In the small hours of a late night/early morning in October 2012, I was out with some fellow Hog fans celebrating Arkansas’ win over Auburn earlier that day. After leaving the Plains in the hands of the disgruntled toilet-paper tossers, we were across the Chattahoochee River in uptown Columbus, Georgia, waiting on a cab, when a buddy said he spotted former Razorback wide receiver London Crawford.
I was skeptical. This supposed sighting, I thought, was clearly the product of too many hours spent reveling in the euphoria of a rare John L. Smith victory.
Having departed from my inhibitions somewhere around sundown, I decided we’d find out.
“Yo, London!” I hollered across four lanes of traffic.
And he looked right at us.
Sure enough, it was him, the one-time four-star wide receiver prospect whose career at Arkansas is probably viewed as a mild disappointment by some measures.
But here he was, unsuspecting on a sidewalk in the middle of the night, beset upon by a crowd of strangers, receiving a stream of compliments, handshakes and back-slaps — all because four years prior he caught a pass that won a game.
Of course, we remembered it as more than that.
It was Crawford who hauled in the fourth-down, final-minute heave from Casey Dick to defeat LSU in the second Miracle on Markham and send the Hogs into the 2008-09 offseason with hope abounding.
It was the only touchdown Crawford caught during his junior season, and as a trio of receiving threats from Warren emerged with D.J. Williams to become the preferred targets of Ryan Mallett the following year, it turned out to be the last one of his career.
But that’s not what we remember.
We remember what that moment symbolized — that the Hogs were on their way back, that better days were ahead. What mattered almost as much as what happened, is when it happened.
“They always remember what you do in November.”
That quote, or a version of it, goes back to Frank Broyles. Another generation of Arkansas fans likely first heard it nearly 40 years later on the Sunday night coach’s show, delivered in frenzied, wild-eyed locker room speeches by Houston Nutt.
And as you might expect from a maxim with that kind of staying power, it’s true.
Broyles picked up the wisdom when his teams went undefeated in November during his first four seasons, but that kind of success isn’t necessary to color how we feel about a season.
Just look at some of the most memorable moments from recent history:
- Back-to-back shutouts against LSU and Ole Miss to snap the SEC losing streak in Bret Bielema’s second year — Nov. 15 and 22, 2014;
- Hunter Henry’s hook shot lateral that led to the most improbable fourth-down conversion most of us have ever seen, and eventually a 53-52 overtime win over Ole Miss (and the title for this column, by the way) — Nov. 7, 2015;
- And we could do an entire subcategory just on season-defining wins against LSU in Novembers past (from the Miracle on Markham in 2002, to triple OT in Houston Nutt’s last game in 2007, to the Sugar Bowl clincher in 2010, to the two we’ve already mentioned in 2008 and 2014.
Now here we are on the eve of another date with the Bayou Bengals, with another season still yet to be defined.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m among what I believe to be the right-thinking majority of Hogs fans who are already calling this season a success. We’re 6-3, just a two-point conversion away from 7-2, and headed back to a bowl game for the first time in five years. With each week of the Sam Pittman era, the doldrums of 2018-19 are left exponentially further behind us.
But success and satisfaction aren’t the same thing.
When your team has had a legitimate chance to win eight of its nine games, nobody wants to settle for .500 anymore, and a lackluster finish to this season would be an unquestionable disappointment after the highs of September.
So in many ways, the 2021 season — and how we’ll remember it — hangs in the balance of the final three games.
8-4 is well within reach and could only be viewed as a remarkable achievement. One win less, and we’re left spending more of the offseason lamenting what might’ve been, and less of it dreaming of what’s to come.
Which brings me back to that 2008 game — Casey Dick to London Crawford. It remains one of my favorite Razorback memories.
For me, it illustrates so much of what’s great about college football, because when Crawford secured that pass, when the referee’s hands shot into the air, when Casey Dick fell into a crouch in the aftermath, seemingly crushed by the realization that the last time he’d ever throw a football in a competitive game it was a game-winning touchdown, not one person in War Memorial Stadium or shouting in living rooms across the state cared even a little bit that it was only the team’s fifth win of the year.
That’s not the part we remember. That part isn’t what mattered.
In strictly literal terms, it was just one play, just one catch, just one win, just the difference between 4-8 and 5-7.
But that’s not what it actually meant.
We had won the moment, the most important one of the year, and so what was well known to be a rebuilding season was solidified as a successful one.
If you’re looking for parallels, this year’s season actually has much more in common with the one that followed immediately after. The next season, 2009, was the year after the turnaround started under a new coach, and the year before we flirted with the top of the college football mountain. In retrospect, it looks like a bridge year — nothing wrong with that, but I’d posit we might think differently about it now if not for a 33-30 overtime loss to LSU in the regular season finale.
The 2021 season has already been filled with memorable moments: piling up touchdowns against Texas, KJ Jefferson returning from injury to put the finishing touches on a near-decade of frustration against Texas A&M and coolly leading the game-winning touchdown drive in the final two minutes of last week’s win over Mississippi State.
But chronology matters when it comes to memory, and history tells me that what happens next will end up having an out-sized impact on how we remember everything that’s come before.
I think Coach Broyles — and London Crawford — would probably agree.
Arkansas native Brent Holloway is a freelance writer living in Gainesville, Ga. His “4th and 25” appears every other Friday at ARMoneyandPolitics.com.