Tusk to Tail: The crew wins another away game tailgate, now 10-0 on the season
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story by David Rice
Editor’s note: Welcome to the fourth 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. Members of the Tusk to Tail Team are Sean Casey, Jack Clark, Dale Cullins, Greg Houser, Craig May, David Rice and Mark Wagner. Tusk to Tail is managed by Talk Business & Politics. Legal representation is iffy at best and professional psychological help is typically ignored, if not mocked.
The diehards may also be followed on their Facebook page. Or follow the crew on Twitter — @TuskToTail
“This is my bowl game,” Jack Clark said about LSU two weeks ago before the Tennessee-Martin kickoff. “Let’s make it count.”
Arkansas was 3-4 at the time. Despite the clutch overtime victory over Auburn the previous week, the Hogs’ postseason destiny looked bleak, if not nonexistent. Back to back roadtrips to ranked and talented Ole Miss and LSU loomed on the horizon. Nobody in their right mind could expect us to win both, leaving Shreveport or Memphis as the likely best-case bowl scenarios. Though Tusk to Tail typically travels en masse to support the Razorbacks, Clark was not the only one considering sitting out a postseason trip, assuming the Hogs could even get the sixth win required to be eligible.
Just 80 miles outside of Baton Rouge, New Orleans beckoned our group. The Crescent City stands as a monument to excess, dishing out gigantic portions of gluttony through myriad gourmet restaurants and bars. With all due respect to Chicago and Frank Sinatra, New Orleans is Tusk to Tail’s kind of town. No matter how hard you overdo it, there is almost always someone else in worse shape than you.
Clark headed up the advance team Thursday with John Scott and the Godfather of Tailgating Craig May, with Mark Wagner and myself bringing up the rear a few hours later. Beer and oysters were served by the dozen amidst the city’s funky soundtrack. There was no rest for the weary Friday. Breakfast at the Ruby Slipper was followed by a trip to the National World War II Museum for some, while others soaked up the sunny autumn day watching street performers working the French Quarter.
Meanwhile, back in the Natural State, Dale Cullins had pulled out of Fayetteville carrying Greg Houser, Ryan Glenn, and Amaud Mitchell. Mitchell played for Arkansas under Houston Nutt, and has been tailgating with us at Victory Village all season. This was the first time he tagged along for a road game, bringing his infectious enthusiasm for the Hogs along with him.
Fresh blood always seems to inject some luck into the mix. The majority of our guests have witnessed a victory in their first game away from home. Luck was certainly trending when Cullins’ Highlander was pulled over for speeding near Grady. Despite clocking Dale over 80, the Arkansas cop let the carload of otherwise law abiding Hog fans off with a warning, asking for the boys to bring back a victory in return.
By 6 that evening, our band of brothers had reunited at the Baton Rouge Staybridge Suites, practically in the shadow of Tiger Stadium. We call Dale the “Hardest Working Man in Tailgating” because of his meticulous planning and execution. He booked these rooms over a year ago once the 2015 schedule was released. As long as a tailgater has a credit card and doesn’t smell too bad, he could be flatlined like the title character in the 80s comedy “Weekend at Bernie’s.” If you’re with us, Dale will book your room, deliver you to the game, and provide a feast fit for tailgating kings.
By 9 a.m. Saturday, our popup tents were erected along the road to the stadium. The first round of drinks was poured as the gang began stumbling from their rooms a couple hundred feet away. Craig returned from the airport with his brother Chris from Philadelphia, and our crew was complete before the first taunt of “Tiger Bait!” was shouted by a passing motorist.
As gameday traffic picked up, so did the jeers and occasional cheers. Rare was the car that did not honk, shout, swear, or salute our red clad revelers with a middle finger.
“We almost need some plexiglass between us and the road,” Chris said after yet another Tiger fan invited us to make love to ourselves.
“We are just a distracted driver away from multiple fatalities,” replied Scott, noting our proximity to the street.
It was time for another drink.
An all day tailgate in hostile territory is not for the faint of heart. Tiger Stadium is known as Death Valley, and its raving fans make the place even more imposing than it sounds. Tusk to Tail is mostly a peaceful lot, yet each of my previous five trips to Baton Rouge are riddled with threats and near brushes with violence. Playing in Death Valley after dark was ominous enough for most of us to monitor our alcohol intake. Consuming just one drink an hour sounds reasonable enough until one considers that we are out there for 12 hours. And most of us have more than one drink per hour.
“I’m switching to beer to sober up,” said The Godfather, finishing a cup filled with our signature blend of sweet tea vodka and lemonade known as a John Daly.
“I did that six beers ago,” I replied.
With a belly full of hot tamales and Dale’s delicious cheese dip, many of our tailgaters faded out for a brief afternoon siesta despite the serenade of car horns and more “Tiger Bait” slurs. Keeping the “Weekend at Bernie’s” theme going, I offered to tie Houser’s middle finger to a long string to help him wave in rebuttal to the literal catcalls.
Following a few more rounds, it was time to tear down our tents and stow our gear.
“We need to hide anything that’s valuable,” Cullins said as he stashed the TV and coolers in his car.
“Or flammable,” I added, “This is Cajun country.”
Our fears were unfounded. The Tigers played like kitty cats, allowing scores of 52, 80, and 69 yards. Heisman frontrunner Leonard Fournette was mostly contained, gaining 91 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Fournette earned every yard, as he was met by a sizable group of Razorback defenders every time he touched the ball.
The emphasis on group tackling was a refreshing departure from last week, when Tusk to Tail began tallying a stat we call bullshit missed tackles, or BMTs for short. Our defenders generated the strongest pass rush of the season, sacking LSU quarterback Brandon Harris five times, a much higher rate than the eight sacks recorded through the first nine games.
The victory was a group effort. Brandon Allen is running out of room for helmet stickers.
Allen’s long touchdown pass to Dominique Reed marked Reed’s sixth consecutive game he has scored. Alex Collins played out of his mind, rushing for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Receiver Jared Cornelius ran past everyone for a 69-yard touchdown on a well-timed end around call.
The few thousand Arkansas fans in attendance were valuable too, turning the tables on the infamous Death Valley crowd. In front of me, a young girl named Elissa was attending her first game, and called the Hogs loud and proud. She reminded me of my son Jackson when he began attending games with me 10 years ago. When I told her that new fans usually bring good luck, she beamed like a princess. Once she figured out the abbreviated Hog call we do with the band for every first down, she was on her toes leading the cheer for the rest of the game.
I asked Elissa, “You know what’s the best part of beating a team on the road? They don’t like it very much. They will all start leaving early while we stay and have fun. And when you tell them goodbye, they will only get madder.”
Sure enough, as the Hogs went up 24-14 near the end of the third quarter, the purple and gold blobs who once chanted “Tiger Bait” began to somberly file out of the stands.
“Time to beat that traffic, Tiger fans,” shouted the Godfather.
“Bye bye,” waved Elissa, earning high fives from Tusk to Tail for her heartwarming trolling of the Tigers.
As the final seconds dripped off the clock, our entire group of fans remained to celebrate with the team. The trip that began as a substitute for an Arkansas bowl game will now serve as a complement. Arkansas has earned its sixth victory, and still has two winnable games against Mississippi State and Missouri at home. Tusk to Tail will be there, calling them loudly again.