Arkansas needs increased passion on the field, in the stands

When I first began attending Arkansas football games in the mid 1970s, the Razorbacks were in the midst of a run of sellouts at both their home stadiums that would run into the 1980s.

The string of sellouts — if I remember correctly, was second only to Nebraska at the time — halted after the deck on the west side of Razorback Stadium was added in 1985 and boosted the capacity from 42,000 to around 51,000.

Back then it did not matter if the Hogs were playing Wichita State, Southern Cal, Tulsa, or Oklahoma State, Arkansas fans attended the games to see their Hogs. Only one or at the most two games were on TV during the regular season, and tickets were tougher to come by.

The hottest Razorback tickets were always for the Texas game, and with fewer seats, the games in Fayetteville were always more difficult to procure.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: vs. Alabama
When: 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 6
Where: Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville

Remaining schedule

Oct. 13 – Ole Miss at Little Rock
Oct. 20 – Tulsa
Oct. 27 – Vanderbilt
Nov. 10 – LSU
Nov. 17 – at Mississippi State
Nov. 23 – at Missouri

The tickets were so hot that scalpers were getting outrageous amounts for tickets in 1973. One college student was busted for scalping, and when he was arrested the police confiscated a couple of dozen tickets and several thousand dollars in his dorm room. The young man lost the tickets, the money, and was locked up in the pokey during the ball game.

The 1977 Texas game at Razorback Stadium was even bigger when former Razorback Freddie Akers brought his No. 2 Longhorns to the Hill to face the No. 9 Razorbacks, guided by first-year Arkansas coach Lou Holtz, in a clash of unbeatens.

It was an old-fashioned defensive slugfest. Legendary Razorback kicker Steve Little booted three field goals, including an NCAA record tying 67-yarder, but Earl Campbell, first-time starting quarterback Randy McEachern, and receiver Albert Jackson proved too much for the Hogs as the Longhorns drove 80 yards to seal the victory late in the fourth quarter.

It was a tough loss, the Hogs’ only one that season, but it was the day I fell in love with Razorback games in Fayetteville. My passion for Little Rock games had already been ignited, but that was the first game on campus that I remember attending.

It was a blustery but sunny day in mid October. The leaves were already turning, and it was just a great atmosphere for college football. There’s nothing like watching the Hogs run through the “A” or a packed stadium passionately calling the Hogs.

The night before Dickson Street was wild, jam packed with people having a great time, getting revved up for the big game.

Folks today wouldn’t recognize Dickson Street back then. It had a rougher brand of fun than what one finds there today, a kind of fun that a 10-year-old probably shouldn’t have been exposed to even for the little while that I was there, but I had a brother who was a senior in college, and it was Texas Week!

It was outrageous. I was hit by a water balloon, had shaving cream sprayed in my hair, and squirted with red and white silly string by some sorority girls. It’s weird what a 10-year-old finds fun.

At that age, I didn’t have a clue what college life was really about, but after that weekend, I was totally sold on attending the University of Arkansas, and never ever considered another school or football program.

Things are different now. Heck, things were different nine years later when I arrived on campus during the height of the preppy phase in 1986. The fun is just different.

Arkansas fans are different, too. While there have always been armchair and Sunday-morning quarterbacks, some fans have become so analytical about the game that they can hardly enjoy themselves or the program. Some seem to follow the Hogs only to criticize their efforts. I’m guilty as anyone.

There is so much information at our finger tips today that it is hard to be an unabashed fan, to just fully throw our faith into to our team.

Now, I’m not arguing that this season has been fun or that anyone should give Chad Morris and the rest of the coaching staff a break after the football we all suffered through in September. The Hogs had a lifetime of growing pains last month alone.

Things probably aren’t going to get much better Saturday when the Razorbacks play host to No. 1 Alabama at 11 a.m. in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. With Alabama being a 30-plus point favorite, there will probably be a lot of fuel for criticism coming out of this game.

Many feel that this is Nick Saban’s best offensive football team at Alabama or anywhere else with his Crimson Tide scoring more than 52 points a game behind the rocket arm of their national-title game savior Tua Tagovailoa. It might not be one of his Bama defenses, but most any other team in the nation would take its efforts, no questions asked.

If the game goes as predicted, Arkansas might see more of back-up quarterback Jalen Hurts than Tua.

It’s a daunting task for the Razorbacks (1-4, 0-2 SEC) to face an opponent like Alabama (5-0, 2-0) for the players and fans. I can understand why some Hog fans might stay away.

The expense, other commitments, the early kickoff, the idea the Razorbacks have no chance. They are all valid reasons.

However, I hope the fans who do show up, make it an outstanding atmosphere for college football no matter the circumstances. How Hog fans show out in a game like this can make an impact on the current players, recruits, and young people who have yet to fall in love with the Razorbacks.

While it might not seem true, the ones at Saturday’s game who are poised to be fans are actually more important than the others. Players and coaches come and go, but being a true fan lasts a lifetime.

There’s an old saying I used to hear around Razorback games as a kid, that you don’t hear anymore. Maybe it’s a little too crass or hardcore for today’s game-day climate, but Hog fans once yelled, “Root Hog or Die,” quite a bit.

It’s just a slogan, but it takes passion to actually vocalize it. The Razorback program could use more passion on the field and in the stands.

We saw a glimmer of passion from the players last week when they kept fighting to pull within a touchdown of Texas A&M after trailing the Aggies, 17-0.

Let’s hope Razorback fans respond Saturday with some passion of their own despite the circumstances.