A few weeks ago, I wrote a column urging fans to refrain from booing the Hogs. I received emails--so many emails--and comments. For those of you who thought of the "boo birds" like I did, thanks for reaching out. For those of you who planned to continue to boo and also wear a "bag on your head," as one fan explained, let me offer another--less drastic--solution.
Maybe it's time to root for one of the other in-state schools Arkansas has to offer.
For example, Arkansas State is breeding ground for future SEC coaches like Auburn's Gus Malzahn. The Wolves are fighting to reclaim the Sun Belt conference title this season, a feat they've accomplished five out of the last 10 years.
There's also the University of Central Arkansas Bears in Conway, coached by Russellville native Nathan Brown.
Collegiate football is played in Pine Bluff by the UAPB Golden Bears. Lyon College and Hendrix College both field squads.
And then there's the Great American Conference, a Division II league composed almost entirely of Arkansas teams: the Southern Arkansas Muleriders, the Arkansas-Monticello Boll Weevils, the Henderson State Reddies, the Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys, the Harding Bisons, and my personal favorite, the Ouachita Tigers.
I played quarterback for OBU during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. As an Arkansas boy, I knew my team's fan base would never match that of the Hogs. But still, it was tough, working like we were working, all the steamy summer practices, the offseason workouts, the long overnight bus rides to Georgia and Alabama, only to see a few diehard fans in the stands, to barely hear our name mentioned on the statewide football scene.
Our coaches urged us to refrain from wearing any sort of Razorback gear. This came as a shock to many of the first-year players, freshmen who were proudly sporting their U of A T-shirts and caps. But the point was clear: We were a college football program, and we would be proud of our team.
Todd Knight, longtime head coach of the Tigers and native Arkansan, took pride in our blue-collar, underdog approach. We didn't have the luxury of multimillion-dollar training facilities. After practices, instead of soaking our bodies in fancy jet-powered whirlpools, we jumped in an ice-filled trough Coach Knight's father had used to feed his horses.
The young men playing for these smaller schools, places like OBU especially, are homegrown. This season, all 11 of Ouachita's offensive starters are from Arkansas. I'd be willing to bet not another team in the state can boast that statistic. And what's even better, those Arkansas boys are undefeated, ranked fifth nationally by the American Football Association.
Two weeks ago, Tiger defensive back Keandre Evans was featured on SportsCenter and later on Sunday Night Football after a 103-yard interception return for a touchdown (if you haven't seen this clip, Google it; Rex Nelson's call is legendary).
Without an NFL team in Arkansas, much of the state's football flair goes to the Razorbacks. Just tune in to any local sports-talk radio and you'll hear fans from across the state lamenting the Hogs' latest loss or nitpicking every detail and decision of first-year head coach Chad Morris.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
You could just go to another game.
I'll even offer a recommendation: On Nov. 10 the OBU Tigers face off against the Henderson Reddies in the longest-running rivalry game in all of Division II football. Both are located in Arkadelphia, and the visiting team dresses in their own locker room and simply walks across Highway 67 before the game.
The atmosphere is electric, and the contest is always exciting. The Reddies lead the series 43-42, but this just might be the year the Tigers even the score.
Eli Cranor, a former coach and college quarterback, can be reached at elicranor.com.
Editorial on 10/12/2018