The Call of the Hogs
By Daniel McFadin
If there is one sport that has more twists, turns and amazing finishes, it’s college football. The 2010-11 season has been ripe with upsets and storied no one could have predicted. Jacksonville State over Ole Miss, James Madison upsetting Virginia Tech, the downfall of Texas and teams like Baylor, Iowa State and Nevada showing their programs have something to prove.
But one slug fest that I will never forget is one that occurred at the end of last season on January 2, 2010. For Christmas I had received two tickets to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, to be played by the Arkansas Razorbacks and the East Carolina Pirates in Memphis,Tennessee, 5 hours from my home in Springdale, Arkansas.
The morning of the game, I jumped into my car with my friend Coy and my Dad who was driving us there. Before we left, we attached four Razorback flags atop my car; we weren’t the only ones that had. By the time we passed through Little Rock, traffic on Highway 40 had become a convoy of Razorback fans making their way to the Liberty Bowl. Almost every car seemed to have a flag, a sticker or some form of a Hog adorning its surface. I had been to Razorback games before, but this was something different.
Stopping at a gas station, we found the entire parking lot filled with people wearing Razorbacks shirts and hats as they filled up on gas. While filling up my Bravada, I chatted with the man at the pump next to mine. We both marveled at our current situation, surrounded by countless Arkansas fans all on our way to one city. It was the sports equivalent of a religious pilgrimage.
We eventually arrived in Memphis and after checking into our hotel, Coy and I mounted a bus ferrying fans across town to the Liberty Bowl. One thing that was obvious as we entered the stadium was it was going to be very, very cold. We found our seats, which if they weren’t nose bleed seats; they were a very close friend of them.
Perched in a corner of the stadium we watched with thousands of Arkansas and a few hundred die-hard East Carolina fans as ECU took advantage of sloppy playing by Arkansas and had a 10 – 0 lead by half time. Instead of the Ryan Mallett led offense racking up points and the Alex Tejada kicking game breaking Arkansas fans hearts, it was the very opposite. It was a mirror image the season up until that night.
By the end of the 4th quarter, the game was tied 17 – 17 thanks to a Arkansas interception by Tramain Thomas for a touchdown, a Tejada field goal and a Mallett 41 yard touchdown pass to Jarius Wright that . The drama and nail-biting began with 1:05 left in regulation when ECU kicker Ben Hartmen attempted a 39 yard field goal…that bounced off the left upright. It was his second miss of the game, and not his last. After the Hogs went 3 and out, Hartmen got another chance at the game winning shot with 3 seconds left. This time he missed wide right.
The crowd was in disbelief and ecstatic at the meltdown that was unfolding before us and we were now oblivious to the bitter cold. This was over time football and Arkansas has had its fair share of success in OT. The game would be decided by the kickers. Hartmen once again attempted a game winning kick, a 36 yarder. Third time is the charm, right? Not this time, the kick went left and the crowd went crazy. What came next was something Hog fans had come to dread: Alex Tejada trying to kick a game winning field goal. As Tejada prepared for the attempt, Hog fans everywhere were undoubtedly recalling the games against Florida and LSU when he had missed game clinching field goals.
On October 17th, about a dozen Hog fans and myself convened in the Student Union auditorium on the Arkansas State campus. Together watched what should have been an Arkansas victory over top ranked Florida, turn into an officiating nightmare that was topped off by Tejada shanking not one, but TWO field goal attempts. Those potential three points were the deciding factor as the Gators won 23-20. The final game of the regular season, or the Battle of the Boot, against the LSU Tigers, was lost in again by three points because Tejada couldn’t come through in the clutch.
But on that night in January the crowd was absolutely silent as the ball sailed through the air…and then it erupted. The kick was good and Tejada was instantly absolved of any previous misfortunes. I will never forget the sight of the entire Arkansas Razorback team chasing Tejada the length of the field in celebration as we all basked in the moment of victory.
From the moment the referees hands signaled the kick was good, we were on cloud nine. Coy and I shared a sports hug (there is a difference) and joined in the celebration. Another sight I won’t forget easily was that of the middle-aged man behind us celebrating with an older man, who was either his father or his grandfather. Seeing a love for sports shared through multiple generations is just one of many aspects that make sports appealing to me.
As we left the Liberty Bowl in a mass exodus of red, I felt the urge to belt out “Arkansas!” Many replies of “Razorbacks!” were returned from throughout the crowd. It was in that moment that I felt like I was celebrating with the entire Hog fandom. It was a moment of unity, a moment that was bigger than any one person and one that encapsulated everything that makes being a sports fan worthwhile.