Tusk to Tail: On the road for blues, barbecue and Bama

Well, that’s enough basking in the glory of beating Tennessee. We have had half a week to enjoy Coach B’s first SEC road win. Now it is time to move on to the elephant in the corner that is Alabama. They are who we thought they are. Big, bad, and really, really good at football. Their loss to Ole Miss was a fluke. Nick Saban has this team’s attention and it is set squarely on the Hogs now.

Tusk to Tail will have a staggered departure from Little Rock Friday because of a child’s school event, but we will all meet up at the King Biscuit Blues Festival Friday afternoon in Helena. Afterward, we plan to head over to Clarksdale, Miss., to eat at the Ranchero and then to grab some food for Saturday from Larry’s Hot Tamales. I heard about both restaurants over the years and added them to my SEC Road Trip bucket list, so I’m excited to get to try them.

Our usual route takes us through Memphis, but with the late departure and no desire to fight that traffic, we decided to head over to Helena. Jack Clark, who visits the festival on an annual basis, will be waiting for us. It just made sense to join him there before heading east through Tupelo to Hoover, Ala. 

Jeff Laman and Chris May will travel from Atlanta Saturday. They will pick up some Archibald’s Barbecue in Tuscaloosa, which we enjoyed a couple of years ago on our last visit.

The game it at 6 p.m. again this weekend on ESPN, so that will call for another all-day tailgate. The weather should be clear with temperatures in the low 80s, which is pretty much perfect. It will be an easy set-up, since we will have a relatively small group of about 10. We will take a couple of tents, a few chairs, tables, and the TV. Our old spot on the intramural fields has been taken over by university construction, so we are looking at tailgating at a nearby public school with The Hogfather’s Tailgate Crew.

We will stay in Hoover (just south of Birmingham) this trip rather than Tuscaloosa to save some money on hotels, as the Bama fans grab up all the decent spots in town. It is hard to stomach being left with the Circle 4 Motel for $355 a night. In addition, we will have three teenage boys with us, so that negates any late nights out on the town and to be honest, the night life in Tuscaloosa was not that attractive our last time there.

Speaking of nights out in a college town, I promised to list some of our favorites from over the years.

Athens & Austin
By far the two best college towns we have visited over the years. Plenty of options for food and drink, and the towns have a great vibe to them, with the entertainment district smacked squarely next to the campus.

Gainesville/Fayetteville/Auburn/College Station
These towns do not have an overabundance of places to visit, but each town is completely focused on the game. Everywhere you go there are flags on cars, and the restaurants and bars are full of friendly people in town only for the game, creating a great sense of electricity or anticipation. Gainesville gets a slight edge in my book because the great year-round weather there provides a huge number of patios packed with patrons.

Lexington/Nashville/Columbia S.C./Knoxville
These are fairly large towns, so the entertainment seems to be spread out so much that you don’t get a great feeling of a big game being in town. However, there are great spots in each to hit up.

Small towns but the atmosphere before a game just seemed to be lost in these locales as the fun moves to game day.

Baton Rouge/Columbia, Mo.
The games with these schools have had the misfortune of being on the Friday after Thanksgiving which means we roll into town on Thanksgiving night. The hotel lobbies have been our only choices to search for entertainment, so you can imagine how much fun that is. This year we will be in Baton Rouge on a regular Friday night, so we look forward to giving that a try.

In the end, I don’t think you can go wrong visiting any of these locations, but the top six should be at the top of everyone’s list to visit for a fall football weekend.

We hope to see you in Tuscaloosa this Saturday. Go Hogs, Beat Bama!