Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Dear [Son's Name Redacted],
Years from now, I hope you discover within your heart a modicum of forgiveness for me, as I am solely accountable for introducing you to Razorback football in — of all bloody, godforsaken years! — 2012.
First of all, you must understand that my own indoctrination to the angst and defeatism of following this team happened in the mid-1980s, well before things like "social media" and "lorazepam" became commonplace, necessary instruments for grappling with the travails of a program that can't take a step forward without recoiling a few paces in reverse. I hope that as you age, and provided you choose to stay on this rickety ship for the rest of your breathing days, technology and pharmacology will advance even further because there's no question you're going to need both to survive.
This fall, I took you to your first two Razorback games. You're six years old, so you'll likely remember these fairly well and, fortunately, there will be a fine sheen of fondness applied to those recollections. Make no mistake, I am not trying to muddy those sweet remembrances here, but in case the ancillary details of these games are lost amid the cheery thoughts of teeming masses of red-clad fans and eruptions of Hog calls, let me fill in the gaps.
My first act is to express my deep regret that I twice exposed you to War Memorial Stadium, the Hogs' part-time home (or as I shall declare it, "The Halfway House"). This was simply childish oversight on my part. For decades, Arkansas has split its home schedule between its once-spartan, on-campus stadium and the eternally-spartan, way-the-hell-off-campus War Memorial. I won't bore you with sordid tales of the "Great Stadium Debate" that raged during my lifetime as Reynolds Razorback Stadium progressively expanded and flourished while the old gal in the capital city got a halfhearted Botox injection just to keep everyone's attention a little longer.
You must understand that Hog fans absurdly clung to self-induced nostalgia, too proudly and too long. Some claimed that Little Rock crowds herded into that cramped bowl were amplified and intimidating, and that the Hogs were truly buoyed by the din. What you witnessed in 2012 was demonstrable proof that the Razorbacks should fully vacate the joint by 2015 at the latest. Arkansas dropped two games in which it was favored by a combined five touchdowns, losing both on the very last play.
You and I left the first game against little ol' Louisiana-Monroe a bit prematurely and we won't even broach the subject of why that game had such a catastrophic ripple effect on the football program. Let's focus on the Ole Miss game, because we stomached that whole four-hour display of atrocious, undisciplined football on a sun-soaked October day.
You may recall words your father directed at the Hog coaching staff that day, principally the liberal usage of "incompetent." I actually have no compunction for my word choice there, save that it's perhaps too charitable. While John L. Smith got worked up over a critical fourth-quarter penalty that took a game-tying touchdown off the board, he sat by smugly as the Hogs were flagged for multiple delay of game penalties and false starts. Nor could he offer sound rationale for the unintelligible decision to take a chip-shot field goal in the first quarter after converting a fourth-and-long. This brand of illogic predominated Hog football this year, a trait we thought had been purged from the program circa November 2007.
What else to say? Well, Arkansas again had trouble advancing the football consistently. You got kind of bored and moody in the third quarter, and your dear old dad did, too. We saw gross inaccuracy from Tyler Wilson (19 incompletions, two of which were hideous interceptions and many others should've been) and shoddy play design. The other purported Heisman guy, Knile Davis, got shelved again in favor of Dennis Johnson, who ran with purpose and ferocity and ... scored a little too early for our tastes. While the Hogs' defensive line was active again, with Austin Flynn finally getting his name called and the Ole Miss running game being stifled in the middle, the secondary was simply overwhelmed by Bo Wallace's unending onslaught of wide receiver screens and his deft operation of the fatal two-minute drill. We sighed that familiar sigh of resignation as the Rebels pushed the ball southward much more briskly than postgame traffic moved down Fair Park. Bryson Rose kicked a routine field goal, Rebels flooded the field, we walked the familiar walk of despair.
We haven't gotten your fanhood off to the best start, I concede. Maybe the promise of a full-scale refresh this winter will bring you the kind of hope that I've occasionally fooled myself into having for a good quarter-century.
And maybe you'll never again have to lay your innocent eyes on those ugly-ass "anthracite" jerseys again.
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