Craig May, The Godfather of Tusk to Tail, pours a drink for a Tusk to Tail guest during a Nov. 10, 2019 game in Fayetteville.

Tusk to Tail: Tips on the first tailgate in more than 15 months

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
– John Steinbeck

This quote has a lot of meaning this year for our gang of merry tailgaters. We are experiencing a relatively hot summer stretch this week coming into a mid-day kickoff that promises to be hottest start in years. But more importantly, we are jumping back into tailgating after taking an unexpected year off.

Fifteen months ago, we were still hopeful there would be some tailgating last season, but it soon became clear that was an impossibility. I remember clearly the day it was announced. I went out into the garage, set up a table and quickly went through all of our gear. I removed batteries from remotes and made sure there was nothing that couldn’t sit and survive for another year as our long winter loomed. It was still May. I then went in and canceled all of our away game hotel rooms I had secured months before the season.

Canceling our reservations in South Bend – for the Notre Dame game – was hard. The customer service agent understood completely, as we were three months into the world shutting down from COVID-19. But it was personally hard to let go of that one. All of Tusk to Tail was looking so forward to the Notre Dame trip and had been planning it for a couple of years. I assumed at the time we would never get another chance, but Hunter worked some magic, and has it back on the books for later this decade.

Another tough one was canceling the rooms in Kansas City for the game against Missouri to be played in Arrowhead Stadium. It was just more disappointment in a year of missed events, missed friends, and even missed loved ones for some of our crew.

But here we are only five days out from a new season, with new road trips and new memories to be made with our closest friends and family. We have some great road trips this season and even a first time to tailgate on a certain campus.

This season will mark our first return to Athens since 2011, when Ryan Mallet threw a late touchdown pass to Greg Childs to win a tight game. We did not tailgate in Athens that year, but we will this one. Dallas, Bama, Ole Miss, and LSU are also on the schedule and you couldn’t go wrong visiting any one of those games.

This is the 10th anniversary of Tusk to Tail, so I plan to break out my lists of tailgating tips as well as some do’s and don’ts I’ve picked up from previous seasons of tailgating. When we have these first few hot games, I always bring up a few reminders. First, buy more water than you expect, as well as ice. The ice will melt pretty fast with the coolers opening and closing often. Keep some Gatorade or similar drinks available for the kids as they will be playing hard and need it.

If you have the ability to power them, bring along some fans. When it’s 94 degrees as we expect Saturday, any air that is moving will feel nice and help people cool off. Buy some sunscreen for your guests, and be sure to remind people to use it before they leave for the stadium. There will be very little shade available for a 1 p.m. kickoff anywhere in the stadium.

Food wise, you will want to be sure to keep your tables in the shade when you set up in the morning. Pay attention to where the sun will be tracking. Obviously, keep your cold foods cold but items you might not refrigerate normally might need some chilling. I try to stay away from chocolate, iced cookies, and cakes for these early games as the icing just melts. Go with pies, brownies, or cookies that can take the heat.

For our menu this week, I wanted to have somewhat of an Asian theme based on our opponent named Rice. Unfortunately, we lost our Chef for this week, so we decided to keep it simple with some brisket and chicken fingers.

It will help being a 1 p.m. kickoff. You only need to feed folks once, and that will be mostly over by 12:30. I think people may hang around longer than usual to avoid the sun, but the pull of the game will be strong after such a long break. Either way, be prepared. Make a list and check it twice, as I always say.

Or was that Santa that said that? Well, I’ve always loved a good list and I’m sticking to it.

Go Hogs Go, Beat Rice!

Editor’s note: Now in its 10th 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. The diehards may also be followed on their Facebook page. Or follow the crew on Twitter and Instagram, all @TuskToTail.

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