated by White Claw.

We will load up to do it all over again next week, only hoping for a better outcome. On to Colorado State.

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.

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