Tusk to Tail: Of the tears of Jesus and 11 a.m. kickoffs

“Jesus Wept” is a direct quote from the bible (John 11:35). The quote was made more famous in Arkansas back in the fall of ’87 by Head Coach Ken Hatfield. If I recall correctly, the Hogs had just been dismantled by Miami in Little Rock. The Hurricanes were coached by none other than Jimmy Johnson, who felt slighted and passed over for the Arkansas job in favor of Hatfield.

I’m guessing any Hog Fan over the age of 38 would remember the moment, as it caused quite the fire storm around the state and with Athletic Director Frank Broyles.

It was the first thing I thought of as the clock ticked down to the final seconds of last Saturday’s shocking loss to North Texas. I say shocking more out of how the Hogs lost, not that they lost. I, as most fans, accepted that this would be a difficult season. After Colorado State, I recognized the Hogs could lose this game as well, but I never dreamed they would get drubbed on both sides of the ball.

That ’87 team would recover. They lost to Texas a few weeks later, but they made a bowl game. This ’18 team is lacking in most things that are needed to be successful, namely an experienced quarterback that can run Coach Morris’s offense.

As my wife and I sat in one of the swanky new north end zones suites and looked around at the empty stadium, the realization was clear. This rebuild could take three years to turn around, and I’m not sure how many fans will be left to watch it come November. To make matters worse, the other shoe dropped this week, announcing the first of what we expect to be many 11 a.m. kickoffs. The Hogs vs Aggies game is slotted for 11 a.m. next Saturday in Arlington.

Last weekend’s tailgate was well-attended despite the heat and previous road loss in Colorado. Most everyone felt the Hogs had a decent shot at winning, and the mood was generally positive with a convenient 3 p.m. start time. Once you get relegated to an 11 a.m. kickoffs week after week, attendance will suffer. People find other things to do. They hunt, attend children’s sporting events, and run errands they didn’t have time to do during the week. It just feeds on itself.

However, we do persevere. We carry on.

We have this week’s tailgate to prepare for on the plains of Auburn, Alabama. If you have never been, Auburn is one of the bucket list experiences in the SEC, right up there with Georgia, Alabama, and LSU. The fans are generally nice, the stadium is in good shape, and the War Eagle flight is awesome. So be sure to be in your seat early enough to catch that if you are attending.

The drive to Auburn is fairly long, one that is hard to make in a day from Fayetteville. The timing is difficult. If you stop for lunch in Memphis, you hit rush hour traffic in Birmingham. The short supply of rooms in quaint old Auburn make them cost prohibitive. For that reason, we have taken to staying in Birmingham, although Montgomery is perfectly acceptable. Montgomery does not have as many options for good food and lodging as Birmingham, but it is slightly closer with freeway access to Auburn.

We have asked Jeff Laman to bring us some barbecue from one of his favorite places in Atlanta this week, so we are all looking forward to trying that. Heirloom Market BBQ is a relatively new spot in the ATL, but garners rave reviews and remains packed with long lines for lunches and dinners. Twenty-five people are expected to make the tailgate this Saturday, which is much higher than I expected for such a long trip, given the current state of the Hogs. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.

Auburn can be a difficult place to tailgate. Most of the free lots are fairly distant from the stadium, but if you get out there early, good spots can be had. Generally, it is easier to find tailgating spots east of the stadium.

If you make it to town on Friday or have time on Saturday, here are a few spots to look into for dinner and such. Tusk to Tail recommends:
• Niffer’s Place for a burger;
• Acre for a nice dinner;
• Amsterdam Café for a bit of everything; and
• Byron’s or Mike and Ed’s for BBQ.

Toomer’s Corner has a mix of spots to eat and drink, and has the tradition of being rolled with toilet paper after each victory. Tiger fans should be quite jovial following their anticipated big win.

Go Hogs, Beat Tigers!
Editor’s note: Welcome to the seventh season of Tusk to Tail – 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. Tusk to Tail is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by the River Valley Smile Center … because it’s another dang rebuilding year and you’re gonna need a good smile to get through the season. The diehards may also be followed on their Facebook page. Or follow the crew on Twitter — @TuskToTail