Pork Shank Redemption’s unvarnished and unsolicited advice to Arkansas State University Red Wolves fans on building your brand and growing your program.
State legislators, feel free to read along at your leisure.
Ordinarily, bad blood in sports is reserved for the most bitter rivals. This angst is forged over generations, in on-field battles, high-profile recruiting tussles, botched mascot assassination attempts and healthy doses of fan smack.
The ASU v. University of Arkansas situation is somewhat of an anomaly in that only one of the former elements seems to be present—the smack. And even that is generally one-sided. The anger that emanates from some ASU fans is ironically borne not from competition, but from a lack of it.
ASU: “Man, I really hate you. You’re so arrogant, coasting on inertia created in the 60’s and perpetuated by a media that’s in your back pocket.”
UA: (looks up from watch) “I’m sorry, were you saying something?”
ASU: “I said, I hate you!”
UA: “I’m sorry, the fans in our state-of-the-art stadium were cheering, so I didn’t catch that. Did you need an autograph? Or perhaps I could buy you a refreshing Pepsi product?
ASU: “You are so unbelievably self-absorbed and condescending. But despite my visceral loathing, it would be kind of cool if you could throw me a bone and schedule a game with me so I can raise the profile of my program, grab some of your recruits and a few of your fans and eventually chop off your head and drink your blood. Preferably in front of a live ESPN audience. Is that something you might be interested in?”
This aggression among Arkansas State University Red Wolves fans has been simmering since 1987, when Razorback guard Cannon Whitby wrung every ounce of magic from his glorious tube socks, knocking down multiple three pointers in a dramatic win over ASU in the National Invitational Tournament. That game showed that ASU could compete with the UA on a big stage. A game that the erstwhile Indian probably should have won. But they didn’t. And they took it hard.
Flash forward 25 years and that hate towards the Razorbacks is more palpable than ever.
Perhaps it’s the recent uptick of ASU Red Wolves football. Or maybe it was the gravitas that came with having a bonafide star on the sideline in Gus Malzahn. Either way, A-State fans seem more emboldened and more angry than ever.
Hog fans and Red Wolves fans certainly don’t have to like one another. But who is to say we have to despise each other either.
Here are three simple tips ASU fans can heed to keep that from happening:
- Stop being so needy. Just because you’re an underdog, doesn’t mean you can’t be the coolest underdog in the world. Think Lloyd Dobler, played by John Cusak in Say Anything. You are probably not going to get the coveted football game with the University of Arkansas. So stop groveling for it. Besides, even if you got the game against the Hogs, I doubt it would be as transformative as you think, even if you won—which this year, you would have. It takes decades to build a brand, so keep working on your own and stop worrying about the other guy’s.
- Stop being so mean. You can’t expect to convert middle-of-the-road Arkansas fans when every time the Hogs stumble you are there waiting to yuck it up. The more you do that, the more people have to take sides. When people take sides, history dictates they will take the side of the more successful program. When A-State fans openly reveled in Huge Freeze-led Ole Miss beating the Razorbacks, it just came off as petty and sad. Fans who would cheer for the coach who jilted them a year earlier, leaving the school coachless before their most significant game in years, is curious to say the least. Had ASU landed Petrino instead of Harsin has a head coach, I don’t think Hog fans would have rooted Bobby or ASU’s demise. Maybe rooted for an incurable STD but not football misfortune.
- Stop being so unrealistic. A-state had a great run in the 80s as a Division I-AA power, but between then and now it’s been a barren wasteland – reminiscent of the current state of Razorback basketball. Now, with back-to-back great seasons under your belt, it’s only natural to have a little swagger. But just temper it with some patience. You can’t become the Boise State of the south in a few seasons. More like a few decades. So, as much as it hurts, bide your time.
The future is bright at ASU. It looks like you have another smart, young coach. You can still openly drink Coca-Cola products in your stadium. And, above all, your brand has more awareness than ever. For now, let that be enough.