Hope for the Hogs keeps spirit up despite hard times

Ever get the feeling you’re living between the pages of a novel co-authored by Stephen King and the late Tom Clancy?

That’s exactly what this real-life thriller we’re living in feels like to me. Then again, I’ve always been the imaginative sort.

However, I have to admit this past week feels like being trapped in an all-too real episode of the “The Twilight Zone” as each day we’ve fallen under more and more strict “suggestions” of how we’re to live our lives and not congregate with others thanks to COVID-19.

A week ago, sports fans were looking forward to spring football practice, the NCAA Tournament, the Masters, and Opening Day.

Now our national pastime is hunting toilet paper while trying to maintain a six-foot safety zone from our competitors for that extra-soft or extra-strong tissue that we all took for granted just a week ago.

The Great Depression of the 1930s spawned the then popular tune “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”

I’m wondering if a singer-songwriter somewhere might be crafting the lyrics to “Bro, Do You Have an Extra Two-ply Square?”

In less than a 72-hour period last, we went from anticipating one of the the richest times in the American sports calendar to absolutely nothing. Zero, Zilch.

SEC teams aren’t allowed to practice or have meeting until at least April 15, when the threat from the virus will be reaccessed.

While Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek was reasonably upset that the NCAA canceled all NCAA championships for the rest of the 2019-20 academic year, it seems very unlikely the SEC or other Power 5 conference will resume play in baseball, softball or the other sports as the scope and seriousness of the pandemic begins to sink in.

These are without a doubt uncertain times that we’re living in. I always thought my generation’s Pearl Harbor or Cuban Missile Crisis would have been the 9/11terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, but the coronavirus has dealt us blow that is affecting the every-day lives of all Americans more than anything I can remember or have read about since the Civil War.

And this is just the beginning.

Experts say we have at a minimum eight more weeks of these types of conditions and restrictions, and that the health crisis is going to get far worse before it gets better. It could lag long into the summer. We just don’t know.

It is encouraging that reports from China and South Korea say conditions are improving. Both countries began suffering the effects of the virus around two months before the U.S.

As a Razorback fan, I cling to the hope that there will be some type of spring football practice, even if it gets pushed into the summer before the Razorbacks take the field this September for Sam Pittman’s first season as coach. I think it will happen, but like everything else, it is uncertain at this time.

I can’t imagine the Razorbacks and the rest of the Power Five schools won’t play football this fall, but then again until last week, I couldn’t imagine March without the NCAA Tournament.

Obviously sports in general and Razorback athletics in particular pale in comparison to the importance of “flattening the curve” and keeping as many in our society as safe as possible.

This social distancing is a hard message for many of us to totally grasp and accept.

Monday morning I had to talk my 90-year-old dad, who lives with me, out of going to the Northwest Arkansas Mall for his regular walk and coffee with a group of men who get their exercise and gossip there before the stores open. I had to bribe him not to go by fixing some biscuits.

I have a feeling I’m going to be baking a lot of biscuits and cornbread the next couple of months to entice my dad to stay in the house. The struggle is real. He hears the message about being in a high-risk group, but he doesn’t want to accept it.

With all this down time and no live sports to keep us occupied, we’ve watched several ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries over the last few days. I actually got excited when I saw a Facebook ad about the SEC Network dedicating a day of programming to each of its member schools. Today (Tuesday, March 17) is Arkansas’ day.

However, it really bummed me out that all of the programming is from the last year. That means all the football is from last season. Sure enough, the two football games the SEC Network is showing today are the Portland State and Colorado State victories, the Hogs’ only two wins last season.

Even though the Razorbacks lost, I would have rather watch a replay of the Texas A&M game, where the Hogs’ had chance to win down to their last drive. Frankly, I would rather have not been reminded of the last two or three seasons of Razorback football at all. That’s some misery no one deserves to live through again.

I guess that’s why I was so looking forward to spring practice. It was a chance for all Razorbacks to truly turn the page on the worst era of Razorback football any of us has lived through.

There is little doubt that the Hogs will be picked dead last in the SEC West whenever its football media are held, but I have hopes for a respectable season this year under Pittman, who made his name coaching the offensive line. Football begins with blocking and tackling, and I have great hopes that he and his assistants will guide the Razorbacks into being at least sound on both sides of the line of scrimmage this season.

I’m excited about the brand of defense Dave Odom will install as defensive coordinator. For the most part, I thought the Razorbacks had better talent than Missouri during his head-coaching tenure at Missouri, but His Tigers whipped the Hogs every year (2016-2019). Arkansas’ has always been in a position in the SEC of having to do more with less, and Odom has shown at Missouri and as a defensive coordinator at Memphis that he knows how to produce results in difficult situations.

I’m equally excited to see what new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles can do with Arkansas’ offense. The line play must improve, but Briles, who is considered one of the brightest minds in the college game, has some pieces to work with in receivers Treylon Burkes and Trey Knox, running back Rakeem Boyd, and grad transfer Feleipe Franks from Florida.

Obviously, there are concerns at almost every position group. Pittman wouldn’t have gotten the job if Chad Morris had left the program on solid footing.

However, I like that Pittman and Odom have said on separate and multiple occasions that the Razorbacks should have won more than four football games in the last two seasons with the talent on hand.

Whenever football does return I think the Razorbacks are in better hands than the program has been in some time. At least that is the hope I have, and that hope is one of the things that will keep my spirits up no matter how long this crisis lasts.