Monday, September 27, 2010

Reflections of a Razorback

Have you ever noticed how liberally sports fans use the editorial we when discussing games their teams have played, big plays their teams have made, mighty foes their teams have beaten?

For example ...

"We won the game!"

"Did you see our comeback?"

"I was sure we would lose until we made that late score!"

There is no reason for any sports fan to feel superior to another in this regard. We all do it, no matter where we live or who we are.

Everyone says it — even those who know better — and we all know that most of us, when we say "we" did this or "we" overcame that, never actually did anything more than listen to the game on the radio or watch it on TV.

And I think most of us would agree, too, that — to be fair — only those who actually go out on the field of battle are entitled to use the first–person plural pronoun we.

On the other hand, though ...

I grew up in Arkansas, where the Razorbacks are the defenders of the dreams of the people in that state — and many who lived there once but live somewhere else today.

When I was living in Arkansas, there were — and I'm sure there still are — many sharp differences of opinion over many different issues and subjects. But the Razorbacks were always the great unifiers. They brought everyone together while the game, whatever it was, was being played.

The arguing resumed when the game ended, but, for a few hours, the entire state was united — the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the black and the white.

I think Arkansas has always had something of an inferiority complex. I lived there until my late 20s and the two most popular sentiments were
  • "Beat Texas!" and

  • "Thank God for Mississippi!"
The first was the annually expressed desire to defeat the hated Texas Longhorns in football, the second was an expression of gratitude that there was at least one place that was worse than Arkansas in, well, just about everything.

Well, Arkansas doesn't play Texas every year anymore so I guess that particular phrase has been replaced by something else, but I presume the statement about Mississippi is still in use.

Anyway, I've been inspired on this flight of fancy by the Razorbacks' game with top–ranked Alabama over the weekend.

That game was like a microcosm of the bipolar personality of Arkansas fans that I have seen and experienced since I was a child.

Wherever the Arkansas fans were on Saturday morning, whether it was Fayetteville, where the game was played, or somewhere else in the state — or outside the state's borders — the day began with high hopes, the proverbial impossible dream, the never–ending quest for legitimacy that pounds relentlessly in every Arkansas fan's heart.

It was embodied in the desire to beat Alabama. Some people may see Alabama as a substitute for Texas and, in a purely football sense, that would be logical, since the Crimson Tide has, if anything, an even greater national reputation (thanks mostly to Bear Bryant) in that sport.

But the truth is that Arkansas' rivalry with Texas always went beyond sports and included the state's Everybody Loves Raymondesque belief that favoritism was lavished on Texas and denied to Arkansas. In the eyes of Arkansans, Texas (not the Soviet Union) was the real "evil empire."

There just doesn't seem to be any way that Alabama can rise to that level of villainy. But, as a temporary surrogate, it will do, I suppose.

Anyway, the day that began with high hopes suddenly exploded into a fantasy of epic proportions when the Razorbacks scored a touchdown in the first minute of play. And when, at halftime, I went online to check my e–mail, I found my old friends from my Arkansas days discussing on Facebook whether the Razorbacks would be in the Top 5 after they beat the defending national champions.

I tried to remind my friends that it was only halftime, that it was only a 10–point lead and, in hindsight, my advice was valid. Alabama came back in the second half and won the game, although not by double digits, as many of the "wiser" football observers had predicted.

But, even though I gave my friends sound advice, I didn't take it myself. Even as I typed it, I was giving in mentally to the temptation to think about an accomplishment the rest of the football world could not anticipate, that had not happened and, as it turned out, would not happen.

The Hogs just ran out of gas.

When Alabama rallied behind the running of the defending Heisman Trophy winner, sanity was restored to a football world that had been rocked to its socks in recent weeks by James Madison's win over Virginia Tech and Jacksonville State's win over Ole Miss.

But it is mourning in Razorback Nation, where, thankfully, this is an off–week for the Hogs. After investing so much in Saturday's game, the team and its followers can use a week off.

Do I regret that the Hogs lost? Yes. It feels like it always did all those years when Texas dominated Arkansas.

(And, now that Alabama's winning streak over Arkansas has reached four, it's very familiar.)

Am I proud of the way they hung in there until the end? Yes.

I am a Razorback. I am always proud of the Hogs.

No comments: