Friday, September 2, 2011

Finally Here

Okay, I admit it: I’m a Razorback junkie. I don’t have it as bad as some, but I’ve got it bad enough. I’m a Razorback junkie and I’m about to get my next fix. Football season is finally here. After that great sports desert (commonly known as summer), up in Fayetteville the pads are popping and the pigskin is once again flying through the air. Hog-elujah!

I’ve been addicted a long time—since 1969 to be exact. I was thirteen years old and few things seemed more important to me than the Razorbacks. I listened to or watched every game in a season that ended in the “Game of the Century,” when our arch-rival Texas came from 14 points down in the fourth quarter to beat us 15-14. It was the year 100 of college football. Envisioning the potential magnitude of the game, ABC Sports asked both teams to move the game from its traditional third Saturday in October to December 6, making it the last game ofthe year. In the AP poll, undefeatedTexas was ranked number 1; undefeated Arkansas was ranked number 2. Billy Graham prayed the invocation. President Nixon came to watch. It was a big deal. We had it won, and we lost. In the locker room after the game, Nixon awarded his version of the National Championship to Texas. Of course, he really didn’t have the authority to do that, but then again, as we would learn about President Nixon,he was prone to do things he had no authority to do. Anyway, watching that presentation in the locker room, I couldn’t help but feel sick that it should have been us, not Texas. I cried after that game—something I’d only done one other time in my life and something I’d never do again. Our coach, Frank Broyles, said he has never watched the tape of that game ever. I’ve watched it at least a couple of times, most recently in July, and I’m still bitter.

See what I mean? I’m a Razorback junkie. When my wife wanted to get married in the autumn, I made sure we did it on a Saturday the Razorbacks weren't playing. What's the matter with me? I'm a Razorback junkie—that's what's the matter. And it wasn’t always easy to get my fix. When I graduated from the University and left Fayetteville to move to Kansas City for seminary, it was harder to listen tothe games. Only two or three games ayear were televised, and the only station I could hear them on was KAAY out of Little Rock, and that only at night. But I listened to every night game and made due, until that one autumn when I tuned in the first game only to hear gospel music on KAAY instead of the Razorbacks. I was bitter about thattoo. And I was quite a site, sitting in my parked car, in front of the house, carefully working up and down the radio dial trying to find even a trace of a signal of the Razorbacks on the nights they were playing. Like a junkie trying to get his drug, I was trying desperately to find my Hogs. Every now and then, I would hear the faint strains of Paul Eels’ voice, but that was about it. I’ve pounded a few dashboards over it and said a few words I’m not proud of in my effort just to find some trace of the game. I felt angry. I felt lost and disconnected.

I think I have a problem. Israel worshiped a golden calf in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. Do I worship a red pig? I’ve wrestled with that over the years. I don’t think my addiction borders on worship. But I don’t know why I’m addicted at all. It’s not rational. The Razorbacks consistently promise more than they deliver. And if any team has had more heartbreak than the Hogs, I don’t know who it is. Texas in 1969. Referee Preston Watts awarding Tennessee afumble Arkansas’ Tom Reed recovered in the 1971 Liberty Bowl, giving the Volunteers the chance they needed to score and win the game. The bogus pass interference call that allowed SMU to tie us and keep us from an outright SWC Championship in 1982, and sending those bought and paid for Mustangs to the Cotton Bowl instead of us. Atwater’s drop of an interception that would have sealed the win for us at Miami in 1988 and kept us undefeated. Stoerner’s unforced fumble against Tennessee in 1998 in a game that would have made us 9-0 and sent us to the SEC Championship game and who knows what else after that. And I’m just scratching the surface. There have been plenty of other bad calls, untimely injuries, dumb plays, missed kicks, and turnovers that cost us games we should have won. We’ve certainly won some great and important games, but more often than not we usually find ways to lose them. Frustrating. Heartbreaking. Why do I keep going back for more?

Because I’m addicted, that’s why. Names like Montgomery and Dicus and Powell; Ferguson, Eckwood, Hampton, and Walker; Bull, Grovey, and Billy Ray Smith; Stoerner, Lucas, and Kennedy; Bua, Burlsworth, Jones, and Cobbs; McFadden, Jones, and Mallett; not to mention Bud Campbell and Paul Eels, are more than names to me. They are memories. They are friends. They are legends. They are part of the family—the Razorback family.

This Saturday it starts all over again, and I can’t wait.

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