Arkansas Times readers are in for a treat this football season: Bruce James, who appears on “SportsWeek” at 10:30 p.m. Sundays on KATV, Ch. 7, is providing weekly commentary in the Times about the upcoming Razorback games.
James was an All-American defensive end at the University of Arkansas, starting for the Razorbacks 1968-70, during the Hogs’ greatest run of success on the football field. But if you’ve seen James the past few years on “SportsWeek” during the football season, you know he’s not afraid to say what’s on his mind about the Hogs, even if it might ruffle a few feathers up in Fayetteville.
That style seems to have rubbed off on “SportsWeek” partner David Bazzel, the former Razorback linebacker from 1981-85 who was one of Houston Nutt’s biggest cheerleaders when the then-young head coach at Boise State was trying to get the UA coaching opening in December 1997. The straightforward talk has made “SportsWeek” a weekly must-see for Central Arkansas football fans.
James, who grew up in Moss Point, Miss., before going to the UA and who is a State Farm Insurance agent in Little Rock, is still so consumed with Southern football that he visits the campuses of the Southeastern Conference Western Division teams during the preseason. This year, he went to each site twice. He’s as knowledgeable as anyone about the recruiting and talent of the teams and how Arkansas stacks up. He sees enough talent in Fayetteville this fall to expect the Hogs to win six games, maybe more. On “SportsWeek,” James picked the Hogs to finish 6-5; Bazzel said 7-4.
As a kid, I had a green-and-black silhouette poster of No. 85, Bruce James, on my wall. It said, simply, “James” (it meant as much to me that we shared names as his Hogs stardom). As I recall, the posters were distributed by Worthen Bank. That was back in the day when it was nothing for the Pacers to record songs about “Quarterbacking Man” Jon Brittenum, and the idea of Razorback “marketing” and the UA making a buck off it was far in the distance.
James got nothing from the poster — in fact, no one even asked him or had him sign anything OK’ing it, he recalls — it was just part of businesses going hog-wild at the time, when the Razorbacks ranked with Alabama and Texas as one of the winningest teams in the 1960s. Today, the NCAA, if not the UA, would probably crack down on banks providing posters of individual Hogs and recordings about the stars.
The group of recruits James joined in Fayetteville — he didn’t redshirt, and was part of a class that included quarterback Bill Montgomery and receiver Chuck Dicus — compiled an amazing three-year record of 28-5, including a 16-2 Sugar Bowl win over a senior-laden 8-0-2 Georgia, the 1968 SEC champion.
The preseason that year was like this one, with lots of questions and several first-year starters (freshmen weren’t eligible then) in key spots. Plus, Arkansas was coming off a 4-5-1 season. The coaches knew the kind of talent they had but downplayed it, James said. The entire starting defensive front were sophomores in 1968 and most of the skill people were sophs, too.
This year’s Hogs will have several freshmen in key roles.
“If the talent is there, it doesn’t have to be juniors or seniors when you are ready to perform,” he said. “It takes a year, though, that first year to acclimate not only to the school but being away from home.”
He added, “We were a good recruiting class but you’ve got to prove it. A year from now, we’ll know which ones became big-time contributors. Peyton Hillis [a freshmen fullback] will be a great wonderful football player. But he hasn’t had time to acclimate himself to college, no way he’s had time to know everything he needs to know. You don’t want fan’s expectations so high that the freshmen start pressing.”
The ’68 Hogs opened sluggishly against Oklahoma State and trailed 15-3 at the half before sprinting away to a 32-15 win on the way to a 10-1 season. OSU had upset the Hogs the year before and always played them tough in the yearly Little Rock opener. This Saturday’s UA opener is against a New Mexico State team the Hogs should handle, James said.
“What you hope to see is that Arkansas puts this game away early. Underdogs tend to get stronger as you keep the game close,” he said. “Arkansas needs to jump out to a big lead, play a lot of people and get the starters, especially [quarterback] Matt Jones, out of the game early, but they need to play long enough for the repetitions to get the timing.”
** Max Taylor and the Blue Katz will open five Big Downtown Thursday events when they play Sept. 2 at the River Market pavilions. Budweiser is the primary sponsor, along with Twin City Bank, Clear Channel Radio, the Arkansas Twisters, the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau and the River Market.
Modern rock band Hap-Hazard will play Sept. 9 and return for an encore performance on Sept. 30. Top cover band the Rockets will play Sept. 16. The Sept. 23 spot hadn’t been filled by press time.
Admission is free, beverages and food are available for purchase, and the fun runs from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
On Oct. 2, heavy metal band Slaughter will headline Razor Fest, sponsored by 93.3 FM The Razor, at Riverfest Amphitheatre, the River Market’s Mabyn Patten tells us.