In a new series, Whimsical Graffiti, Arkansas Money & Politics editor Mark Carter tells it like he sees it. Check out his column every week on AMP.
It’s really not a bad drive, I-30 to Dallas. Compared to Memphis, certainly compared to rolling up The Hill on game days, the drive into the Metroplex from Little Rock isn’t too taxing.
And Dallas has always been an important destination for Arkansans. Its relative proximity contributed to its status as romanticized destination; Dallas represented the culmination of a Southwest Conference championship and a state’s tether to national relevance, and it was accessible — our state’s closest “big city” (sorry, Memphis). Together with our bewildering attachment to the Cowboys (Hail Skins!), strengthened by a native son no less, the city continues to hold a special place in the collective heart of the state.
And while not necessarily scenic compared to I-49’s winding course through the western Boston Mountains, it’s always fascinated me to note the gradual transformation from wooded hills to piney woods to ranchland, from good ol’ boy to cowboy.
So it was as we headed into Dallas last weekend to watch the Hogs take on the Aggies in another Southwest Classic. I’ll give the Texas highway folks a tip of the hat: Once we crossed at Texarkana, digital signs beckoned us not to “hog” the left lane. The added “Gig ‘em Aggies” was unnecessary, possibly even unethical if not illegal, but it represented a clever way to nudge folks out of the passing lane. (On the way home, we actually got pulled over for coasting too long in the left lane, on an almost deserted stretch of interstate, no less. Perhaps out of sympathy, we merely were warned.) I can only hope that Arkansas is wielding similar enforcement now that “hogging” the passing lane is a violation here.
We entered Jerry’s World, that tethered giant silver alien mothership, with few expectations.
After the San Jose surprise, what was there to expect? Attendance for this one had already been waning since the Aggies’ entrance into the SEC — reviving a rivalry with the SEC Hogs and Big 12 Aggies in Dallas was a different enterprise entirely to playing a conference game at a neutral site — and the Hogs’ embarrassing hiccup the week before promised to keep fans at home. The dreaded 11 a.m. kick didn’t help.
But Razorback fans are resilient, if nothing else. For a team with eight wins in two-plus seasons coming off (yet another) historic loss, they showed out. Attendance was listed as 51,000 and change and from my vantage point, Hog fans represented close to half of it. It helps that DFW is home to the largest collection of UA alum outside the state. A few Aggies in Dallas, too, of course. But either the Jimbo delusion is lifting or Aggie fans didn’t deem the game worthy of their time; I was surprised there weren’t more of ‘em. Saddled with an early SEC loss but still ranked, A&M should’ve drawn more than 25,000 in Dallas.
Hog fans, meanwhile, were rewarded with a “back-away-from-the-ledge performance” and a near upset of significant scope. Tucked into the northeast corner close to the Marching Razorbacks, it felt like we’d pull one out on that final drive. And it felt good.
Aside from proving that closing is a skill yet learned, perhaps we proved that San Jose State was a fluke; that something closer to the A&M performance is what’s real. But what’s also real is another one slipping through our fingers. Also real? The Hogs have future pros at receiver. And despite the sleepwalk of Sept. 21, they have guts.
Hog fans, of course, have another gut punch to absorb. Brief heartache, followed by the overpowering numbness which has attached itself to Razorback football fandom. I almost don’t remember what’s it’s like to bath in the afterglow of a big win, a truly meaningful win.
Consolation came in the form of the cheese dip — sorry, queso— at Press Box Grill downtown, though. Definitely worthy of inclusion in the Little Rock hierarchy. Apparently, it’s “cheese dip” only in Arkansas. And why not? We invented it after all, right?
Our server decked in UT gear and offering genuine sympathy for our plight had some sort of cosmic significance, I’m sure. But it was lost on me. I-30 and home beckoned.
The border at dusk slowly dissolved into Arkadelphia, as Ohio State steamrolled Nebraska (the only game on but thank you, Lord, for satellite radio), before the purple urban glow finally welcomed us home at Benton. Not the Big D glow, of course, but our own little glow nonetheless.
Despite the loss, I’m glad we made the trip. I hadn’t been since the 2012 Cotton Bowl, a different time for sure, and had never made an A&M game there. It almost boiled over in AT&T this year. Soon, it will. We have to believe that, right?
The next trip is up The Hill on Saturday for Eric Musselman’s first Red-White game, in Barnhill, no less. And I’ll trade northeast Texas for Northwest Arkansas any day.