The more things change, the more they stay the same…
A damn good football team that was winning games on the field, but was beset by constant drama off it. A fan base, frustrated with the vanilla, run-dominated offense, calling for more passing and/or the coach’s head. And Frank Broyles in the middle of it all.
Naturally that description conjures up certain images of certain recent events, but it’s actually referring to the 1988 team. And although that team didn’t even receive a fraction of the national attention that the 2006-07 Razorback soap opera did, it was the subject of a profile by Douglas S. Looney in the November 21, 1988 issue of Sports Illustrated (which in the pre-ESPN dominance, pre-Internet era was a pretty big deal).
Looney paints a dismal picture of the ’88 Hogs, focusing on their performance in the Arkansas-Texas A&M game that, in his words, was “was about as pretty to look at as the snarling wild pig emblem that decorates gas stations and convenience stores all across Arkansas.” (editor’s note #1: I’m starting to remember why I was so convinced back then that SI had an anti-Arkansas bias.)
He also notes that, despite being 10-0 at that point in the season, the Hogs weren’t receiving much love from the national press or pollsters. “The widespread reluctance to take Arkansas seriously has something to do with the generally dismal state of affairs in the Southwest Conference,” he writes. “But it’s also attributable to the fact that since Ken Hatfield took over as coach five years ago, the Razorbacks have played boring, grind-it-out football.” Ouch.
The article then runs through the standard litany of anti-Hatfield complaints that will be very familiar to any resident of the Natural State in the late 80s: the 51-7 loss to Miami in 1987, the 16-14 loss to Texas in 1987 (editor’s note #2: I was at that game. It sucked.), “Jesus wept”, and an offense that “was putting people to sleep”. Although Looney doesn’t mention it, it’s worth noting that ol’ Ken had a record of 45-13-1 at that point.
I’ve always felt that the 1988 and 1989 football teams were some of the best ever at Arkansas and haven’t gotten nearly enough credit over the years. In addition to back-to-back Cotton Bowls and 10-win seasons, let’s not forget that they were stacked with legit talent like Steve Atwater, Quinn Grovey, Wayne Martin, Barry Foster and many others.
The ’88 team, of course, received some measure of redemption when, the week following this article, it came within an Atwater drop of an easy interception of beating the vaunted Miami Hurricanes (of course, it frittered away that redemption with the standard-issue dismal bowl loss).
Looney closes his article on a fairly prescient note: “But should the Hogs lose to Miami and then in the Cotton Bowl—it will be their first trip to Dallas since 1976—the spectacle could unfold of a 10-2 mark not being good enough. And that could get real ugly.”
(more at www.razorbackexpats.com)