Saturday, October 13, 2007

Arkansan nightmare

Well, the Hogs have now blown three 4th quarter leads in an equal number of games, starting their SEC season 0-3. Today after the game I told my mom "You've probably seen the end of a lot of things." Even though the Hogs only lost to an admittedly decent team 9-7, I think this game dug some graves.

First things first, the Hogs cannot win the SEC West, or even lose it in such a way that they were one of the "late season hopefuls." So, in a certain sense, that game was the end of hope for this year.Secondly, this game probably ended Darren McFadden's realistic shot at the Heisman. Until now his numbers had forced people to consider him, even during Arkansas losses. Tonight those numbers weren't posted. Not his fault of course. Auburn finally called the bluff on our offense in a way that no other team until now had done. They stuffed 8 men in the box all game and dared us to pass. Instead we spent most of the game running right at them. Still the result of an overall team failing, but nevertheless, that's that.

Lastly, it was probably also the tombstone on Nutt as our head coach next year. I'm not in the Nutt hater camp, and honestly people, the man couldn't pencil in "lose your top FIVE receiving threats" into his game plan for this year. Also, let's not pretend that the Auburn offense did any better against our defense than we did against theirs. Still, results have a way of taking precedence over the facts on the ground, and the results are three straight heart breaking losses for a coaching staff who had been able to deflect substantially criticism on the basis that "love us or hate us, we win games." Now that they haven't, and any lofty objectives are functionally out of reach, that line of reasoning will no longer work.

Indeed I will probably be one of the few Arkansans who still hold a love for Nutt. I sat through those long and ugly years under Danny Ford. While things haven't unravelled the way I'd have liked, I cannot forget that bright eyed young coach who walked into Fayetteville my freshman year and lit a fire in a dead-end program. It's too bad it usually has to end this way. Everyone's hero, the two-time coach of the year, booed twice in our home stadium, riddled with possible scandal (possibly not of his own making, although certainly mismanaged). Somehow in spite of all his flaws (or perceived flaws), Nutt is "coach" to me... like coach Lunny was in at Southside high school, and like Nolan Richardson was for Arkansas basketball.

I realize of course that college football is no biggie to the world at large. Nobody outside of my little corner of the world is affected by the difficulties of a middle-sized college football program falling on hard times. But in a place like Arkansas it's still a small enough circle of people that these things hit more personally. We all have a large investment in our team, not because they're a #1 contender on any regular basis, but because they're ours. It's especially sad when I see an Arkie coaching and two other Arkies playing on the opposite side of the ball. It's difficult seeing a boy from my hometown, who's brother is good friends with my sisters, line up under center for the other team. There's a feeling of family feud that has characterized this whole thing. Maybe that's what making the grapes so sour.

Ironically the grape crop in Arkansas did die in the fields this year. But there's one berry that will still be bottled into the sweet local nectar by our two state wineries - the native Arkansas muscadine. I have elsewhere written a poem of my home state based on the characteristic of this bittersweet berry. I still feel that it is a fitting emblem. A fittingly prospering crop that endures the ups and downs that characterize everything here: from football and politics to the weather. It is my hope that our beloved football team, like our little berry, can be resilient in spite of all, weather the cold, and once again be bottled into a bittersweet liquid that calms the souls and reddens the cheeks of her native sons.


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