"With the birds I share this lonely view."
"Scar Tissue" - The Red Hot Chili Peppers
I can glance at an entire page of words for less than a second and if my name (or any of its iterations) are on there anywhere I will see it. I don't know how old I was when I realized this. I just have always done it. This is pretty much true for anyone, or anyone who can read.
If someone says my name in a crowded, noisy room filled with people talking I will recognize it. My brain will snap to attention. This is not unusual. I am not unique.
One of the first tangible things I learned in this world was my name. When I heard it I knew it meant ME. Our minds recognize the importance of having a name, a designation. We respond to it on an unconscious level, almost like a brainstem reflex.
Having a name meant that I existed I suppose. Allowed others to pick me out. But it is more than that. SEEING or HEARING my name meant that OTHERS realized I existed, that I was part of the world in some tiny way, that I had a tribe and it valued my presence.
I wasn't born in Arkansas. I am not a native. I moved here when I was 6, in 1974. But I don't remember a time when I didn't recognize the word "Arkansas" the same way I do my name. My eyes will be drawn to it on any written page and my ears will pick it out of any random conversation on the street. It is my designation. It is what or who I am. When I hear or see the word "Arkansas" my brain realizes that it means ME, my tribe. This is instinctual, I think, the most basic of reactions in human beings.
My family started to go to Razorback games soon after we moved here. I remember the Cotton bowl in 1976 and Broyles' last home game as coach (a loss I believe). We had season tickets to basketball beginning in '77 and those fantastic teams quickly became an obsession. The word "Razorback" became entwined with the word "Arkansas" in my brain. It meant ME, my tribe.And we were very good.
At some point the whole thing sort of wrapped me up. MY colors were red and white. Razorback Red. WE played basketball a certain way. (These were the Eddie years so that meant man to man all the time. Zone was for weaklings and Texas.) WE had certain enemies. And those enemies had colors too.
The burnt orange of Texas was seared into my mind when Earl Campbell ran wild with his tear away jersey in Fayetteville in '77. When Steve Little (who was dating my neighbor) kicked a 67 yard field goal in that painful loss. When Abe Lemons and his match up zone and Johnny Moore and Ron Baxter and Lasalle Thompson and Jim Krivacs came in to Barnhill and beat US in '79, something I thought was a violation of the physical laws of the universe. When Sidney had his cover of Sports Illustrated dunk against that same Texas crew in '78. I learned then that they were our enemy. Their colors were imprinted on my malleable brain. That sort of thing doesn't go away easily.
Many people mock obsessions with sports and they may be right to do so. But I have always understood the obsession. It isn't something we think about or cogitate on. It is instinctual, tribal. It is safety in numbers and glory in association. It is simply a sense of belonging and comfort, if only for a little while.
I tell people all the time that I don't feel complete when the Hogs suck at basketball, or even when they are less than great. Folks laugh at me and I smile and pretend I'm joking. I'm not, not really. I am a happier person when my tribe is winning, when my imprinted identity is wrapping itself in glory. Maybe this shouldn't be true but it is.
So Texas is coming to Fayetteville tonight, a GOOD Texas team, just a bit thuggish, the burnt orange enemy of my tribe, even if they don't know it. And WE have a good team now, finally. At least we have a team I can identify with, kinda funky and unusual, young and tiny, a bunch of bombers and weird hairdos and awkward but effective moves and scrapping and pressuring, pressuring, pressuring our opponents. I am a happy guy.
My date for this evening is wearing high heeled shoes with zebra stripes partly hidden under jeans, a leopard print scarf around her neck. You'd have to see it. It works.
The parking lots are packed and the air is cold but not threatening. A few folks are trying to grab some extra cash by unloading tickets. The bearded usher that has been tearing my ticket since Bud Walton opened grins at me and says "Texas".
The crowd is more attractive than usual, I think. Richer maybe. Hard to say. I think Clint Stoerner is sitting near me and my date is checking him out. What are you gonna do, he's a quarterback.
Sanchez has gotten a much needed haircut which pleases me. Stef keeps trying to make his last 3 pointer before heading to the huddle but he keeps missing. Uh-oh. He even tries one on the other end but misses there too. I'm guessing he has a superstition about this.
Pittman for Texas is a GIANT. I don't mean he's really big, I mean I think the dude is an actual GIANT, like the Phillistines had. Yikes.
Pel is wearing a bright red blazer. I love the idea but it looks like he borrowed it from someone 2 sizes smaller than him. Seriously, the man needs a tailor..
Courtney Fortson is doing the Lebron move of clapping talc on his hands and dusting the front row with it while he is being introduced. Given that Jordan did this before Lebron and Garnett does it too I'm thinking young Courtney is a confident feller.
Let's play some ball.
Abrams is a little guy with BIG shorts. I haven't seen shorts like that since Al Dillard and M.C. Hammer. My date said he is wearing capris. It takes a minute but I finally get it.
Things are ugly early. We have 2 turnovers and Texas gets an easy jam but then can't hit a shot. I'm getting a bad feeling about my enthusiastic bet on the OVER of 145.
RC is guarding Varez Ward. I don't think that will end well.
Mike Washington is rebounding and blocking shots and scoring on the block. When did Mike Washington actually become a good center? I'm serious, when did this happen? A minute ago I caught myself yelling "Feed Mike".
My date is making fun of my sad facial hair which at this point is a 3 week growth of patchy red and grey hair. She says it looks like I have mange. So I have that going for me.
I try to explain that it is a "winning streak" beard, that I can't shave until we lose.
"Why don't you just wear the same unwashed underwear every day instead." she says. "That would be equally attractive." Kind of a biting wit with this one.
Courtney gets his 2nd foul. I'm not one that believes refs are out to screw anybody but I do think they have WAY too much effect on the outcome of a college game. Score is 6-6 when CF goes out. We will see if we hold up.
Stef is running the point and I'm not crazy about it.
Wow! Two driving shots from Stef and an RC 3 and the piggies are on a roll. I love this "spurtability"
FIRST TIMEOUT 13-8 Hogs
Stef has been ALL OVER Abrams. Texas has a backup point named Dogus Balbay in. If he was born in America that may be the cruelest name given by parents since Dick Trickle. Based on his game, however, I'm thinking European He loves to keep the dribble alive until he gets caught in the air without a shot. Hope this guy plays for Ward a bunch.
Texas has a good looking forward named Johnson in, and another big athlete named Hill. They seem really deep across the front.
Kid named Chapman just checked in, got 3 fouls and checked out. Reminds me of my playing days.
Johnson is strong and aggressive. He is eating us up inside. Sanchez just can't finish against their bigs.
SECOND TIMEOUT 16-14 Hogs
Johnson has their last 9 points I think and Texas has the lead back. Jason Henry is playing which is freaking remarkable.
Abrams can't hit anything. This is getting ugly. Stef misses a bunny. Monk, Britt and Henry all miss. RC can't get open in a half court game like this. He needs to fire before the defense is set. Rotnei gets his second foul. Looks like Britt better play well.
Mike Washington gets his second foul. One ref overruled the other to make that call. That might be worse than Fortson having 2.
Courtney is playing again but we look worse with him in the game right now.
THIRD TIMEOUT 18-20 Texas
This is getting awful. I don't think we have a hoop in the last 5 minutes and all of a sudden we are down 8 and calling timeout.
OOOOH! Sanchez got rejected in a swat that was reminiscent of the many soul shuddering rejections experienced by Jonathan Modica and Charles Thomas over the years. I think if Sanchez really applies himself he could get faced like that once a game like those other fellas used to.
Stef can't get free behind the 3 point line. He is shot faking and driving and hitting quite a few in the paint but he just isn't as effective an offensive player when he is dribbling a lot.
The guy behind me just said "Pittman has a soft touch for such a large man." Sounds like a line from a gay porn movie.
Sanchez scores! woohoo!
LAST TIMEOUT 24-29 Texas
This last stretch before half will determine everything. We need to even it up then get our team back off the bench in the second half.
Stef misses. Brandon Moore hits. (He looks really small out there) Stef misses again from deep and RC misses from deep. I think RC has made our only 3 this half. Fortunately Texas has done nothing but lay bricks from outside.
I'm just about positive that one of the refs has a prosthetic leg. I won't walk a block to see a friend and this one-legged dude is running up and down the court with a bunch of kids. I'm feeling just a bit like a weenie right now.
We are holding up in transition and we just can't do that. We get open looks both inside and out when we push. Texas loves this walk it up, pound it inside and play volleyball stuff.
HALFTIME 27-31 Texas
Could be a lot worse. I'll take it.
Pretty much a physical battle of defenses. In the half court we struggle, particularly without Washington and Fortson.
Stef played a decent half on offense. He ran a pretty good point for a while and didn't shoot too many from deep. His percentage was not great inside though. His defense was simply outstanding
Stat girl isn't at the scorer's table. This makes me sad. I am imagining that she has been whisked away by a Prince Charming less suitable than me. Unable to talk hoops til the wee hours of the morning.
The dance squad is doing a routine to a Don Henley tune and the Hog mascot is wearing jeans and a leather jacket and playing air guitar. This is disturbing on so many levels. The idea that Don Henley ROCKS seems from an alternate reality. So too does the idea of a mascot dressed in people clothes. Mascots are creepy enough all by themselves but when they start morphing into humans I get thrown all off kilter.
They are having a 3 point shooting contest at halftime that is a bit of a mismatch. One young lady is wearing peter pan boots and can't get it to the rim. The other has perfect rotation and is shooting rhythm set shots from every point around the arc and burying more than half.
Eddie Sutton, the architect of those teams I first fell in love with, is in attendance along with his always a bit sweaty looking son Sean. Jeez Eddie looks old which means that I am also very old.
We need to start quick.
Man Rick Barnes is looking old too! What is happening in this world? I remember when he was a young coach at Providence. And maybe at James Madison or George Mason or some such school named after the powdered wig crowd.
No quick start. Texas is scoring inside easily, mostly James. They are just stronger.
Stef hits another runner but then misses a 3. CF boards and RC hits from deep. HUGE play. Fortson and Monk might be our best rebounders.
Pittman picks up 2 quick ones and all of a sudden has 3 fouls.
CF gets his 3rd on a cheapie called by the same guy that called his second foul. Some refs honestly think we pay to see them.
Now RC has 3 fouls - criminy! That's right I said criminy.
FIRST TIMEOUT 34-39 Texas
Marcus Britt is playing solid, solid minutes. Terrific defender on and off the ball. Pretty cool with the rock if not a big threat. I like him, like him.
I think Pittman might have 4 fouls.
Uh-oh we are down 8.
CF getting more comfortable and aggressive.
Stef misses 2, one of them an open layup. He is mumbling to himself. He is as intense as I have ever seen him.
Nice defense by the Hogs for several trips.
Stef buries a 3. Finally! We are back in this.
The kid sitting next to me has popcorn pieces stuck to his face and piled in his lap. I point this out to him as a courtesy. "Lap food" he says. "Savin' it for later".
There are a whole bunch of suits sitting at the front of UT's bench. They are an evil corporate empire.
SECOND TIMEOUT 41-45 Texas
If you get a chance please watch a replay of this game and just watch Stef on defense. He is playing one of the most amazing defensive games I have ever seen. They have him face guarding Abrams EVERYWHERE on the floor. He isn't even finding the ball. Usually if you want to shut a guy down you have one defender on him and then "half" of another. Everybody is supposed to shade to him to help out. Arkansas isn't doing this. Stef is shutting down their best guy mostly by himself and is using an incredible amount of energy. When Abrams went to the the other end of the floor to talk to the coach during a break Stef went with him and stood a step away for the entire conversation. It is fun to watch. I'm not sure if Stef has had a break all game.
OOPS Abrams finally hits one and Stef takes a break on the bench.
And BAM Abrams scores on RC.
Stef comes back pretty quick but we are facing an issue that will keep coming up. RC is a decent defender but not nearly as good as Britt. He also isn't real strong at this stage of his career. We will be trading offense for defense many times this season.
James is having a nice half. Texas is back up 7.
MW trickles in a 3 at the end of the shot clock! Maybe the play of the game. We were in trouble.
Texas is just a bad shooting team. At least they look like one tonight.
Sanchez is battling hard.
THIRD TIMEOUT 49-52 Texas
My date just pointed out that Stef switches his pivot foot almost every time he handles the ball on the outside. Zebra striped high heels and technical basketball knowledge. I think I'm in love.
Stef makes a short one and MW with a slam and gets fouled. Hogs are leading! This place is stomping right now.
Abrams still can't hit.
Britt with an unbelievable defensive play to cause a jump ball. Great hands.
Washington is playing tough inside and CF hoops and is fouled.
Pittman gets a 3 point play and and 2 guys throw in a rebound dunk and just like that we go from up 5 to tied.
Oh my. Coming out of a timeout the didn't guard Stef and he BURIES it.
LAST TIMEOUT 60-57 Hogs
The kid next to me is telling me when I can and can't stand up. He says it has to do with Karma. For a while my cheering was leading to bad Karma. Now I get to stand but only for 20 second intervals. Bossy little fella.
CF hits out of the timeout but UT gets 2 buckets in a row. 1 point game.
UNREAL head fake and cram by Washington and he is fouled. That was big time move.
My date comments that "Washington even makes a great play look just a tiny bit goofy". Truth.
Abrams cranks a bunch of 3s and that will do it. WOW
FINAL 67-61 Hogs
That was ridiculously fun. I'm sweating profusely and my date is fearing for my health. She is limping up the steps in her heals, her foot blistered. I mention that maybe those aren't the most sensible shoes. She just rolls her eyes and says "I can play hurt".
And all seems right again in hogland. My tribe is happy and proud and cheering as one. The home court is defended and at least for a week we seem unbeatable at home - which frankly should be a given. Eddie Sutton was on hand to view the rebirth and we will thank Nolan later this season.
Sometimes I love sports.