Leader Blues

Friday, January 08, 2010

SPORTS >> Mascot heads to big sty in the sky

By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor

Anyone hoping for a good start to 2010 had to be stunned at the tragic news reported out of Fayetteville this week.

Tusk, the Arkansas Razorbacks’ real, porcine mascot, was found dead in his pen at his farm home outside of Dardanelle. He was seven years old.

Tsk tsk, poor Tusk. Alas, pork Yorick.

Tusk, whose given name was Tusk II, was born Aug. 12, 2002 and served as Arkansas’ mascot from 2005 until his final appearance at Saturday’s Liberty Bowl game in Memphis a week ago.

The football Razorbacks went 35-28 during Tusk’s tenure.

Tusk was apparently a gentle fellow who would eat grapes from the hands of fans.

He was laid to rest Monday at the Stokes family farm in Dardanelle, where he stayed when not making his many appearances in Fayetteville and elsewhere.

Fans wishing to leave a message for the Stokes family or a remembrance of Tusk may follow the link on ArkansasRazorbacks.com or leave a Facebook message at Tusk Razorback Mascot.

Contributions to the live mascot program can be sent in Tusk’s memory to Tusk Fund c/0 The Razorback Foundation, 1295 Razorback Road, Suite A, Fayetteville, Ark, 72701.

Natural causes were cited in the university news release from Fayetteville that announced Tusk’s passing, and sources said the specific cause was a heart attack.

I suppose Tusk’s death proves bacon is bad for you, especially if your whole body is bacon.

One smarty-pants I know suggested Tusk died from all the excitement of the Liberty Bowl. He went on to suggest Tusk succumbed to shock when erratic grid-Hogs kicker Alex Tejada nailed the game-winner in the 20-17, overtime victory over East Carolina.

Another clever-trousers put forth the theory Tusk died from fear after seeing the 7-8 hardwood-Hogs play at basketball.

“Was he afraid of clowns?” The jokester asked.

One nice young woman unintentionally got to the root of Tusk’s apparent problem.

“Bless his heart,” she said.

Someone else suggested Tusk suffered the same fate that befalls so many celebrities, an unfortunate mixture of drugs and alcohol.

All joking aside — no strike that, there is plenty of joking to come — there are many questions surrounding not only Tusk’s death, but also questions as to why he was installed as the Hogs’ mascot in the first place.

Understand first that Tusk was a Russian boar, not even a real razorback. Come on, a Russkie? As the premiere mascot in a patriotic red state like Arkansas?

I suppose Tusk advocated socialized medicine too. Or at least Medicare.

Maybe Tusk was a mole, sent from a former Soviet Union clinging to its Cold War ethos to bring down our mighty football-industrial complex from the inside. Maybe some patriot decided to stop him.

Or maybe Tusk’s death was the work of a serial mascot killer. After all, Tusk wasn’t the first in the SEC to snuff it during the just-concluded football season.

The most recent incarnation of the Georgia Bulldogs’ mascot, the live bulldog named Uga VII, checked out Nov. 19 at age four.

Cause of death was also reported to be heart ailments.

Come on, the dog had an air-conditioned house and more handlers than coach Mark Richt has assistants.

And if it’s foul play, you have to look to the only fowls in the SEC, the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Maybe that cocky coach Steve Spurrier was ticked off his Gamecocks laid an egg in the Papajohns.com Bowl while Arkansas and Georgia won their bowl games.

Except Uga died before Georgia beat Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl, so Spurrier may be lacking a motive after all.

So let’s move on to an examination of the shady, mascot line of succession at Arkansas.

Tusk succeeded his father, Tusk I, and is survived by his brother, Tusk III, who will assume mascot duties at Arkansas.

I thought we frowned on that kind of nepotism in this country. Well, except for the Kennedys, the Pryors, the Bushes, the Clintons and Bobby and Patrick Knight.

Anyway, it smells, because as some fans have pointed out, now would be a great time to install a real razorback as mascot, or at least a true, Arkansas feral hog.

My friend Matt here at The Leader had the perfect candidate. For weeks, his remote game cam tracked the comings and goings of a huge feral hog at Matt’s deer feeding station in south Arkansas.

Except Matt is a hunter, and he shared his eventual success with some of his co-workers in a delicious ham and bean concoction on New Year’s Eve.

Oh well, around here we’re usually consumed by the Hogs, so it was a nice change of pace.