My junior year of college was the best; I knew the ropes in Fayetteville, yet I was still a year away from serious worry about getting a job. But during this stretch, one weekend in particular stood out and, not surprisingly, it centered on a football game against the Texas Longhorns.
I had no date for this game. I didn’t want to fool with it because my dad, mom and 17-year-old sister were in Fayetteville for the weekend. Texas Week brought a buzz to campus, and even to the entire state of Arkansas. Everyone was caught up in it, with the possible exception of my mother who was more concerned with how many square meals I was eating (numerous at the D-Lux on Dickson Street, thanks to extra spending money from my father), and where and how often I was getting my laundry done (eek!), and if I was attending Sunday morning services at the local Methodist church (no).
After dinner, Mom, Dad, and Mallory came by my new apartment, which was conveniently located near the frat house, and there they met my roommate, Rick Angel, a fraternity brother with whom I’d developed a strong bond — in part because we were both Type A strivers and in part because he was among the most knowledgeable and rabid Razorback fans I had ever encountered. Among our Sigma Chi brethren, Rick and I were considered studious, steady, mature young men. Yet when it came to Razorback football, we could really gin each other up.
Our apartment was cramped, with grungy carpet and a shared bathroom. While Mother was in the tiny kitchen looking through the largely-empty drawers and cabinets, I pulled my father aside. “Um,” I said, tentatively, “I’m planning to sit with Rick at the game tomorrow, okay?”
“Sure,” he said. “I’d do the same thing.”
“Thanks,” I said, relieved. “We’ve got good seats, right behind the Texas bench.”
Game day was balmy and overcast with a warning of tornadoes, which was unusual for mid-October. One way or another, it felt like something surreal was about to go down at Razorback Stadium, and I just hoped it wasn’t another loss to top-ranked Texas, winners of eight of the last nine in this series.
With their first possession of the game, Longhorn quarterback Rick McIvor fumbled. When he came to the sideline, my roommate and I, from only a few rows behind the Texas bench, razzed him. This was the only game I’ve ever talked trash to opposing players, though not because I’m philosophically or morally above it; I just never had sat this close to the bench of any opponent. And now it was as if I were possessed by that demon from The Exorcist. I was thankful none of the Longhorns could climb into the stands and get their hands on me, and if there had been even a remote possibility of that, I’d have kept my mouth shut.
Hey, McIvor, you suck!
On the Longhorns’ second possession, the football was snapped over the punter’s head for a safety. Just like that, they were down 8-0. On the Longhorns’ third possession, they fumbled inside their 10-yard line. By halftime, the Hogs led 25-3, and into the fourth quarter it was 42-3. I was witnessing the football equivalent of a Biblical miracle. Coming only two weeks after the Hogs’ first loss to TCU since 1958, this supernatural occurrence confirmed the wisdom of my decision to transfer to Arkansas the year before.
This was sweet revenge for The Big Shootout, played on the same field 12 years earlier. Almost every Razorback fan sensed this, and more than a few of the Longhorn players no doubt realized it too. All these players were roughly my age and, like me and practically everyone else in America, they’d watched the so-called Game of the Century on television. My mind flashed back to that young lady in the Texas Band — the one the ABC cameraman had been obsessed with and who had repeatedly flashed the Hook ’em Horns sign on the TV in my grandmother’s living room back in 1969. I’d been wanting to give it back to this gal in the white cowboy hat ever since. So where was she now?
Yet this game was decidedly not The Big Shootout. Granted, Texas had come in as the nation’s top-ranked team, but Arkansas wasn’t even in the top 20. Whereas The Big Shootout had been a slugfest between two heavyweights, this game was a fired-up David smiting a mistake-prone Goliath. Nevertheless, it was a delight to sit behind the Texas bench and watch the Longhorns suffer. Revenge is a complex emotion that reflects poorly on those who revel in it. For Arkansas fans, this rout created the rare challenge of how to act when bringing mighty Texas low. Behaving like a graceful winner was apparently too much to expect.
Go home, McIvor! You loser!
With two minutes left on the game clock, a gaggle of Hog fans started to tear down one of the goal posts. Coach Lou Holtz fussily ran onto the field and tried to stop the mob, but as the final seconds ticked down, the bile of the crowd only rose.
When the scoreboard flashed 0:00, I watched from behind the Texas bench as the mob headed towards the goalpost at the other end of the field. At first, these fans were content to sit on the horizontal beam, but then like unruly zoo animals they climbed each upright. This goalpost came down too. A fistfight broke out amid the Texas Band, a carryover from the previous day when they had brazenly marched into Brough Commons and mocked the Hogs by chanting, “TCU!…TCU!” The Band had to be escorted out of Razorback Stadium under the protection of the Arkansas State Police.
Eventually, the mob down on the field carried one of the fallen goalposts all the way to Dickson Street, a hilly mile or so away, where they had the presence of mind, not to mention a movie director’s sense of atmospherics, to lean it upright against a tall-enough building. Throughout the night, bonfires clogged Dickson Street, which was covered with broken glass, and 70 people were arrested.
Never one for mayhem, I participated in none of this. I had played my part in this catharsis by taunting Texas players all afternoon, and to prove it my voice now sounded like Froggy’s from the Our Gang TV show. My idea of a proper celebration was to have a nice dinner with my mom, dad, and sister at Herman’s Ribhouse, my usual Saturday-night spot, where the tall, stern Herman Tuck manned the grill with a white rag hanging from his back pocket as he churned out hamburger steaks, hash-browned potatoes, and salad for five dollars and seventy-five cents.
The dark dining room, full of giddy fans, was dramatically lit by giant fish tanks filled with orange and white koi. My dad sipped a Dewar’s-and-water as he and I and Mallory, a University-of-Arkansas-student-in-waiting, talked on about what had happened that day. Already, in our little world, this game had taken on a history-making hue, much as when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. There was practically no end to the joy the three of us got from this unexpected win, which is always the best kind. For me, there was also the deep joy of experiencing all this with my family. The day before, when they had arrived in Fayetteville, I’d worried about keeping them entertained for two days. Whatever would we do on Saturday night when all of us were disappointed over another loss to Texas?
The following Monday was my 21st birthday, and I would like to report that this milestone prompted me to reflect and take stock of my life. But with the game still topmost in my mind, how was that even possible? One of joys of any great victory is to hold on to it for as long as possible. I couldn’t quit thinking about the win over Texas, nor did I want to.
There can come a point at which deep fandom results in the relinquishing of one’s life to the team, and on my 21st birthday I came as close to handing over the keys of my life to the Arkansas Razorbacks as I have ever come. If a map of my psyche were drawn, almost every jot of land would’ve been claimed by Arkansas football, a stake more intensely held because I knew several of these Razorback players: Wide receiver Derek Holloway was in my chemistry class; backup safety Cliff Henry was a fraternity brother; the thick-necked Scott Reed, who’d stuffed me on a quarterback sneak back in peewee league football, was the Hogs’ third-team quarterback. These dudes were my peers, and they had pulled off a feat that had eluded Razorback players across my entire teen years, excepting the win over the Texas Longhorns two years ago in Little Rock.
By the next week, however, my Hog mania had calmed considerably as the Porkers lost to the Houston Cougars for the fourth straight year.
Print Headline: PEAK RAZORBACK