Sunday, October 2, 2011

An Awesome Comeback

Ordinarily, I am very hesitant to use the word awesome — it's overused, and inappropriately used, too, as I have written before.

But no other word seems to do justice to what happened in Cowboys Stadium yesterday afternoon.

If you missed it (and, for reasons I would prefer not to get into right now, I nearly did), my alma mater, the the 18th–ranked University of Arkansas Razorbacks, rallied from an 18–point halftime deficit against the 14th–ranked Texas A&M Aggies to win, 42–38.

Before the season began, there were a lot of whispers among Razorback fans. Would Tyler Wilson, the understudy at quarterback, be able to fill the considerable shoes left by Ryan Mallett, who left school a year early to try his luck in the NFL?

(Mallett is currently the understudy to Tom Brady in New England — which means that, barring a Drew Bledsoe–like injury, Mallett is likely to spend the next few years riding the bench.)

Well, judging from yesterday's game, Wilson is more than capable of filling Mallett's shoes. He set a school single–game record in the comeback win, passing for more than 500 yards and, in the process, obliterating the record Mallett set against Vanderbilt last year.

There were several dramatic moments yesterday. There were the buildups for the obvious contests — Nebraska–Wisconsin, Alabama–Florida, Clemson–Virginia Tech — and then there were the outcomes that qualified as shocking (or, at least, surprising) — Kansas State's win over Baylor, for example (which I predicted), and SMU's victory over TCU in Fort Worth (which I did not).

But there was nothing like the Razorbacks and the Aggies.

Coming into the game, Arkansas had allowed only one rushing touchdown in its first four games. Admittedly, those first three opponents were nothing special, but the one last week (Alabama) certainly was.

Texas A&M scored five rushing touchdown in the first half. The Aggies seemed to be unstoppable — or maybe the Razorbacks were still struggling with the hangover from their 38–14 loss to Alabama last week. Whichever it was, I seriously considered not watching the second half. That's how lopsided it was.

What happened in the second half reminded me of an Arkansas game I attended many years ago, back when the Hogs and the Aggies were members of the old Southwest Conference.

It was a cold, dreary day in Fayetteville, Ark., when Baylor came to visit. A conference doormat when I was growing up, Baylor was asserting itself in those days and came to Fayetteville ranked 17th in the nation. Arkansas had climbed all the way to fourth in the national rankings before falling to eventual SWC champion Houston, but the Hogs were still in the top 10 — at #9 — and the home fans were confident that Arkansas would win.

The first half of that game is a blur in my memory now. I don't remember if Arkansas scored in that first half, but Baylor certainly did — repeatedly — and I remember that the Bears seemed to be in control of that game when the intermission came.

I also remember how quiet the usually boisterous Razorback Stadium crowd was. I overheard some people near me talking about leaving, and I found the thought tempting. I was cold and wet, and the idea of sitting in front of a warm fire instead of on a cold bleacher watching my beloved Razorbacks take a beating was appealing.

But I stayed and so did most of the home crowd — and we were rewarded with a great comeback. The Razorbacks won, 29–20. I don't remember the details, but I remember the growing excitement in the crowd as Arkansas gradually overcame Baylor.

It must have been like that for Razorback fans in Cowboys Stadium yesterday — except that what happened yesterday must have been even more impressive. It had to have been because Baylor only scored 20 points in the entire game that I saw. Arkansas scored 25 points in the second half against the Aggies — and held A&M to a field goal in the process.

It was awesome.

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