Doc Harper: Let’s Talk About Razorback Football Traditions

Razorback football traditions have evolved throughout the years and outrage at change subsides with time.

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In July 2012, Jeff Long said this:

“That’s a tradition we want to hold onto that we think is special. This league talks about maintaining those traditions that we think are special and important, I hope and believe this is one we should maintain from the UA perspective.”

That quote has always stuck with me because from reading fans’ tweets, message board comments as well as good, old fashioned talking to people, it’s pretty clear to me that different fans consider different traditions special.  I’d love to know what percentage of replies on Long’s Twitter account are people complaining about one tradition or another.

For what seems like most of fall camp, much of the discussion among Razorback fans has centered around traditions that have been threatened, changed, or, on the flip side, born. And when the school’s athletic administration, the SEC, or anyone else forces change, it can be hard to accept. Like dealing with the reality that Ben Affleck will be the new Batman. It just feels wrong, man.

These things don’t usually affect the game unless the change is the NCAA changing rules (like when they changed the kickoff rules in 2006 and Bret Bielema exploited a loophole against Penn State), but they can impact virtually anything else. A lot of the outrage proves to be overblown, but still, you can’t blame fans for being upset at losing things they enjoy or think are important to the program. Even if you just want to yell, “Yeah, it’s different, but it’s ok. And it might even be cool!”

The above quote from Long is in reference to moving the LSU game from the end of Arkansas’ schedule. Initially this was the big story to come out of the release of the SEC’s 2014 schedule. Much of the, let’s say “disappointment” about this I think was misplaced. If the major concern with losing the placement of the LSU game is regarding the exposure and attention Arkansas gets the last week of the season, the far more important thing is to keep the same Friday slot Arkansas and LSU have held for most recent years. And there have been indications that CBS and the SEC are considering putting Arkansas and Missouri on Thanksgiving Friday.

What we’ve learned since college football began stretching games nearly the entire week, people will watch. A game with Missouri usually won’t carry the same weight nationally as the LSU game, but people will watch. And the higher ranked the two schools are, the more people will watch.

And Arkansas will still play LSU two weeks before Thanksgiving in 2014, and how often does Arkansas play nationally relevant mid-November games?  There haven’t been many in recent years, but the ones that have happened (such as South Carolina in 2011) were significant because Arkansas was highly ranked as well. So I don’t think this move is a huge loss. Plus, I’m all in on some late-November snow games in Missouri. Think Bielema’s offense wouldn’t have a big advantage in that kind of weather?

And that conversation led us into the Great Stadium Debate, which has become an Arkansas tradition unto itself.

Full disclosure: I’m a Little Rock native, grew up going to games in War Memorial Stadium, and I love Little Rock games. But I don’t have any issue with UA wanting to move all of the showcase games to Fayetteville. That makes the most sense. However, make no mistake, tailgating on the golf course at War Memorial is the most underrated tradition in the SEC.  Consider: Ole Miss’s Grove, widely considered among the best tailgating scenes in America, covers 10 acres. The War Memorial Golf Course spans 90 acres (not that the size of the golf course is all that makes it awesome). When people dismiss Little Rock tailgating like “other than tailgating, what does Little Rock have?” it’s very disappointing because it truly is a spectacular thing. Even if they reduce it to once a year for a non-conference game, I think that’s ok. But it’s clearly never going to happen as frequently as it used to.

All that being said, only having two SEC games in Fayetteville should not happen. But if I’m being honest, the idea of playing Texas Tech there in 2015 is more exciting than the thought of playing Mississippi State there that season. I have a hard time imagining Arkansas sells many more tickets to Razorback Stadium because the Bulldogs are coming to town.

I think the reality is that if the schedule rotation stays as it is, odd-numbered years will never have as exciting home schedules as even-numbered years. The best hope is that Arkansas fans grow to loathe Missouri with the fury of replacing Coke with Pepsi. Even though really, that whole problem is UA’s own fault for putting the Texas A&M game back in the JerryDome before the War Memorial contract expired.

Speaking of which, between the A&M game, and scheduling non-conference games with Texas Tech and TCU, it appears the Razorbacks feel that re-establishing a stronger presence in Texas as soon as possible is among the program’s top priorities, even if it means there’s a chance only two SEC teams travel to Fayetteville in 2015. I get why they want to do that, even though I don’t like the concept of playing A&M in Arlington every year.

I know I’m in the minority on this among Razorback fans. I just prefer traditional home environments in college football. I understand the money guarantee and the recruiting aspect, I just don’t like it. To me, the “hostile environments” of  games on campus are much more special than playing in an NFL stadium. But it’s clear this game isn’t going away anytime soon, so what’re you gonna do?

Even the new white helmets for road games bother some people. But it’s interesting that the outrage this year is nowhere near the outrage last summer when werazorback defensive coorindator chris ash hogs in white helmets first saw the white helmet the Razorback that was outlined in red. Most people seem to be on board with the colored-in Hog. Perhaps it’s because the new version is such an improvement on the 2012 helmet and people are more accustomed to uniform changes as part of college football culture at this point.

One of the more interesting changes this year has been the closed practices and the media’s response to it. I don’t have an issue with closed practices, nor with the university producing their own recaps and video interviews. It’s their responsibility to marktet their own brand as widely as possible. I also understand why media don’t particularly like that.

What I find troubling is that in a couple of columns in the statewide daily, the agitation seems to be that the university is throwing the word “exclusive” around regarding some of their video interviews. Let’s not pretend that people can’t tell the difference between university-approved messaging and informational commentary from independant media. It’s my experience that they clearly can, and, particularly when the Razorbacks don’t perform as hoped, they want no part of SID approved content. If the basketball team doesn’t show much improvement this year, fans won’t be satisfied with press releases and RazorVision videos.

Besides, it’s not as though coaches and players haven’t been available for interviews after practice (and frequently the videos of said interviews appear on the websites of various media outlets). So the school can throw around words like “exclusive” and “scoop” all it wants, but it’s just a gimmick.  As sites like this one prove, there will always be independent Razorback coverage, it just has to continue to evolve, which some are more willing to embrace than others.

Although, taking content you create, putting it on your own site and calling it an “exclusive” is kinda silly. I hope all of you enjoy reading this exclusive column found in its entirety exclusively on Sporting Life Arkansas.

It’s been quite the few weeks for Razorback traditions. But things should be changing. Coaching changes happen with about the same frequency as presidential administrations. As new ones come along, new things should be embraced. But please don’t mess with running through the A. That’s a biggie. And if we could start a campaign to eradicate the wolf howl at the beginning of the hog call, that’d be great too. Let the folks in Jonesboro have their wolf howl.

And on a personal note, one thing that’s definitely changing is that, God willing, this will be the last football season before I become a father. Corliss McFadden Harper (maybe the real name, maybe not) is due in December, so accepting change is basically the theme of my life right now. But one thing I know is that there are few new traditions I’m looking more forward to embracing than watching football games with my kid.

Traditions will evolve. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Sometimes purely out of necessity. But ultimately, the Razorbacks are still taking the field on Saturday, along with most every other team in the country. They’ll probably wear red helmets. Enjoy it.


Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Fight and a contributor to Sporting Life Arkansas. You can email him at and follow him on Twitter @doc_harper.



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