story by David Rice, photo by Mark Wagner
Editor’s note: Welcome to Tusk to Tail, a special “web reality” presentation of the tailgating experience as organized, performed and perfected by a group of Hog fans who have been tailgating together 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. Link here for the explainer story and the photos and “stats” of the core Tusk to Tail crew. Tusk to Tail is managed by The City Wire and sponsored by Preferred Office Products.
Follow the crew on Twitter — @TuskToTail
At last, the Razorbacks are showing some consistency. The Hogs have played two games in Little Rock, losing both on the final play, both in the same end zone.
The 30-27 loss to the Rebels even had historical significance, marking the first season since 1993 that Arkansas is winless in Little Rock.
Tusk to Tail turned up the intensity of our tailgates once the Razorbacks lost to Louisiana-Monroe here six weeks ago. Taking our cue from Ole Miss fans in their hallowed grove, we said that we may not win the game, but we will never lose a party. Blowout losses to Alabama and Texas A & M further necessitated the need to drink heavily.
Losing games has had another unfortunate consequence. By not winning, Arkansas has been deemed not-ready-for-primetime by the television networks. Next week's tilt with Tulsa will be the fourth time this season that the Hogs have been relegated to the 11 a.m. time slot.
Call it a tailgating Catch-22: Losing has shifted our focus from the game to the party, but the games start too early to throw a great party because our team is losing.
BEACON OF HOPE
Despite this week's early kickoff and cool temperatures, the golf course was rocking before the game. The parking along the streets of Hillcrest was filled before 9 a.m., and the tailgating grounds were buzzing with the sounds of generators and music from some of the larger corporate-sponsored events.
The Tusk to Tailgate focused on breakfast, serving bacon, quiche, fruit, and pastries in addition to pigs in a blanket warmed on Jamey Johnson's charcoal grill. Coffee was popular, with and without Irish whiskey accompaniment, as was a full Bloody Mary bar. Orange juice flowed for mimosas and screwdrivers, while other juices and sodas were available too. It seemed like fewer guests were drinking beer compared to the warm weather games, but perhaps that was a result of the early kickoff.
Our tailgate had been the first to feature an enormous helium balloon, typically seen only on car dealer lots. Dubbed the "Beacon of Hope" from the line in the University's Alma Mater, the balloon could frequently be seen from inside War Memorial Stadium, and served as a unique landmark for visitors trying to find us.
There are now three of these balloons in our section of the golf course alone. Obviously there are more on the other side of the stadium, as someone asked if our tent was the site of the Alumni Association's party, who was flying a large balloon of their own.
TAILGATING ‘ARMS RACE’
The increasing popularity of these balloons seems to highlight the "arms race" mentality of the tailgating community. Once one tailgate adds a new accessory, it seems others follow suit.
First was the pop- up canopy and folding camping chairs. Then came generators and satellite TVs, followed by the mobile satellite "Tailgater" for automatic reception. As the weather cools, more propane patio heaters have begun to appear. Tusk to Tail will most likely continue keeping up with the Joneses, assuming the Jones throw a big party every weekend.
There is one advantage to the early kickoff, particularly on weekends featuring several significant games. Specifically, we are able to see them all. Leaving the stadium after the game-ending field goal by Ole Miss, we returned to our tent to watch the Florida-Georgia game. It seemed oddly appropriate to watch a game known as "the world's largest outdoor cocktail party" while drinking outside on a sunny golf course populated by tens of thousands of Hog fans.
HOPE FLOATS ... AWAY
We stayed on the course until the last possible moment, licking our wounds and discussing the season. When our inflatable mascot went flaccid and hung his head, it seemed to be a fitting metaphor. Nobody said a word as the Godfather of tailgating Craig May took a pocketknife and slit the poor Hog's throat.
As the sun began to set on the last Little Rock tailgate of the season, tents and televisions were packed away in near silence.
There was only one tailgating artifact remaining, our Beacon of Hope. It was agreed that it was better to find new Hope than to cling to the past, so with little fanfare the Beacon was released, and we watched our Hope vanish into the air.