Hogs-Rebs series filled with history
Many an Arkansan learned to spell a certain neighboring state in a way never taught in a classroom.
M-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I humpback-humpback-I.
Those of a certain age remember when an Arkansan looked down at the Magnolia State and said contemptuously, “Thank God for Mississippi.” As if anyone from a state said then to keep its women “barefoot and pregnant” had reason to gloat.
Arkansas and Mississippi would have talking points even if the two state universities had never played football. Because they do, and passionately, this matchup, while not on a par with Alabama vs. Auburn or Florida vs. Georgia, is one of the best in the Southeastern Conference. And, as the commercial says, “it just means more” over here.
You know it’s this way when they can’t agree on the series record. In 1914, amid more pressing world events, Ole Miss escaped Little Rock with a 13-7 victory. Arkansas, claiming that Ole Miss used an ineligible player, considers this a forfeit. Arkansas, by its count, leads the series 36-28-1, one that began in 1908 and has been played every year since 1981.
The late Orville Henry, historian of Razorback sports, wrote that with proper planning, the Arkansas-Ole Miss football series could have equaled the grandeur of Oklahoma vs. Texas. To this day, the Red River Shootout is so identified with Dallas and the State Fair of Texas that it stays in the Cotton Bowl. Memphis, a default setting for 13 Arkansas-Ole Miss games, could not provide a comparable site.
And, so, they haggled over game sites. Ole Miss went 68 years between Fayetteville visits until 1994. Meanwhile, the Rebels routinely booked games with the Razorbacks in Oxford, on campus, and Jackson, the state capital, along with Memphis. Finally, Arkansas athletic director John Barnhill said enough and let the contract lapse except for an occasional bowl game.
Their next two meetings came in New Orleans in Sugar Bowls after the 1962 and 1969 seasons. With 13-7 and 27-22 victories, the Rebels completed a 6-0 streak under Johnny Vaught against Frank Broyles in that matchup of celebrated coaches. Arkansas people heard about it, of course, from their Mississippi neighbors.
Passions cooled somewhat until Broyles, now as athletic director, looked to Mississippi as a diversion against Texas. Arkansas, the thinking went, needed a second blood rival in football.
Though in separate conferences, the series resumed in Jackson in 1981 with a Lou Holtz-coached Razorback squad winning 27-13. Lou’s last Arkansas team fell 13-10 to the Rebels two years later; Razorback spirits sagged so much that a 14-14 tie in Little Rock in 1984, Ken Hatfield’s first game as Arkansas coach, was considered a moral victory.
Hatfield never lost to the Rebels, scoring five victories in a series not renewed in his Arkansas playing days. A 21-17 Little Rock loss in 1999 cooled the fans on his replacement, Jack Crowe. Houston Nutt won his last four games against the Rebels (2004-97) and was on the winning side six straight years after pulling up roots and going to Ole Miss.
I have never heard a Fayetteville crowd boo louder than when Nutt took the field before the 2008 game. Bobby Petrino’s first Razorback team fell 2321 and one can only imagine his postgame chat with Nutt. One version is that Nutt complimented Petrino for fighting the good fight with inferor troops. To which Bobby is to have said, “You should know. They’re your own **** players.”
Bret Bielema, still the only Arkansas coach to win his
first two bowl games, went 4-1 against Ole Miss. At least one win was off the charts.
Arkansas’ 53-52 overtime victory in 2015 ranks with its 58-56 triumph in seven overtimes in 2001 for sheer drama. In one of the most famous plays in Razorback history, Hunter Henry heaved the ball backward on fourth and 25 and Alex Collins picked it up on the bounce and ran for 31 yards; teammate Dominique Reed recovered a fumble at the end of the play. On a day that he passed for 442 yards and six touchdowns, Brandon Allen ran for a game-winning 2-point conversion after an Ole Miss penalty provided a second chance.
That ranks with the Powder River play of 1954 (Ole Miss) and the Miracle on Markham in 2002 (LSU) as watershed moments in Arkansas football lore. It helped that the Razorbacks won both games, the first on Buddy Bob Benson’s fourth-quarter pass for a 6-0 Little Rock victory that set Arkansas fans afire about Arkansas football.
Conversely, long-memoried Arkansas fans bristle at any mention of the 1960 game, also in Little Rock. Allen Green, given a second chance at a game-winning field goal by future NFL star official Tommy Bell, put one through “leaning goal posts” for a 10-7 Rebel victory that obscured a week-old Arkansas victory over Texas.
Who knows what fresh memories will be made on the Grove Saturday morning in Oxford, the second meeting between Lane Kiffin, who might have been Arkansas’ coach, and Sam Pittman, who took the job. Some things change, others remain the same: Arkansas still can’t beat Georgia and Ole Miss still has problems with Alabama.