Fifty years ago next month, Arkansas football stood out as a championship-caliber — okay, at a minimum, championship-capable — piece of a humble Southern state. Its progenitor was a fresh-faced and folksy Georgia man who arrived in Fayetteville just months after the state capital was the epicenter of re-escalating racial tensions nationwide. I wasn’t there, so I’m ill fit to wax reflective here, but I think I’m not out of bounds to say that it must’ve been a solemn, difficult time to be an Arkansan.
Frank Broyles made a big, bold mark on the program immediately. He was a genial but authoritative presence as the steward of this little state’s biggest sporting draw. The university with its picturesque Ozark campus and the unique mascot was trending from good to great, and the 1960s represented a period of not only championship excellence (1964, no matter what those greedy bastards from Tuscaloosa claim!) but resolute stability. It happened against the odds, perhaps, yet in a time of extreme national tumult, Hog football was a safe haven of sorts.
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Arkansas was all of 25 days away from putting a capper on a pretty groovy decade and maybe another national title. The Razorbacks were a plucky darling that threatened to involve themselves even further in casual discussions about power-broker institutions. Texas was one of those, and three full quarters into the No. 1 Longhorns’ Game of the Century on Dec. 6, 1969 in Fayetteville, it was second-ranked Arkansas that had designs on impressing the umpteen million viewers whose rabbit ears were picking up ABC’s feed that Saturday.
Fifteen minutes and fifteen points later, Arkansas sustained the kind of loss that has haunted few other programs. Five years after that game, the president in attendance would face his reckoning, but that process for Razorback fans happened 10 times slower and took a whole, whole lot of weird turns along the way. But as the 50th true anniversary of that game looms, can you even quantify the subjective difference between Arkansas football now and where those power brokers, many of which still rule the landscape, presently reside? The chasm between “us” and “them” is widening.
What would Broyles think now? Bloated by debt and riddled with inefficiency, Hog football might as well be a federal government agency. That is not to say that there haven’t been some great days to be a Hog fan from 1970 forward, but isn’t that why the present-day doldrums are so upsetting? Texas didn’t just stomp Arkie ass into permanent oblivion that day. The ensuing decades had high points. Darrell Royal didn’t just trap Broyles, Wilson Matthews, and Johnny Majors in some mirror and heave them all out into space like Superman did with General Zod and the bigger guy and the lady who looked sorta like Joan Jett.
You’d be taxed to identify a worse month for a college football program than the one Arkansas just experienced in October 2019. And the San Jose State embarrassment was LAST MONTH For these poor Hogs. Kentucky deployed a wideout as a quarterback just for fun, and beat ‘em. The poor punter was asked to make the most obscenely bad throw on an everything-about-it-was-grotes
That game, the last mail-in farce over which the current head coach presided, was on homecoming in the same stadium where that one iteration of The Game of the Century™️ went down. And even on this pretty fall afternoon against a terribly flawed opponent, the fans weren’t of the mind to show. The crowd against Texas a half-century ago was easily bigger than the one that sheepishly filed into and out of Reynolds Razorback Catacomb on Saturday. Considering that max capacity there has ticked up more than double through several expansions since the day Tricky Dick tried to tuck himself inconspicuously into the crowd, that’s kind of a bad thing.
Mississippi State’s coach really needed something big from a really bad offense in his second year — he’s staving off whispers about his job, too, except he’s won three times as many games in Starkville as his foil has over the same span — and Arkansas’s defense has really helped embattled guys around the country. I’m sure some folks on Bulldog blogs and message boards went ballistic in recent weeks and made audacious claims about how Joe Moorhead would need his team to do something ridiculous like throw up a school single-game total yardage record (check) or score 50-plus points in a conference road game (check) to stay employed. It’s such a crazy deal, being behind a school that helps keep mediocre coaches employed, its own chief among them.
It was a 54-24 final and for those few who stayed or watched it all, the second half at least offered up glimmers of happiness in the form of two freshman quarterbacks who both showed spirit. They’re potentially good players, if and only if they get a different brand (read: any brand) of coaching. Hunter Yurachek is a likable and well-meaning athletic director. He can and should be allowed to make something happen, as he was unfairly saddled with the current football regime thanks to the silly decision to let one of these itinerant administrators bind the university up.
The University of Texas dealt a pretty big slice of heartbreak to a goodly part of the state of Arkansas. Half a century on, a competent administrator at the University of Arkansas should not let the state of Texas let one of its better high school coaches lead a multimillion-dollar project into ruin.