Doc Harper: Is Arkansas vs. Missouri An SEC Rivalry?

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Rivalries are great for schools. They help provide an identity. A measuring stick. Something for fans to get excited for every year regardless of record or ranking.  If nothing else, it’s just fun.

It’s always thrilling to win against a quality opponent, as Arkansas did against Missouri on Saturday, especially when the game comes down to the last second, but this didn’t feel like a normal game.  Arkansas hadn’t played a regular season basketball game with that type of atmosphere in a long time.  There was tension. There was trash-talking. There was substantial booing of Mike Anderson and the Razorbacks because of the substantial number of Missouri fans made the trip to Fayetteville.

It was a scene unlike any I’d ever seen for a Razorback basketball game both inside and outside the arena. Rarely does Fayetteville get many opposing visitors for sports other than football. But it was clear that, while there were many Razorback fans looking for tickets outside the arena, the sell-out was due to the infiltration of Missouri fans, who stood out in their gold and black amidst the red and white like plaque on teeth. Obviously, this concept of a conference neighbor is one we’ll have to get used to.

Since it was announced that Missouri was entering the SEC, there has been an expectation, or at least a hope, that Missouri would develop into a true rivalry for Arkansas. Certainly, Arkansas fans have been able to develop a hatred for a variety of conference opponents over the last 20 years, but other SEC schools already had generations-deep rivalries going when Arkansas made the switch, so mutual hatred has been a rare commodity over the years.

There was a definite basketball SEC rivalry with Kentucky when Arkansas basketball was at its peak in the early and mid-’90s, but that’s grown mild as the Razorbacks faded into mediocrity. Ole Miss is an old rival for Arkansas, and it caught fire again when Houston Nutt left Arkansas and was immediately hired by the Rebels. That was a game fans of both schools circled on their calendars – at least until Nutt’s Rebels became conference laughingstocks and he was fired before the end of his fourth season.

And ultimately, it’s difficult for Arkansas to move into the special dark corner of Ole Miss fans’ hearts reserved for hatred of Mississippi State and LSU. It’s the same problem the Razorbacks have had with anybody else in the SEC. Administrators tried to force rivalry upon Arkansas and LSU (mainly due to scheduling convenience), and while there are plenty of Arkansas fans who do hate LSU, it’s just never matched the intensity of the hatred Arkansas had for Texas just as LSU fans don’t look forward to the Arkansas game as much as their Florida or Alabama games.

Perhaps if Arkansas had actually kept LSU from the national title after the 2007 upset, something stronger may have grown between the two programs, but when a freaky set of dominos all fell the Tigers’ way the following week, LSU was back in the title game and the Arkansas upset became a footnote on the 2007 season for fans on the bayou.

But unlike the manufactured SEC rivalry with LSU, elements of a natural rivalry with Missouri have been developing for years. Beyond the obvious proximity between campuses, there have been plenty of on and off the field battles to seed animosity. Mike Anderson left Missouri for Arkansas. The Hogs have beaten the Tigers in recruiting for the likes of Ronnie Wingo, Jonathan Williams, Will Hines, and Kody Walker while the Tigers beat out Arkansas for Ricardo Ratliffe in basketball and two of their starting receivers in Marcus Lucas and, infamously, Dorial Green-Beckham.

They’ve also split a pair of bowl games over the last decade.  Arkansas won the 2003 Independence Bowl, which is a largely forgotten part of that disappointing season. Meanwhile, the Tigers are quick to trumpet their Cotton Bowl blowout of the essentially coachless Arkansas team in the 2008 Cotton Bowl as evidence of their supposed football superiority.

Saturday marked the first time the two schools played against each other as conference opponents in one of the major sports, and it lived up to what we hoped it would be. Despite Arkansas giving Missouri a four-minute head start, the game always felt close. It was physical. There were several different momentum swings. Both allegiances in the crowd stayed hot throughout the game. Few things as a sports fan make your heart sink worse than hearing an opponent’s battle cry (“M-I-Z   Z-O-U”) in celebration in your home arena because it appears the game is over.

But the game wasn’t over. In another trademark of a hotly contested game, one fan base left in the glow of victory, and the other left blaming the officiating. Missouri coach Frank Haith opened his post game press conference with a comment disguised as a no-comment about the referees. The Missouri site RockMNation.com, in lieu of their usual postgame reaction column, posted this series of tweets critical of the officiating at the end of the game.  As if no team had ever gotten a bad call before.

The end of the game has Missouri fans fervently anticipating the return matchup in Columbia on March 5th, which is exactly how a rivalry should be. Sadly, the two schools don’t face each other in football in 2013 (the annual game could begin as soon as 2014), so we’ll have to wait another year for another basketball game to keep this going. Fortunately, unlike most other SEC programs, Arkansas and Missouri both take football and basketball seriously, so games in both sports could carry rivalry significance.  If the atmosphere surrounding future games at all resembles what we saw Saturday, count me in.

But let’s remember that Mizzou will travel for basketball and keep them from filling up the upper deck of Bud Walton in the future.

Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Expats and is a regular contributor to College Football News and Sporting Life Arkansas. You can email him here and follow him on Twitter.

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  • Gregg

    I was sitting in Section 109, behind the West goal, seemingly surrounded by Missouri fans. I never thought much of them as far as a hate-filled rivalry goes. But after this game they are on the list. I have never been more embarrased for and disgusted by a fan base in all my life. Between the foul language, the drunkeness, and the blantant disrespect being shown in “our house” completely overwhelmed me. I’m not sure how they do things in the not-so-Big 12, but i wish Misery would go back. There is not a place for their grotesque, classless behavior in the SEC.

  • MSLAY

    Typical yankee trash. No class, no manners. It’s a shame we don’t get them in football every year, but that may be changing.

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  • KCHog

    As I live in Kansas City, I have long been exposed to Mizzou fans. I was horrified when the school joined the SEC. not because of the “cultural fit” or the geography, but because I knew we as hog fans were going to have to put up with one of the NCAA’s most obnoxious fanbases. Every fanbase has a certain segment that lives in outer space, including the razorbacks. Still, there are some fanbases that, as a whole, seem to have no grasp on reality. They’re cheated in every loss or some other excuse that simply ignores the fact that the other team was better. The worst are fanbases of schools, like Mizzou’s, that simply don’t have the history to back up their delusional expectations. At least Arkansas and Auburn have tasted national glory. Missouri has never come close. If both programs maintain their average records, then in 20 years we should be able to look back and see the hogs have won 2/3 or 3/4 of the games in both sports. However, in the years we lose, we will never hear the end of it.

    • Brandon Shook

      You say you were embarrassed by our fan base? Obviously you’ve never been to a Kansas jayhawks basketball game, or a Kentucky game, I’ll admit or fan base has a few disgusting fans , but that’s every fan base, so don’t act all high and mighty piggies fans, if you think that our team walloping you by 30 was bad, then you’re wrong, cause we’re just getting started, go Mizzou!!

  • sfprman

    Mizzou wins by 30 in Columbia.

    • Wiley weaver

      They did win by thirty. Having lived in ark most of my life no fan base is as obnoxious and less objective than hog fans. MIZ ZOU.