Tusk to Tail: Teeing up another Little Rock tailgate

Let me start by expressing my appreciation for the opportunity to represent the Little Rock contingent of the prestigious Tusk to Tail team this week. I have been involved with this group, as a tailgater and otherwise, for more than 10 years and have witnessed many tremendous Razorback victories, as well as some less than memorable defeats.

Win or lose, this group always finds a way to have a good time, and more importantly, makes every effort to ensure that its guests never leave without having a good time too.

The Little Rock crew consists of myself, the Three Johnson J's (Jamey, Jordan & Jarrod) and of course the conduit known as the Godfather of Tailgating, Craig May. We've had several other helpers over the years, but this has been the core group since about 2002.

Our history goes back a little further than that, as JJ#2 and I were fraternity brothers on The Hill in the mid-90s, and JJ#1 made it his paternal duty to ensure that our entire pledge class learned the proper way to throw a tailgate party. Back in those days, our parties consisted mostly of a few kegs in the back of a pickup truck and some Doritos, but it didn't take much to make us happy. And keeping with the above theme, our guests always left with a smile on their faces.

This tradition maintained through our college years, and once out of school, JJ#2 became acquainted with the Godfather, who had just begun his epic journey which would take him to see every football game (less one) from 1999 to the present. The Godfather was tailgating closer to the stadium than our more inconspicuous location further out on the golf course (and further from the eyes of the law), but it felt like a good move to join him.

For some time, cars could park on the course beginning the night before a game. On more than one occasion, JJ#1 was known to set up camp, start the smoker, and spend the night in our spot for the night. Once that practice was (wisely) shut down, the tradition of lining up on Fair Park before six get the "dream spot" was born, regardless of game time.

We always went for the spot near the big oak tree and the 18th tee box. It is the perfect combination of a flat spot with good traffic flow, and an easy place to tell newcomers where to find us. The tee box itself serves as the perfect place to throw a football, which has become more important given that our group has five more sons than we did when we started.

Our setup has grown substantially over the years, and now boasts the biggest tent on the golf course, a 55 inch LCD TV, two different Razorback mascots, and a "used car lot" balloon, which proudly floats high above and serves as another way for friends to locate us. We've been able to maintain this spot through the transition to the "preferred reserved" parking system which was implemented about five years ago following the recommendations from an advisory committee anchored by none other than JJ#2 and Craig May. And you wonder why we call Craig the Godfather.

Even though the spots cost a little more than the general admission rate of $20/game and we can arrive as late as 10 a.m. for most games, we have continued the tradition of setting up by 6 a.m. Our guest list has included Presidential candidates, members of the United States Congress, a few sitting Governors, Razorback Cheerleaders (thanks JJ#3) and a litany of other local celebrities and dignitaries, including a surprise visit by Jermain Taylor, then the undisputed Middleweight Champ.

Now to present business.

Ole Miss comes to town for the Rebel Bear's first visit to War Memorial Stadium in 20 years. Ole Miss is one of Arkansas's oldest rivals, and I'm not going to lie; personally they are my most despised opponent on the schedule, year in and year out. Being a native of Northeast Arkansas, there were many Rebel fans whose unsubstantiated arrogance always rubbed me the wrong way.

Sure Oxford is fun college town, and they have pretty co-eds, and a tremendous tailgating environment. But guess what? Remove Oxford from that last sentence, and you have described virtually every town in the SEC, with obvious exceptions in Starkville and College Station.

Don't get me wrong. I have many dear friends who attended the University of Mississippi, and will proudly cheer on their Rebel Bears on Saturday. That will make beating them that much sweeter.

I always feel like even when Ole Miss is at their best, we are just a little better. My favorite stat is that Ole Miss is the only school in the SEC Western division that has not made it to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, which of course is no longer the case now that we've added Texas A&M, but I'd wager that the Aggies make if before the Bears.

That said, they bring a much improved team into Little Rock from the last few teams which were headed up by good ole Houston Dale Nutt.

It looks like perfect football weather for the early kickoff. No rain and a chilly morning, and highs in the lower 60s will make for a great day to end whatever momentum the Rebels have with their current SEC win streak of one game over the last three seasons.

The Little Rock Tusk to Tail crew will be up early and set up by 8 a.m. The menu will be heavy on early morning cocktails and other breakfast pastries for all to enjoy. Come join us to watch Gameday on the big screen, with a screwdriver and a Pig in a Blanket.

Little Rock and the War Memorial Stadium Commission earn special praise for offering what JJ#2 calls the War Memorial Accord. For this extremely early game, tailgaters will be allowed some additional time on the course following the game until 5:30 p.m.  The zoo has a large event that evening, so as Maxine Miller used to say, “Drink up and get the hell out!”