Tusk to Tail: The healing ointment of a Gator defeat and sitting in the Godfather’s seats

story by Jack Clark

Editor’s note: Welcome to the fifth 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 against the advice of attorneys and family. The diehards may also be followed on their Facebook page. Or follow the crew on Twitter — @TuskToTail
As I sat with my son Henry during the last few minutes of the Hog’s win on Saturday night, I found myself in full daydream mode with my eyes closed and my mind in another place.

As a sucker for all things nostalgic, the good and the bad, I had been thinking of several of those losses to the Gators over the last 24 years: the ’95 game when an already gimpy Madre Hill hurt his knee again; the ’96 game, the year Gator QB Danny Wuerffel won the Heisman and they destroyed us in Gainesville; the ’03 game in Fayetteville when a late penalty against Hog safety Tony Bua would help the Gators seal the win; the muffed punt in the ’06 SEC championship game loss, the horribly officiated ’09 game in Gainesville; and the loss in ’13, my first ever trip to Gainesville.

I thought back again to how painful that loss in 2006 was to me and my friends as we walked out of the Georgia dome, all of us disappointed and exhausted and me extremely drunk. We walked silently as a group down the streets of downtown Atlanta, nobody saying a word, all of us having “just left it on the field.” I remembered the awful trip home – a hangover-ridden, cab-train-tram-plane-car ride home. The same fans I high-fived upon my arrival in the Atlanta airport would later be the same fans whom I ran away from as I pulled my cap down over my red, swollen eyes that morning.

All we had to do was field a punt …

t2tlogo2016-17Though I had not been optimistic about the Hog’s game against Florida (it’s hard to predict a win against a team that we’ve NEVER beaten in conference), Saturday turned out to be game of firsts in many ways. We finally got a win against the Gators that the officials couldn’t take from us. Tusk to Tail friend Chris Walton would be making the trip back to Little Rock with me.

And the Godfather was not sitting in his usual seats.

Since I no longer purchase tickets through the Razorback Foundation, it has become necessary to find tickets each week before each game. Through a complex series of ticket swaps, IOU’s, letters of intent to return favors, and past debts settled from multiple Phish shows in Vegas from a few days earlier, I was able to secure seats for my son and myself in one of the most sacred places in Reynolds Razorback Stadium – the seats belonging to the Godfather of Tailgating, Craig May.

Though Craig and I have easily attended more than 100 games together, Saturday would be my first to sit in his seats. Since he and his brother Chris had extras in the Red Zone, fellow TTT’er John Scott joined Henry and me in section 504, another first for me as I had never sat with John at a game.

Craig’s face had the most confused look as he handed off his tickets, clearly something new to him. I watched as he checked his Red Zone tickets again and again and again, unsure of what he’d just done, as if somehow they would become invalid prior to entering the stadium. Indeed, it was a day of firsts.

I’m no sportswriter and anyone who saw Saturday’s game knows what happened and how it all went down. We kicked their tails most of the day and it was sure nice to see us get back to Bielema style of football, winning in the trenches and playing sound defense. I don’t think we missed a tackle all day, which was also refreshing. Though we had a lot of penalties, particularly the 15 yard variety, I’m generally forgiving as I like to see my team a little chippy.

It wasn’t until Rawleigh William’s late 4th quarter TD prompted Henry to high-five me and snap me out of my daze and bring me back to reality. By now John was long gone, having accurately predicted the outcome by the 5th play of the game. He was already back at the tailgate with refreshment in hand, I’m sure.

With only a minute or two left in the game, Henry and I gathered our jackets and began the trek back to Victory Village, tired but satisfied.

I’ve written here before about the toll that a full season of football takes on me and the other guys. Years ago, the mid to late non-conference game in Fayetteville had always been the hardest game for this Hog fan to attend. It has always been hard for me to get excited to drive to Fayetteville and back for a 6 pm game against UTEP, Louisiana Tech or some other hapless foe, particularly after having been to 8 or so games already.

At least this year we get SEC games in November.