Mike Irwin: Arkansas Razorbacks, Fans Deal With 'Lowest of the Lows'

by Mike Irwin  on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2008 4:20 pm  

This story is from the archives of ArkansasSports360.com.

Last Saturday's loss to Kentucky was a kick in the gut at a time when everyone associated with Arkansas Razorback athletics was hopeful that the worst was over after a brutal three week stretch of lopsided losses to Alabama, Texas and Kentucky Florida. The win at Auburn had some fans openly predicting that the Hogs would be bowl eligible in under a month. Freshman nose tackle Zach Stadther was so fired up that he boldly told reporters, "I wouldn't want to be Kentucky this Saturday."

The bulletin board material didn't just come from fans and players. Both Bobby Petrino and his brother, Paul, mentioned their unbeaten record against Kentucky as coaches several times last week. With the 'Cats missing their best offensive player, with a quarterback who had been struggling to make plays and with a flu bug making its way down Kentucky's roster, Petrino, his players and most Hog fans saw a beatable team on the schedule at a time when Arkansas appeared to have turned the corner.

For 55 minutes of football between the two clubs it looked like that optimism was well placed. Then came the kick in the gut. Probably 95 percent of the time a team who has the ball leading by 13 points with five minutes to play in a football game will win that game.

Welcome to the other 5 percent, Hog fans. It happens.

I had a guy tell me on Monday that he was so distraught Saturday night he got himself intoxicated for the first time in years. He also mentioned something else that I found interesting: "Fans take this stuff harder than players," he said with a trace of anger in his voice. "They get over it a lot quicker than we do."

I started to point out some of the comments from the players after the game. Senior center Jonathan Luigs, for instance, called it, "the lowest of the lows."

But rather than argue a point about how much players do or do not react to losses I reminded him of something I heard a dad say to his son many years ago. The son had blown a key tackle that led to a lengthy touchdown run by an opposing running back. That touchdown fueled an improbable comeback by the opponent. A game that was well in hand turned into a loss. The son told his dad that he knew the fans were blaming him for the loss. He suspected that many of his teammates felt the same way, even if they did not voice that opinion to his face.

"There is a way you could have avoided this," the dad said to the son, who straightened up as if he expected a lecture about the need to pay attention in practice and put to use all those drills on the proper way to form tackle. But the conversation took an unexpected turn.

"You could have decided never to play football in the first place," the dad continued. "That way you could be up in the seats complaining about missed tackles and some other poor SOB would be standing around feeling sorry for himself."

On Sunday afternoon when many Hog fans were still stewing in their juices over a game where defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory, the Razorbacks were back out on the practice field getting ready for Saturday's game with Ole Miss. While the season is in progress there is little time for players to dwell on the impact of a loss. Any loss.

But what about the fans? How do they deal with reality, especially when reality suggests that Ole Miss is coming to Fayetteville with a better team on paper than the Razorbacks? A Tulsa team that scored more points on UTEP than Texas is up a week from Saturday. Two weeks from now the Hogs will have gone from playing a couple of teams on their schedule with underachieving quarterbacks to a pair of teams with solid playmakers behind center.

"Football," Frank Broyles is fond of saying, "is all about the quarterback." I fear the Hogs are about to witness first-hand the validity of Frank's observation.



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