Tusk to Tail: Zagging, zigging and ‘being there’

“Since it cost a lot to win
and even more to lose
You and me bound to spend some time
wond’rin’ what to choose.”
– “Deal” by Jerry Garcia

It’s a rare breed of fan that makes it to every Razorback football game. I only know three people who can boast streaks spanning a decade or longer, and two of them, so help me God, are named Randy and Randall.

The third is Craig, the man Tusk to Tail calls the Godfather of Tailgating. Craig flew home from Fort Collins, Colo., last year having attended 239 of the 240 games Arkansas had played since 1999. Like most of the rest of our group, Craig came of age as a Razorback fan in the mid-to-late 1970s.

Consider the halcyon days of 1978. Lou Holtz’s squad gored the #2 Sooners in the Orange Bowl a few months before Eddie Sutton’s Triplets scrapped their way to the Hogs’ first ever NCAA Final Four. Not to be outdone, the Diamond Hogs played their first College World Series with Norm DeBriyn at the helm in 1979. As Ricky Bobby says, we were a big, hairy, American winning machine.

I’m sure we took it for granted, just like youngsters growing up in Patriots or Crimson Tide households today. “Tired of winning?” says our Commander in Chief.

Have we been good at all three major sports at the same time since? Arkansas has excelled at each of those sports individually, but there aren’t many seasons when even two of the three programs reached those standards. Of course just about all of the women’s athletic programs are reaching new plateaus these days, and other men’s programs continue to place well nationally. But those sports don’t sell a $16,000 loge box.

Then again, according to my inbox, neither does football.

Remember back when just about anyone with two eyes, most prominently the former U.S. Sen. David Pryor, asked why the hell we should spend $160 million to convert a 72,000 seat stadium that only sold out once every year or so to a 76,000 seat stadium?

Former Athletic Director Jeff Long (that was fun to type) told us there was a long waiting list for suites and luxury boxes before diving into a pile of money Scrooge McDuck-style. I only made part of that up. Long must have taken that waiting list with him when he landed the Kansas gig. The suites have a few vacancies these days. Before last year’s opener against Eastern Whoever it appeared that the $160 million renovation cost about $1 million per fan.

If you think you may be even remotely interested in a new suite, the Foundation will sniff you out. All it takes is $16,000 and the ability to absorb a lifetime of solar radiation each afternoon rooting against Portland State, Colorado State, San Jose State, Mississippi State, and maybe Quaker State. Oh, and Gus Malzahn will politely hang half a hundred on the Hogs, reminding us why he chose a $50 million Auburn hotseat over a lifetime of free chicken.

While building monuments to his vanity, Long’s string of football hires tallied a scoundrel and two buffoons. A sizable portion of our fanbase lobbied for the scoundrel’s return, at least until his latest scandal or two. The buffoons stoned us to the bomb age.

Teams like Auburn, coached by former Arkansas Offensive Coordinator Malzahn, and Old Miss, coached at the time by former Arkansas State Coach Hugh Freeze, had found a way to beat Alabama by spreading the field and speeding up the game. We hired the guy on the sidewalk yelling, “Speed kills!”

Think how different things would be if Long hadn’t tried to zag while others zigged?

Coach Chad Morris said the Razorbacks would be running “left lane, hammer down, full-tilt boogie” before he started coaching last season. But the players his predecessor Bret Bielema recruited were built for comfort, not for speed. A 2-10 season included outright whippings at home by the likes of North Texas and Vanderbilt, and not even showing up at Mississippi State or Missouri. It noticeably humbled the hashtags out of Morris.

A coach can’t say he inherited some dead weight, but facts speak for themselves. The 11 offensive starters for this season’s opener are set to be different at every position from last year’s opener. That may not be a recipe for immediate success, but it tends to highlight that this is the rebuilding year. Last season was mostly treading water, seeing what he had to work with, and recruiting like hell to make it better.

It is also worth noting that neither former starting quarterback Ty Storey nor Cole Kelley won the starting job where they transferred. Kelley went to some directional FCS school near his Louisiana home. Storey now plays for Western Kentucky, who visits Fayetteville on Nov. 9. I’m sure Storey will be the starter by then, and hang half a hundred on us, too.

My apologies for sounding cynical. The past few seasons have taken a toll on Tusk to Tail. Some stopped buying season tickets, picking up single game passes for the name brand opponents. Craig’s consecutive game streak came to an end last year when real life seemed more important than another guaranteed loss. The rest of us rallied in his absence, keeping the spirit alive. This will be the 20th season Tusk to Tail has had at least someone in the stands for every game.

While Craig was watching the game from home for the first time, he discovered how nice it could be watching multiple games at a time in a climate-controlled house stocked with refreshments and a clean restroom. I understand the appeal, but nothing beats the electric atmosphere of being there. The hairs on my arm have never stood on end watching a game on TV, but when those boys run through the A before a big game, goose bumps are practically guaranteed.

Nothing beats being there. What would you rather do, watch the cooking channel or eat a steak? Watch porn or … well, you get the idea.

There’s actually a lot to look forward to this season. They are doing everything they can to get people in and around the stadium. Our tailgate is where Victory Village meets HogTown, so we will be reporting live from football Ground Zero. The players will walk right by us into the stadium.

I’m anxious to see how the new talent is developing. Consistent effort and improvement should lead to wins over the non-conference State schools. Depending on whether we upset just one SEC team along the way, the Missouri game in Little Rock will either be for a bowl game, or it will be the bowl game.

Finally, if I’m going to trash Long, I should drop some praise for Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek. Tusk to Tail thinks the coaching trio of Morris, Eric Musselman, and Dave Van Horn could be every bit as solid as Holtz, Sutton, and DeBriyn. Another run like 1978-79 seems possible in the future.

On to Portland State.

Editor’s note: Now in its eighth 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. Tusk to Tail sponsors are the Arkansas Lottery Scholarship program and Turn Key Construction Management. The diehards may also be followed on their Facebook page. Or follow the crew on Twitter and Instagram, all @TuskToTail.

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