The core members of Tusk to Tail: (from left) Craig May, Mark Wagner, Greg Houser, David Rice, and Dale Cullins.

Tusk to Tail: Pinky drinks, loud generators and complaining to Elvis

Coach Chad Morris’s message was clear and direct after Arkansas defeated Portland State 20-13 Saturday.  “Never will I ever apologize for winning. There’s no such thing as a bad win. You win and correct. Now you might not play as well as you want to play, but we won. We’re going to be able to correct off of this.”

Tusk to Tail gets it. The first game means working through the offseason rust and overcoming obstacles to ultimately succeed. That holds as true on a freshly sodded and Pantone-201 painted field as our Big Top tent in Victory Village.

The day’s biggest star was our personal nemesis as we set up our tailgating base camp.  The HogTown Street Festival had popped up overnight right in front of our tent. Victory Village has been our home for all home games since the exclusive tailgating spots became available in 2012. TTT rents 800 square feet of front row access to Maple Avenue, with a clear view into the stadium. We had the nicest setup in the Village until Jerry Jones moved his mobile compound next door. Now we literally try to keep up with the Joneses.

The blocked street meant a rushed unloading way up the hill at the circular drive of the Poultry Science building. The former dedicated lane running in front of our tent was filled by food trucks, face painters and balloon artists. Goodbye stadium view. Hello bouncy houses and generators.

The festival will be considered a success at nearly every level, but my lasting impression will be the noise pollution. The rows of food trucks and inflatables are powered by loud generators, drowning out the feel good party hits by the band just half a block away. We considered turning closed captioning on for the early football games.

When the three inflatable bouncy houses each fired up a generator large enough to light up Calhoun County, the Godfather of Tailgating had heard enough. Craig pulled aside Associate Athletic Director Elvis Moya in front of a lady tying balloon animals. Elvis was instantly recognizable as a member of the athletic department in his Foundation-issued, officially licensed gameday uniform: khakis, Razorback tennis shoes, and a polo, all fresh from the Nike Fall 2019 line.

Craig explained why generating 60,000 watts of power in front of our neighbor Mr. Jones might be bad for business. Jerrah may be one of the few who could write a check that would make this whole thing go away. Elvis agreed, and took care of business in a flash. Before you knew it, the inflatables were moved to the eastern border of HogTown.

HogTown experienced a population boom shortly after 11. By the Hog Walk, there was little boundary between festival and premium tailgating spots. First class was becoming overrun by steerage. I’ve been told that Elvis and his staff plan to address the matter with fencing and signage before the next home game. We may hang our own sign over the bar, threatening “Trespassers will take shots.”

Adding to our first world problems, the Tailgater satellite dish went kaput. We carry a backup dish (I mean, who doesn’t travel with multiple satellites?), but now we were limited to just one 60” TV. If not for the giant video board broadcasting games on HogTown’s main thoroughfare, we may not have seen Ole Miss fall short at Memphis. Our A/V setup got so wonky that at one point the only functioning television got switched to the classic dramedy “M*A*S*H*”, even though nobody was holding our remote control.

As Hawkeye and Radar entered a surgical tent about the size of our Big Top, I chuckled at our similarities. The M*A*S*H* unit patched up wounded soldiers, just to send them back into battle. The doctors and their commanding officers often drank heavily to cope. Likewise, TTT helps prepare our guests for the horrors of Arkansas football.

We served $900 worth of food and drinks Saturday. Chef Brad slaved over hot grills in the sun to whip up some delicious steak yum yum and loaded chicken tots, getting rave reviews from everyone with taste buds. We are extremely grateful for Brad’s dedication to his craft. The meals he prepares have taken our tailgate to another level. The rest of our menu was fairly basic, just the chips, dips, chains, and whips you see at any good cocktail party. That’s because a good portion of the budget was consumed by beverages.

You won’t find two more beautiful, charming bartenders in Fayetteville than our own Kara and Casey. The girls likely set new high scores on their FitBits Saturday. Gallons of our signature John Daly cocktail  (sweet tea vodka and lemonade, an alcoholic alternative to Arnold Palmer) were tumbled by hand. As the HogTown refugees sought asylum in our tent city, it was our First Lady of Tailgating Kara who told them to go back to where they came from. And she’s the liberal one of our group.

When I asked to try one of the new Bon & Viv spiked seltzers everyone was raving about, self described “delicate flower” Kara told me I would have to hold my pinky out while I drank it. Ain’t no shame in my game. She poured the skinny can into an officially branded Tusk to Tail cup, and it tasted like a freshwater oasis flowing from our desert cooler. Half the calories as a beer, but with the same alcohol content, it’s like someone already soaked a jolly rancher in your Zima. Imagine drinking slightly pleasant tasting sparkling water, and the more you refreshed yourself, the happier you got.

“I’m hydrating,” I told anyone who peered too suspiciously into my cup of hibiscus or elderflower.

The seltzers really were a nice alternative on a hot afternoon, but after trying a few of the flavors I went back to the cooler filled with a variety of Lost Forty beers. TTT does our part to drink local. TTT has been accused of occasionally glorifying alcohol, which would be awfully hard to refute. But a southern tailgate is essentially code for drinking outdoors. We just call ‘em as we see ‘em.

Ironically, I recall an episode of  M*A*S*H* where Hawkeye feared he had become dependent on alcohol. Maybe he was using liquor as a crutch. But to quote Mitch Hedberg, “I don’t use liquor as a crutch. A crutch helps me walk. Liquor is like a step I did not see.”

Besides, the University has said drinking is completely wonderful and lucrative. From HogTown’s happy hour beer garden to the conveniently placed beer and wine vendors across the stadium, there were plenty of options for grabbing a cold one before and during the unveiling of this year’s Arkansas Razorbacks. I saw several people throughout the stadium drinking a beer or two, but few were financially stable enough for multiple rounds at $9 each.

I couldn’t imagine watching this game sober. Our center’s snaps looked like the Goodyear blimp carelessly drifting to the quarterback, which hardly matters if your tight ends’ and receivers’ hands are made of stone.

There were a few gleaming bright spots on offense, highlighted by Rakeem Boyd’s dominant running and long receptions by freshman receivers Trey Knox and Treylon Burks. But one year and one game into Morris’s career at Arkansas, fans are still waiting to see the left lane hammer down approach he promised. Chicks dig the long ball, not another pooch punt.

The Hogs fared much better defensively. This may be the Bon & Viv talking, but it almost felt like having a coordinator with decades of SEC experience could potentially be more effective than, say, one who had coached a couple of years in high school and the American Athletic Conference.

Morris said it. We all saw it. There must be improvement for the Hogs to go steal a win at Ole Miss next week. Arkansas opened as a six-and-a-half point underdog against the Baby Sharks. Ole Miss will either fight like hell to avoid being 0-2, or possibly drop the rope if the season begins to look lost.

On to Oxford.

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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  1. Annette M Drake

    Could Elvis do something about the recorded music during the game? There is a full band present, can we have more band and less of the loud, sporadic, recorded music?

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