In the past two weeks in the SEC, not many teams have looked as good as the Arkansas Razorbacks. The Hogs rolled past then-17th ranked LSU, taking back the Golden Boot for the first time since 2011, following it up with a dominating shutout over Ole Miss last Saturday. Two weeks of incredible success seems to help fade away the two years of close losses, 0-52 shutouts, and stints at the bottom of the SEC West. It would seem Coach Bret Bielema finally has the Hogs peaking at the right time, and that may not work in Missouri's favor this Friday.
This may sound weird coming from a Rock M Nation post, but it warms my heart to see Arkansas find success again in the SEC. I'm a sophomore at Mizzou. I'm a fan of all Mizzou sports. This Friday, I will internally (I'll be on the field with a camera) pulling for the Tigers to knock off Arkansas. But I'm a Hog at heart.
I moved to Rogers, Arkansas, in January 2000. Rogers is a town of about 50,000 people (and the very first Wal-Mart) about 30 or so miles from the University of Arkansas campus. The state of Arkansas, unlike its neighbors to the north, south, east, and west, doesn't have a pro sports team anywhere in the state. The Razorbacks became a "pro" team for most people who grew up in Arkansas.
Over the next 13 years, I saw the highs and lows of the Razorbacks program and all the players/coaches that came with it. I remember going through the Houston Nutt era with people calling for his head every week, regardless of how the team was playing. The first Hogs game I remember attending was against Vanderbilt in 2005, when Jay Cutler led the 'Dores from down 11 to knock off Arkansas at home. I shrugged off the loss, and was excited to watch the Hogs take on the #1 ranked USC Trojans at the Coliseum. I couldn't walk down the hall of my elementary school without seeing a "Beat USC" shirt on one of my classmates.
The shirts didn't help. My family stopped watching at the half. Arkansas won three more games in 2005.
Over the next two or three years we started going to more games with a co-worker of my dad, and I got to see one of the best backfields in Arkansas history at work: Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, and Peyton Hillis. McFadden's #5 jersey lined the Stadium on game day, at the tailgates, and nearly everywhere else in the state. "Run DMC" and company racked up over 6,400 yards and nearly 50 touchdowns in Nutt's final two years at the helm in Fayetteville. I will still argue to this day that DMac should've won the Heisman over Troy Smith in '06. Regardless, he remains one of the best players I got to see in the Cardinal and White.
Nutt left for Ole Miss before the 2008 Cotton Bowl against Missouri, to the relief of almost the entire fan base. The "Houston, we have a problem" shirts and several domain names calling for his jobs were no longer relevant.
I didn't know much about Bobby Petrino when he arrived in Fayetteville in 2008. He coached at Louisville for a bit and failed as an NFL coach, that was the jist of it. My family got season tickets for the first time in 2009, and while Arkansas didn't impress in Petrino's first two years, I knew that the Hogs were building something great for the future. Ryan Mallett had just arrived at the U of A, along with future NFL players Knile Davis, Chris Gragg, Jarius Wright, and others.
The next two years were probably the most fun I had as a Razorback fan. Arkansas went 21-5 while making a home in the polls, spending 26 straight weeks in the top 25. The future looked as bright as ever for the U of A. Although, I felt I wasn't going to be a part of it. I had taken my first visit to Mizzou and fallen in love with it. I felt that was where I would end up.
Fast forward to April. I come home from school to the news that Coach Petrino had gotten in a motorcycle accident the night before, with pictures of him in a neck brace and a scraped-up face addressing the media. Over the next couple of weeks, everything came unraveled, and Bobby P was shown the door. I was angry. I knew he was a terrible person who deserved to be shown the door, but I felt spoiled by all the progress we had made in two years under Petrino, and felt it was all gone. I went through the five stages of grief, and figured we could still be good even with John L. Smith as the Head Coach, right?
I haven't re-watched this game. I probably never will. I remember watching from my living room with my friends, and having my heart sink to my feet when I saw Kolton Browning leave the pocket and have nothing but green grass in front of him. After, I just kind of sat there with my hands on my head, not really mustering up the strength to say or do anything. Somehow, I ended up on my floor.
Later that week, I got my acceptance letter from Mizzou in the mail. Alabama then rolled the Hogs 52-0 that Saturday, throwing its hat in the emotional pot that was my week. The Razorbacks went on to win only three more games that year and of course chose not to retain John L. Smith.
When I heard that Missouri's new "rival" from the West was going to be Arkansas, I was a little conflicted. You have the school I'm currently attending and plan to get a degree from, versus the school that has shaped me as a college football fan. Everything I know came from watching Arkansas football. I knew once the game rolled around in November 2014, people who know me would starting peppering me with the question, "Well, who are you pulling for in this one?"
I am a student at the University of Missouri. I root for all MU sports. I know the fight song, the alma mater, Missouri Waltz, and everything in between. I proudly bleed black and gold for Mizzou.
However, amongst all that black and gold, there will always be a little cardinal and white.