I grew up in the tail end of the Southwest Conference era – before Arkansas broke off from that storied but doomed vessel and departed for the SEC, greener of pastures, and of pocketbook. I was just old enough to feel some sense of loss at the rivalries we were leaving behind, but young enough to be extremely excited about the prospect of taking down Kentucky in basketball on a yearly basis. Just old enough to have learned that no game mattered more than the Texas game, but not old enough to truly understand why.
But even as a kid, one thing I could always fully appreciate about SWC culture was the Aggie jokes. My dad loved them. I think most dads do.
Here’s a classic for old time’s sake:
Two Aggies walk into a bar. The third one ducks.
I was all set to fire off about a thousand words of Aggie jokes for this column; Texas A&M had already teed it up by losing at home to Appalachian State and by paying close to $100 million for a coach who has the same record and a worse offense than his predecessor. But if I’m being honest, after the Hogs’ own brush with utter disaster last weekend, poking fun at other teams’ misfortunes feels somewhat less appealing.
Because last Saturday, as FCS opponent Missouri State raced to a 17-0 lead and still led by 10 in the fourth quarter, it may have been former head Hog Bobby Petrino back in the building, but it felt like the ghost of Chad Morris that was haunting Razorback Stadium. By the time ESPN flashed the graphic showing no top 10 team had ever lost to an FCS opponent, I was wondering what karmic wrong we had collectively trespassed and working on my coping strategies.
One more note on the Petrino: I think I had almost forgotten the elegance of his route combinations and the brilliance of his playcalling, but having been reminded, I think I’ve had enough to last a lifetime. If anybody wants to start a fundraiser to move that man back to Montana – or anywhere else where we’ll never face him again – I’ve got a contribution waiting.
But finally, with a little less than 12 minutes left in the game, Sam Pittman’s team showed up, vanquished one former head coach and dispelled at least some of residual trauma left by another.
The whole experience was somewhat worrisome. We already knew we had some issues in the secondary to account for, but the sudden epidemic of missed tackles and an odd inability to get the running game on track for much of the game was new and unexpected.
But I think we learned something, too. And football seasons, especially at the college level, are often defined by lessons learned – and whether those lessons come in wins or losses.
Last weekend’s lesson was that entitlement doesn’t look good on us. I guess it doesn’t look good on anybody, but at least Texas A&M is accustomed to it. They’re the team that finished fifth in the SEC West last season yet somehow hoodwinked the college football industrial complex into giving them a preseason No. 6 ranking in the country. Let them have it.
There have always been, at least to my recollection, a cadre of teams with some strange appeal to preseason poll voters. You already know the usual suspects – Notre Dame, Texas, Tennessee, et. al. They’ve all taken turns as the inexplicably anointed; the sins of the previous season washed away by a summer of hype, followed just as quickly by an early dose of autumnal reality.
This year that team was Texas A&M. It’s never been Arkansas.
That’s not to imply that we’re being treated unfairly. Pittman is probably the most universally liked coach in the country and I think the sport’s media are eager to say nice things about him and his team.
But, apparently we lack some inherent glamor factor that plays well in preseason polls, and that’s fine. I think we’d all prefer the identity Pittman has restored to the program – one defined by physicality, effort and intensity.
Those have been the hallmarks of all our best teams, including Petrino’s, and I think the near-miss with Missouri State taught this year’s team – or reminded them – of that. We learned that we have the athletes to steamroll a team with 21 unanswered points in about 10 minutes, but that we can’t do that just by showing up and expecting it to happen.
Lots of teams receive that lesson every year; not all of them get it in a win. It was a wake-up call, but sometimes the better team never answers the alarm – just ask the Aggies. The Hogs hit snooze a few times, but once we got moving the talent gap was stark and obvious.
That won’t be the case this weekend. For whatever their faults, Texas A&M has plenty of talent, including a pair of NFL prospects at safety and dangerous skill players on offense.
But Arkansas looks like the more well-rounded team so far this season, and having been reminded of the identity that makes us a winner, I think we’re a wiser one, too.
Can’t resist: One more Aggie joke before we go…
Two Aggies were walking through the woods when they came upon a set of tracks. The first Aggie said, “Those are deer tracks.”
The second Aggie said, “No, they’re too big to be deer tracks. They must be elk tracks.”
As the debate continued, they got hit by a train.
Photo credit: University of Arkansas
Arkansas native Brent Holloway is a freelance writer living in Gainesville, Ga. His “4th and 25” appears every other Friday at ARMoneyandPolitics.com.