Tusk to Tail: Sweet tea vodka and Homecoming beat downs

With about five and a half minutes remaining in the first quarter of Saturday's game against South Carolina, all was well in the land of Tusk to Tail. It was the kind of day where you take a raincoat to the stadium and end up needing sunscreen instead.

The morning thunderstorm had moved out long before Dale Cullins, Mark Wagner, and Greg Houser met Sam Atkinson, Scott Audrain, and others to set up the tailgate at 8 a.m. The rain left the ground muddy, but Cullins was prepared, laying straw around our tent.

The rule to shut down the roads around the stadium three hours before kickoff continues to be a hassle for the early games. Showing up by 8 o'clock requires a level of commitment that most fans do not possess. But with basic knowledge of the area's side streets, it is easy enough to maneuver between the unloading zone at Victory Village and the parking lots on Razorback Road.

Our ability to overcome minor obstacles like mud and closed streets is a source of pride for Tusk to Tail. When life gives us lemons, we slice the lemons and serve them with cocktails. This beautiful sunny morning was no exception, setting the stage for another outstanding Tusk to Tailgate. It was Homecoming on The Hill, and even an early kickoff could not curtail the celebration.

My parents were joined by longtime friends Bill and Charlotte Heard, who traveled all the way from Juneau, Alaska, to join the party. Bill was surprised Arkansas would play an opponent as difficult as South Carolina for homecoming, asking why the game wasn't scheduled against a team we knew we could beat.

"We couldn't find one," my Dad replied.

The tailgate was also blessed with this season's first appearance by our anonymous friend we have been calling The Guy Who Stole Dale's Phone. This friend has gone by other aliases, including the Godfather's consigliere, highlighting his long friendship with Tusk to Tail founder Craig May.

As the rest of the guests began trickling in, they were greeted by a lavish breakfast spread. Kara Cullins, our First Lady of Tailgating, had prepared sumptuous danishes and egg casseroles as well as bacon, sausage, biscuits, and gravy. A spicy crawfish étouffée made with grits added a Cajun complement to Bloody Marys and mimosas, as well as our traditional sweet tea vodka and lemonade cocktail we call a John Daly.

We had run out of sweet tea vodka the previous two weekends, first at our bigger-than-expected prelude to the Texas A&M loss, then at a Gainesville bar called The Swamp before losing to Florida. In both games, Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen threw an interception for a touchdown, putting the Hogs in a hole they could not dig out of. Tusk to Tail, ever eager to help the Razorbacks regain their mojo, vowed to never run out of the stuff again.

So when a few bottles of Firefly's elixir survived the morning rush on John Dalys, we felt like we had done our part. The team rewarded our drunken diligence by driving down the field to score a touchdown on their first drive.

Unfortunately the Hogs' next drive ended with Allen's trademark interception. Little solace could be taken from the fact that South Carolina did not score on the return, as Gamecock running back Mike Davis punched in a 6-yard touchdown on the next play.  For the third straight week, the early turnover yielded the lead, and took the wind from the Razorbacks' sails.

Following Allen's interceptions the past three weeks, the Hogs were down, but should not have been out. They have been roughly even with the opposition statistically, and trailed by less than one score. Yet for whatever reason, the team has nosedived a bit worse each week. Against Carolina, the promising first drive was never duplicated. Allen passed for only 30 yards in the entire game and the two longest Razorback runs both ended in fumbles.

The men of Tusk to Tail do not generally leave games early. But this game was so one-sided, and our tailgate so tempting, that the gang began showing up at the tent as early as the third quarter. When former Razorback receiver Kane Whitehurst scored a 4th quarter touchdown for the Gamecocks, we changed the channel to another game, washing our hands of the debacle completely.

The 52-7 final score was our second worst loss at Reynolds Razorback Stadium ever.  The worst? Last year's 52-0 rout by Alabama. Oh by the way, the Hogs play the Crimson Tide next week in Tuscaloosa.

Tusk to Tail will be there, and will bring gallons of sweet tea vodka along for the journey. It may not bring back the Razorbacks' mojo, but we hope it helps numb the pain.