Recent deaths of Razorback heroes leave fanbase mourning

Alex Collins attends warmups prior to an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 10, 2018 in Cleveland. Former NFL running back Collins, who played five seasons for the Seattle Seahawks and the Baltimore Ravens after a terrific college career at Arkansas, has died. He was 28. The Seahawks released a statement from Collins’ family that said he died Monday, Aug. 14, 2023.(AP Images/Rick Osentoski)

Overall the joy of closely following a collegiate athletic program like the Arkansas Razorbacks outweighs the struggle, and pain that comes along with it.

I’m not talking about wins and losses. Certainly Hog fans have ridden the crest of success with their Razorbacks and ached along with the players, coaches, and staffers when the Hogs’ best efforts weren’t enough on the field of play.

On a certain level, those losses do hurt, but such stress seems silly when real life engages with our state’s Razorback red pastime.

In recent weeks, the deaths of three prominent former Razorback players made all the consternation and fuss we feel over wins and losses seem light, momentary, and petty in contrast.

Former Hog quarterback Ryan Mallett’s drowning death while swimming on vacation in Florida was a gut punch to Arkansas fans in late June. He was just 35. It was followed all too quickly by the passing of 60-year-old former Razorback basketball player Charles Balentine just over a week ago.

And then Monday evening came the news that former Razorback running back Alex “Buddha” Collins died in a motorcycle accident in Florida at the age of 28.

Former Razorback running back Peyton Hillis also nearly drowned in Florida while heroically saving his son and niece, who were caught in a rip current while swimming in the ocean earlier this year.

Life is fragile.

There really are no words for such losses. Collins passes as Arkansas’ second all-time leading rusher with 3,703 yards during his Razorback career from 2013-15. He played five years in the NFL for the Baltimore Ravens and the Seattle Seahawks.

He’ll forever be remembered for his key role in a play nicknamed “The Hunter Heave.”

On a fourth and 25 in overtime, Razorback tight end Hunter Henry caught a pass short of a first down. To keep the play alive, he hurled the football over his shoulder. Collins picked up the intentional fumble and rumbled for first-down yardage that set up Arkansas’ 53-52 victory over Ole Miss at Oxford, Miss. on Nov. 7, 2015.

It is an unforgettable play that Hog fans will remember the rest of their lives.

Balentine, of course, was best remembered for his baseline, game-winning bucket that toppled undefeated and No. 1 ranked North Carolina in 1984 at Pine Bluff. Michael Jordan got off a long jumper at the buzzer that would have won the game, but he missed.

I’m not sure any one play defines Mallett’s career, but his powerful arm and accuracy led to many highlights in his two-year career for the Razorbacks in 2010-11. Many remember him as the best Razorback quarterback of their lifetime.

It’s been a hard summer on the hearts of Hog fans.

Condolences to and prayers for the families and loved ones of these three memorable Razorbacks during these difficult times.

Thousands of Razorback fans fondly remember and honor their efforts while they wore the Cardinal and White.