The season should begin in Fayetteville.
Starting in Little Rock, or worse yet, on the road, is just unnatural. It doesn't compute. Just boogers up the whole works. Because, for me, football season officially begins with that first trip up The Hill. Kickoffs are anticlimactic, but that drive never fails to live up to my expectations. For nine months, I look forward to carrying out the rituals that have been developed over the years, and I also find myself wondering what new traditions might begin this season. I wonder if everyone else... or, at least, anyone else, could get so excited over a 200-mile road trip.
It usually starts on Thursday night with my wife bugging me to pack. She starts around 6:30. "Have you thought about what you're going to wear this weekend?"
As the night progresses, she will ask several more times, and I will stall, distract her, pretend to not hear her, and generally avoid the issue altogether until bedtime. At this point, I walk into the bedroom to a fully packed suitcase and an angry wife. "What!?!?," I'll say. "I came up here to pack. I didn't ASK you to pack for me! I would have done it myself! So...did you remember to pack basketball shorts for me? The cell phone charger? Short socks? Long socks?"
This does nothing to improve the situation. But it is kind of fun. She hasn't failed to forgive me yet.
Things really begin at quittin' time on Friday. I race home, filling the tank on my way, and we pack Tara the XTerra and make final arrangements. This means stickers on the doors and pom-poms flying out the windows. In a perfect world, I've been to the car wash a couple of days prior. Do I have all the shoes I need? Medicine packed? Stephanie's pillow in the car? Do you want a drink for the road? No, it will just make me have to pee. Well, okay, maybe I'll have THIS BIG ASS CAFFEINATED DRINK because you aren't in a hurry to get there at all. Tickets? They are in the suitcase. I don't want them in the suitcase. I want to be able to see them at a moment's notice. This is an argument. If you want them in the suitcase then I need to see you pull them out of the suitcase and put them back in, because I didn't see it the first time.
I am pretty much insufferable at this point. Which is about 5 minutes into Football Weekend.
Aaaand we're off. So long, Little Rock! See you on the other side of Woo Pig Sooie!
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Aaaand we're stopped. Traffic. Morgan-Maumelle. I ask Steph what the Visions strip club used to be called before it was Visions. For some inexplicable reason, I expect her to know this. Even more inexplicably, she does. It doesn't happen every year, but we have had this exchange more than once.
Having patiently waited for her to fall asleep, I seize control of the radio and change the station from Alice 107.7 to 103.7 The Buzz to listen to Drive Time Sports for as long as I can stand it. Somehow, Stephanie bitches about this even while sleeping.
Blackwell smells like shit. It smells so strongly of shit that it rouses my wife from her slumber so that she can inform me.
"UGH! It smells like shit! Where are we???"
"Didn't Blackwell smell like shit the last time we went through here? How far is it to Russellville? I'm starving. And I have to pee."
We have made it 58 miles.
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By the time we reach Russellville for our traditional stop at CJ's Burger Boy off of Exit 81, I am nearing full-on "Five Minutes to Wapner" mode. I have called my boy BFA at least once to talk about the game. He has called me at least once. And I call him again here to rub it in that I'm eating at CJ's on my way to Fayetteville, and to remind him that he is in DC. It's tradition. Especially since he is the one who introduced me to CJ's.
I won't give a full-on review of CJ's. I will just say that they serve burgers, fries, soft drinks, and milk shakes. That's it. And they are awesome. And I know good food. Great find, BFA.
By the way, pointing out the Razorback sign on the bluff outside of Atkins is not a tradition for us. Because we always forget to look. In case you were wondering, that is why it is left out. Personally, I think pickles is a way better legacy, anyway.
Off again, hurtling through the Arkansas River Valley at breakneck speeds of up to 77 mph and always on the lookout for the fuzz, we continue to progress toward Fayetteville. I point out the site along Lake Dardanelle where, in the construction of the late 1990s and early 2000s, massive Razorback flag hung from the top of a crane to greet Hog fans on their way up to watch the game. Unlike Atkins, this Razorback was impossible to miss, and very cool to boot.
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Later in the season, I will look forward to passing through Clarksville to see if high school football is being played at Panther Stadium that evening. Not that I have any affinity with Clarksville...I just like to affirm at every chance that yes, high school football is in fact still in existence, and has not become extinct since the previous week. But for the Razorback opener, played before the high school season begins, Clarksville is just another blip on the map. Just one more town with a McDonalds and a giant porn store.
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We've made it to Ozark. Stephanie has to pee. It has been, after all, 44 miles since she last peed. And again, it's not like I am antsy to get up there or anything. There are two types of people in the world. Those who stop at the Loves in Ozark, AR. And those who stop at the Shell in Ozark, AR. We are Shell people. It has a McDonald's in it, and Stephanie proclaims that the Coca-Cola at McDonald's is somehow better than the Coca-Cola everywhere else in the world, except for Mexican restaurants, who also have "good Coke".
Leaving Ozark is typically where I place a call to our host for the weekend, our friend Stephanie. Not to be confused with my wife Stephanie, who is called Lil' Steph by this particular group of friends. It is during this call that I will make my bold prediction on the exact time of our arrival in Fayetteville, with Stephanie the Hostess telling me that I am crazy and that we will never hit that mark. This is serious business that gets down into syncing up clocks and establishing an acceptable margin of error. At several points during this conversation Stephanie the Hostess asks how Stephanie the Wife hasn't killed BVC the Husband yet. The answer, of course, is that I'm charming as hell.
Things start to happen quickly now. Landmarks pass as I become even more focused on directing Tara the XTerra quickly and safely into Hog Heaven. There's the entrance to the Pig Trail. There's that golf course just outside of Alma that I have always wanted to play. And finally, at long last, off of Exit 12, is the John Paul Hammerschmidt Highway, better known as Interstate 540. Only 44 miles from paydirt.
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Except Stephanie has to pee again. Seriously? It's been 25 miles. 25 miles! She wants to stop at the new truck stop in Rudy. This is a new tradition that has sprung up in the past couple of years. I have nothing against the town of Rudy and her fine people, but I'm trying to keep this one from becoming too entrenched. We never made this stop before, and Stephanie hasn't pissed herself yet, to my knowledge. I typically will decide to fill the tank here, because gas is at least a dime more expensive than anywhere else I have seen on the trip, and that is the kind of idiotic shit that I do.
I call Stephanie the Hostess and bicker with her over a revised arrival time. I accuse her of conspiring with my wife and her teeny bladder to cause me to miss my mark. I then accuse her of calling and distracting me, causing me to unintentionally drive slower and hurting my chances even further. She points out that I was the one who placed the call. Damn. However, my first accusation stands on its merit, I feel.
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Hold your breath through the Bobby Hopper Tunnel!
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Okay, exhale. Why do we do this every time?
Same as most everyone else, I suppose, the highlight of the trip is cresting that hill just outside Greenland and seeing Fayetteville and Razorback Stadium in the distance. This sight most often causes me to turn off the radio and put in my "Razorback CD". I sing along through the alma mater, I dance in the driver's seat to William Tell, and I do the hog call. For the record, this is the only time it is EVER acceptable to take both hands off of the wheel and steer with your knees. I finish everything up with the fight song right as we pull into Stephanie's driveway. Right on time. She'll try to claim we're late, but I know she's cheating. Her husband sides with me. My wife sides with her. Shocking.
I cannot describe how good it feels to be in Fayetteville on Friday night before the first football game of the season. Stephanie is ready to go to bed. This boggles the mind. There is so much to do. Go to the liquor store. Ice down the beer for tomorrow. Drink the beer for tonight. We will sit on the patio and swill beer and talk and laugh late into the night. The Razorbacks are seldom mentioned. There are nine months to catch up on, and everyone knows that discussion tomorrow will be limited to one topic, and one topic only.
Tomorrow is game day.
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