Not quite midway through our season’s journey, and the Razorbacks have already found themselves in a dark wood. We shouldn’t expect Nolan Richardson to appear like Virgil and lead them through forty minutes of Hell — Pelphrey must find his own way out — but fans can take a quick glance around at the nine circles while we’re in the neighborhood. It may be cathartic. Most teams are always only visitors in this region, on their way down from great heights or trudging on up from the lowest of lows. Others can and often do become full-time occupants.
First Circle. The pagans are those Arkansas natives who seem blissfully unaware of Razorback woes. They’ll call you later in the day after a devastating game and expect you to go on like nothing horrible happened. This saves them a lot of grief, but it also exempts them from Paradise for good. You can’t truly enjoy the greatest of wins unless you’ve suffered through the worst of losses.
Second Circle. Here be fair-weather fans. Easily blown about by the rough winds of bad years, they neglect their loyalties until a win streak comes around. They know who they are, and their guilt haunts them during the best of times.
Third Circle. The obsessives consume every stray bit of info they can, compulsively checking the message boards and newswires for the latest. They eventually become embittered by their obsession and hardened against hope, making any win impossible to truly enjoy.
Fourth Circle. Looks a lot like the Razorback Shop on this level. It’s reserved for the worst of tailgaters: those drunken alumni, covered head to foot in proper gear and boasting the best parking spot on campus, who never make it into the game. They’re doomed to hear the roar of the crowd secondhand.
Fifth Circle. Reserved for the laziest fans, who complain when people stand at games, never call the Hogs and rarely vocalize any kind of support. They’re condemned to a lifetime of missing the best victories because they didn’t want to have to find a place to park.
Sixth Circle. Heretics! Whether held in thrall by some professional team or under the spell of a border state school, this sorry lot pledges allegiance to another program. In-state recruits who sign with a hated rival sit forever on a fiery bench. If you’ve ever had the misfortune to come across a Texas fan from Arkansas, you’ll want to linger and soak it all in.
Seventh Circle. Blasphemers and Stepford fans, beholden to an earlier era or eating up the apocrypha spun by ESPN, roam this dismal circle. If we lose, they think we’re getting what we deserve for talking out of turn. If we win, it’s simply a fluke. According to proud tenant Jimmy Dykes, the Hogs “must think they’re better than they really are.”
Eighth Circle. Treacherous e-mails will land you way down here, where your name will be known to all and your infamy will make fandom intolerable. Also reserved for coaches who dangle job openings for a pay raise and the agents who spread the rumors that make it happen, as well as those coaches who actually come to campus, call the Hogs and leave the next day.
Ninth Circle. At our lowest circle, ESPN — here represented as a great big Satan — stands buried waste-deep in ice. Its horrible head bares three faces, each constantly chewing up the bodies of the worst haters in the business: Sean Salisbury, Mark May and Pat Forde. Loyal sightseers will likely enjoy this circle the most.
No reason to abandon all hope. We just suffered the worst loss in Bud Walton Arena’s short history, and this week’s outlook does not look good. But considering the level of our talent, the game has to break our way sometime soon.
Maybe not Thursday night against Alabama, who played a tough game against Kentucky last week. We follow that with an even tougher one at LSU, which has emerged as a leader in the West, despite last Saturday’s loss to Xavier. The Tigers have been blowing SEC competition out, while we ourselves have been on the bad end of blowouts. Given the psychological effect that has to have on such a young team, we need more than anything to stay competitive through a full game. Fans aren’t the only people who need hope.