Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Arkansas' Ascent to the Mountaintop

Twenty years ago today, I was teaching journalism at the University of Oklahoma, and I was in Denver with a group of about 10 students for a Saturday journalism conference.

We had driven all night Thursday night to get from Norman to Denver in time for the students to do some skiing Friday afternoon (I just wanted to collapse in my hotel room).

Saturday was filled with workshops, which concluded around 4 or 5 p.m. We checked out of the hotel that morning and put all our bags in the van that had been provided by OU — and everyone knew we were planning to leave the minute the conference wrapped up.

I knew the Razorbacks — the basketball team from my alma mater — would be playing Arizona in the first game of the Final Four that day, and I knew I would miss it. I hoped the Hogs would win so I could watch them play for the national title two nights later — from the comfort of my living room.

As it turned out, I did get to watch them play for and win the national title, but I didn't get to see them play Arizona. Well, not live. I set my VCR to record the game, and, thankfully, there were no power interruptions while we were gone. I was able to watch the recording of the game after we got home on Sunday afternoon.

But I watched highlights from my motel room when we stopped for the night somewhere in western Kansas that Saturday night. The room had cable service that included CNN Headline News — and I remember staying up much later than I should have to watch the highlights from Arkansas' triumph over and over.

(ESPN existed in those days, but I don't think SportsCenter had evolved. Anyway, I don't remember considering it an option at the time.

(By the way, we lost an hour that night. It was the weekend that Daylight Saving Time began.)

But I discovered — after I got home and watched the tape of the game — there was one thing I didn't see on the highlights.

There was a popular beer commercial in those days that showed a guy departing an airplane and essentially hijacking a driver who was there for someone else — all so he could drink beer in the back of a limo. His catchphrase was "Yes, I am" when he was asked if he was really the guy who was supposed to be picked up.

Anyway, in the 30 minutes between the Arkansas–Arizona game and the Duke–Florida game, a spoof of that commercial was shown.

The parody began without warning; it was so well done it took me a few seconds to realize it wasn't a genuine commercial.

It probably isn't as funny today as it was when it ran 20 years ago. You kind of had to be there, you know? And remember, I was still giddy about my alma mater advancing to the national championship game. I was in quite a receptive mood, if you know what I mean.

Even so, I still think it was clever.

Duke beat Florida while we were on the road. I wasn't able to pick up the game on the radio, but half of the students were girls and they weren't interested in the outcome, anyway. I found out about that game when I saw those highlights in my hotel room.

So the championship match was set — Arkansas against Duke.

At the time, the Blue Devils probably were regarded as college basketball's elite program. If the Hogs could beat Duke for the national title, that could only add to the national respect they would earn.

Twice before in my life, I had seen Arkansas advance to the Final Four. They lost both times. But 20 years ago tonight, the Razorbacks and their fans had been to college basketball's mountaintop, and they had seen the Promised Land.

They would claim it for their own in two days.

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