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There was a story going around Razorback message boards a few months back (which means it's very possibly apocryphal) about quarterback Ryan Mallett entering a classroom to take a final and saying, "Who wants to give Ryan Mallett a scantron?" If true it's the equally ridiculous Arkansas-version of Dikembe Mutombo allegedly walking into a bar while he was still at Georgetown and booming, "Who wants to sex Mutombo?"
Throughout last season, it seemed as though at some point during every Razorback game, commentators from ESPN or ABC would mention that Ryan Mallett "... isn't arrogant; he just has swagger." During the fourth quarter of the LSU game, Mallett led the offense down the field to take the lead in what seemed to be certain victory. The camera cut to near-speechless sideline reporter Erin Andrews, who said, "Ryan Mallett just walked up to me and said, 'I told you.' I don't know why he's telling me that; I haven't talked to him all week." Then there's the time when Mallet, after one of his worst outings of the season, told the press something like, "Florida is glad they don't have to play us again since we gave 'em all they could handle."
Why am I picking on Mallett? He's a Heisman Trophy candidate. He'll be an early first-round draft pick, and he's Arkansas's best chance at a conference championship since we were in the SWC. Who the hell cares what he says? Truth is, I don't.
When Renee Gork, a University of Florida alum and reporter for Hog Sports, was fired last week for wearing a Gators cap to a press conference, my first reaction was not an indignant "That's ridiculous!" or "What about the freedom of the press?". It was simply, "Why the hell would someone wear a Gators cap to a Bobby Petrino press conference?" Should she have been fired? No. It's ridiculous. (Though 31 percent of Americans who took an ESPN poll — most of whom live in the SEC region — disagree with me on that point.) But, seriously, she knows the SEC. What was she thinking?
Fandom is often morally blind and sometimes just plain gross. We're happy to chastise Tiger Woods heartily, but our torch of indignation burns brightly because he's a solitary player. How many of us will be able to root against him if the Ryder Cup comes down to his singles match this year?
Our love for Ryan Mallett fits in similar context. We love him because he could carry us to a championship. We love him because he sits at the right hand of the Petrino. We love him for the same reason Lakers' fans love Kobe and Bengals fans now love the blandly offensive T.O. as much as they love the comically offensive Ochocinco. We love him with the rationale that found us chastising Nick Saban for leaving an NFL team after a year to get back into college ball, and then embraced Petrino when he did the same thing for us. Sure it's hypocritical, but we're talking about our team.
Of course, that kind of love creates the problem. Ryan Mallett's arrogance was made, not born, and is as much our fault as it is his. Adoration leads to infantilization: The point at which someone becomes famous is almost always the point when he stops maturing and starts regressing. And Mallett was thrust into the spotlight at some point during adolescence. Thankfully, his personality flaws don't seem to be malicious. He's not fighting dogs or beating women. There are no stories of him laying into innocent bystanders, and his pomposity isn't the insidious kind that poses as humility (see Lebron, A-Rod and Jay Cutler). Instead, it's a brand that's so brash as to be laughable.
So stay preposterous, Ryan Mallett. Please continue on your silly trajectory and model yourself after my three favorite people in sports — Charles Barkley, John Daly and Mike Leach. I, for one, will love you for it. Hell, I'd give you my scantron.