Longhorns provide opportunity, historical connection for rising Razorback program

For Razorback fans of a certain age — say 45-years-old and up — the Texas series is still THE series, even though Arkansas hasn’t played the Longhorns annually for 30 years after the Hogs exited the now defunct Southwest Conference for the greener pastures of the Southeastern Conference following the 1991 football season.

Now, that move, grandly orchestrated by legendary former Razorback football coach and athletics director Frank Broyles with SEC Commissioner Roy Krammer, was necessary for the Razorbacks to remain relevant as the wheels of college athletics churned, and Arkansas gained a ton from the exchange, mostly monetary, but still in many ways, it cost the program a link to its history.

Now history doesn’t ever go away, but it can be forgotten when folks don’t care, and well, Arkansas’ proud football history in the SWC doesn’t mean as much as a warm bucket of spit to most fans in the SEC.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: Texas
When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 11
Where: Fayetteville, AR

Remaining schedule

Sept. 18 — Georgia Southern
Sept. 25 — Texas A&M at Arlington
Oct. 2 — at Georgia
Oct. 9 — at Ole Miss
Oct. 16 – Auburn
Oct. 23 — UAPB, at Little Rock
Nov. 6 — Mississippi State
Nov. 13 — at LSU
Nov. 20 — at Alabama
Nov. 26 — Missouri

I mean, folks over in Alabama still claim the national title in 1964, despite the fact Bear Bryant’s boys lost to the Longhorns in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1965, hours after the Hogs completed an undefeated season by whipping the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Cotton Bowl.

Yes, Alabama did finish No. 1 in the polls that season when the final ones were issued in early December of 1964 prior to bowl season.

However, Arkansas won the Grantland Rice Trophy, voted on by members of the Football Writers Association after the bowls, for its undefeated season, and the Razorbacks reign properly as national champions forever more, no matter what anyone outside the state thinks.

The Associated Press and United Press International were so embarrassed by the faux pas that the next year, the news organizations extended their final poll until after the bowl games.

So if old-head Razorback fans are just a bit more fired up for this Saturday’s 6 p.m. showdown between the Hogs and No. 21 Texas on ESPN at 6 p.m., don’t just excuse us, join in the revelry.

This is Texas Week!

To many Hog fans that doesn’t mean a lot, but to Razorbackers who are old enough to know, it means everything. From the 1960s through the 1980s, Texas Week meant the biggest week-long party of the year on the Hill.

Homecoming was fine, but it didn’t hold a candle to the activities and fun surrounding the Texas game, no matter if game was played on campus, in Little Rock or at Austin.

The week was an endurance check for partying however you define that term, and Dickson Street, which was much different then than it is today, was a rowdy spectacle as the “ropers” and “dopers” alike put away their differences to unite in their hatred of the dreaded Longhorns and all things burnt orange.

Back in those days hating Texas was just a part of being a Razorback fan. It was engrained from childhood. As soon as a young one perfected the Hog Call, their parents would teach their kids how to properly throw the hook ’em horns sign, which is always, always Down.

When the college football news of a very eventful summer broke that Texas and Oklahoma would be exiting the Big 12 to join the SEC by 2025 or perhaps even more quickly, I wasn’t sure how to feel at first.

It meant the toughest most competitive conference in college football would only get tougher for the Hogs, who have struggled mightily since Bobby Petrino took that fateful Sunday-morning motorcycle ride on Highway 16 back in 2012.
Whether the SEC remains in East and West divisions or is broken up into a pod system, the Razorbacks will in all likelihood have the Longhorns and Sooners as regular opponents. That is in a word challenging, but maybe it’s just what the Razorback football program needs for the Hogs to crawl out of that ditch that we’ve been struggling to get out of for so long.

There is nothing that Razorback fans desire more than respect.

It’s part of a deep-seated inferiority complex that state has suffered from as long as I can remember. Being ranked 48th or 49th in just about every meaningful category, plays with your pride. Again, thank God for Mississippi, and its struggles.

Maybe the great challenge that Oklahoma and Texas presents to the Razorbacks will only embolden the program to rise and meet the threat because just as tough as the SEC has been of late, it’s only growing stronger.

In playing the Longhorns this Saturday, the Razorbacks have the perfect opportunity to show Texas that joining the SEC isn’t going to be a cakewalk to the bank. It’s also a fantastic opportunity for the Hogs to garner some respect for themselves and shake-off the bottom-feeder reputation the program has played under of late.

Historically, the best way for the Razorback football program to be noticed and appreciated is to beat Texas.

Whipping the Longhorns Saturday night in front of raucous, sold-out Razorback Stadium would be a landmark victory for Sam Pittman’s program. It would be a victory young Razorback fans would treasure the rest of their lives, and it would be a tonic for what ails older Hog fans who have struggled to maintain their spirit during the program’s recent struggles.

As a lifelong Hog Caller, I treasure the victories over the Longhorns that I’ve witnessed, and revel in the history of the wins I experienced through reading about them.

I’ve read every thing I could get my hands own about Ken Hatfield’s landmark punt return in 1964 at Austin which keyed the first of three consecutive victories over Texas in the mid-1960s as well as Joe Ferguson carving up the Longhorns like roast beef at War Memorial Stadium in 1971 with a splendid passing performance in the rain.

The memories of the victories from 1979, 1981, 1986, and 1988 are treasured not only because of the fantastic wins but also because of the time enjoyed with family and friends. I remember the jubilation in the stands of the ‘79 game, with Arkansas fans chanting “go to hell UT, go to hell.” I’m not proud of that, but it just shows the ire Hog fans had for Texas.

The party on Dickson Street in 1981 was monumental. Fans partied and were rowdy late into the night, nearly until morning. I remember hearing the roar from it through the windows of my grandmother’s old house just a few blocks away on West Street, near the expanded library today.

While the Hogs’ 1991 team was mediocre, their 14-13 victory over Texas at Little Rock in the Hogs’ final SWC season was sweet as can be. It was the high point of Jack Crowe’s tenure as coach, and at his weekly press conference the following Monday, he served steak and lobster to the media and sports information office in celebration, to celebrate and gig longtime sportswriter Orville Henry, who had suggested the idea the previous week. Crowe wasn’t the greatest head coach, but he was a good guy.

Since exiting the SEC, the Razorbacks are 3-2 against Texas, with oh-so-sweet victories over the Longhorns in the 2000 Cotton Bowl, at Austin in 2003, and the latest in the Texas Bowl in 2014.

A 50-yard Clint Stoerner back-shoulder pass to Anthony Lucas out of the end zone on third down broke open the Cotton Bowl, leading to a 27-6 blowout.

In 2003 Matt Jones quarterbacked perhaps the best first half of football I’ve ever seen to lead the Hogs to a 38-28 victory that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.

The 31-7 victory over the Longhorns in the Texas Bowl likely was the highest of highs for Bret Bielema’s period as the Hogs’ head coach. Pittman, who coached the O-line, got an inspired performance by his starting crew that bullied Texas like Arkansas rarely had done before.

I won’t go into the heartbreak that the Texas series has brought to Hog fans, taking a cue from Broyles who told me once in an interview that he didn’t discuss losses when I asked him about the 1969 “Game of the Century.”
No doubt others will rehash the particulars of that game elsewhere this week.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Longhorns have basically won two out of every three games they’ve played against Arkansas with a 56-22 record against the Hogs. Steve Sarkisian’s Longhorns are a six-point favorite early.

This game was going to be huge for the Hogs regardless, but the news that the Texas will be joining the SEC soon only amplifies this matchup. It’s the main reason the SEC Network is originating its “Marty & McGee” and “SEC Nation” programs from the UA campus on Saturday.

Texas played well in their opener, beating No. 23 Louisiana like a drum, 38-18, while the Hogs struggled in the first half before subduing Rice, 38-17. Arkansas’ comeback from 10-points down to score 31 points in the second half was impressive as their depth wore the Owls down, but the special teams, offensive, and defensive mishaps from a nervously played first half and again early in the second half clouds that late-game dominance.

Arkansas can wear down a program like Rice, but they won’t wear down Texas. The history of the series points in the opposite direction. If they Hogs want to win Saturday, they will have to play A-level football or at least like “fightin’ Razorbacks” as Ken Hatfield used to say during his head coaching tenure from 1984-89.

So far Hog fans have done their part, buying up all the tickets for the program’s first sellout since 2017.

Hopefully the UA will figure something out about the crowding and concession-stand and restroom situation before Saturday night. It’s extremely short notice, but last Saturday was a terrible mess for fans with extremely long lines and ice shortages by the third quarter.

Certainly, the pandemic makes things tougher for everyone, but amenities for the general fans do matter if you want them to attend games. Something needs to be figured out pronto.

The Razorbacks have a tremendous opportunity to make a statement against Texas this week. As mentioned before, beating Texas has always been the key to notoriety for the Razorback program. It will be interesting to see if the Razorbacks are up to the challenge.

A victory Saturday would set the tone for the season, and perhaps for the rivalry with the Longhorns that will likely become a yearly appointment by 2025. There is nothing like bragging rights over Texas, nothing.

Here is an interesting tidbit of trivia that means absolutely nothing, but I’ll throw it against the wall anyway. Over the last 50 years, the Razorbacks have defeated the Longhorns every season that the year has ended in the numeral “1” that they have played.

Yeah, it’s out there, but the Hogs won in Little Rock, 31-7, in 1971. In 1981, the Hogs romped to a 42-11 win at Razorback Stadium, and in 1991, the Hogs nipped the ‘Horns, 14-13 in Little Rock. The Razorbacks did not play Texas in 2001 or 2011, but maybe the mojo will continue Saturday?

Either way, it’s Texas Week, y’all. It’s time for all Hog fans to party and get ready to kick the Steers in their rears.