Archive for October, 2011

Remembering Jack Buck (thanks, Joe)

Friday, October 28th, 2011

“We’ll see you … tomorrow night.”

I’m among those who thought it was perfect.

Just perfect.

Like a lot of Arkansas natives my age, I grew up listening to Jack Buck broadcast Cardinal baseball games on the radio. Whenever Jack would do a network radio or television broadcast (which was often), it was like having a familiar uncle behind the microphone.

Many of us in Arkansas smiled and nodded as Jack Buck called Kirby Puckett’s walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. Minnesota defeated Atlanta to force a Game 7.

Ol’ Jack had done it again, we said to ourselves. He had delivered a line for the ages.

How could Joe Buck, raised in St. Louis with the home broadcast booth at Busch Stadium as a second home, not have ended Thursday’s classic Cardinal win over the Rangers with the same words his dad had uttered two decades ago?

Here’s how Ed Heil put it at www.storytellermn.com: “A sportscaster’s call of a game can define the sportscaster. It can define the moment, and it can define the athlete. In many cases, it is recorded in history connecting all three. The most famous sports call of my lifetime is Al Michaels’ ‘Miracle on Ice’ call during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. … You know they’re great calls because you remember them together. There have been great sports moments, with great athletes, but you may not remember the call.”

Heil concluded: ‘We like to own our teams, our players and certainly our moments in sports history — our ‘where were you when’ moments. As people, though, we love our parents. As sons, we love our dads, and when they’re gone we miss them terribly. I’ve never met Joe Buck, but I understand he and his father were extremely close. Joe Buck followed in his father’s steps in his career, and I assume Jack Buck was quite proud of his son.

“This wasn’t the first time Joe Buck has spoken the words of his father in a telecast — he’s recognized him through his words on many occasions in the past. Many Minnesotans want to own the moment in 1991 and keep it as their own. I understand that. Yet as a person whose father passed away 10 years ago, I see last night’s call as a beautiful salute from son to father. … How wonderful it must have been for Joe Buck to pay public tribute to his dad, a person he likely respected and loved dearly. Yep, he said it, and I’m glad he did.”

Cindy Boren wrote for a Washington Post blog that Joe Buck “nailed this call with just a simple, elegant sentence, taken from his dad’s 1991 call. Perfection.”

Thank goodness the Cardinals returned this year to their old home on KMOX-AM, 1120.

I was the master of ceremonies last night for the UAM Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet at Monticello. After the banquet, I drove through those dark pine woods in the rain, listening to Mike Shannon and John Rooney all the way home.

At 10 p.m., as I passed through Pine Bluff with the rain coming down hard, my wife called my cell phone.

“How are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m mad at the Cardinals,” I replied. “They’re down by three.”

I pulled up to my home in Little Rock with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. I thought about just listening to the final out on the radio. Deciding that I would watch the Rangers’ celebration, I went inside, where I knew my 14-year-old son (a baseball player who loves the game) would be glued to the television set.

Almost one hour later. . .

You know the rest of that story.

The Cardinals’ connection to KMOX, whose 50,000 watts reach across the country at night, dates back to the 1920s. The club had a consecutive run of games from 1955 through 2005 on KMOX. I wasn’t born until 1959, so I never knew anything else.

Following the 2005 season, the Cardinals moved down the dial to the less powerful KTRS-AM, 550. Now, they’re back home.

I thought about Jack Buck as I listened to the Mighty Mox on the way home last night.

I remembered the call I had placed to KMOX in early 1986 when I was the assistant sports editor at the Arkansas Democrat. I was hoping to interview Buck when he came to town to serve as the master of ceremonies for the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet.

I wondered if he would return my call.

He called back that day.

I would have known the voice anywhere: “Jack Buck returning your call.”

I made my request, and he said: “I’m coming in a day early to go to the races at Oaklawn with my friend Jim Elder. But I have to eat breakfast, don’t I? Meet me in the lobby of the Excelsior Hotel.”

He was resplendent that day in a green blazer. We sat down in the Apple Blossom Cafe in the lobby of the Excelsior for breakfast.

I asked him if he still thought about Don Denkinger’s call from the previous October.

For Cardinal fans, no explanation is needed.

For those of you who are not Cardinal fans, here is the short version of perhaps the worst call in sports history: St. Louis led the Kansas City Royals three games to two in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series. The Cardinals had taken a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning on a single by backup catcher Brian Harper.

Todd Worrell came in to pitch for the Cardinals in the ninth. Batter Jorge Orta hit a slow roller to Jack Clark on first base, who tossed it to Worrell for a clear out.

Denkinger called Orta safe. The Royals went on to win Game 6 by a score of 2-1.

The Cardinals were demoralized, losing Game 7 by a score of 11-0.

Here’s how Jack Buck answered my question that morning in February 1986: “I think about it every day. I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, doing my call of the play.”

Then, in his best radio voice, he repeated the call as people in the restaurant turned and stared: “Orta, leading off, swings and hits it to the right side, and the pitcher has to cover. He is … SAFE, SAFE, SAFE.”

Later that year, the newspaper sent me to Washington, D.C., to cover Congress.

I lived in the basement of a townhouse on Capitol Hill. I couldn’t pick up KMOX inside, but I could pick it up in my car after dark.

On the night of Oct. 14, 1987, the Cardinals were on the verge of defeating San Francisco in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.

Rather than watching the final inning on television, I decided I wanted to hear Jack Buck proclaim “that’s a winner” on KMOX. So I sat alone in my car to listen.

I would not meet Melissa until the following summer. I had no way of knowing while sitting in my car listening to 1120 AM on that night of Oct. 14, 1987, that my wedding would be exactly two years later — Oct. 14, 1989.

At any rate, it brought back a number of memories listening to Mike Shannon on KMOX last night as I drove home from Monticello.

And Joe Buck’s ending to the Fox telecast brought back even more memories of Jack Buck, one of my broadcasting heroes.

As the home run in the bottom of the 11th sailed over the fence in center, I looked at my son and said: “I don’t believe what I just saw!”

He didn’t understand the context of those words. But I did, and that’s all that mattered.

 

 

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Hall of Fame Class of 2012

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

You remember that night of Monday, April 4, 1994, don’t you?

The national championship in basketball was on the line when a 6-6 junior named Scotty Thurman hit the most famous shot in University of Arkansas basketball history with 51 seconds left.

Thurman’s three-point shot snapped a 70-70 tie against Duke.

Arkansas went on to win the national championship, 76-72, over a Duke team that was amazingly playing in its sixth Final Four in seven years and its fourth championship game.

We all cheered when Russellville native Corliss Williamson was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.

I was home alone that night. My wife and son had gone to south Texas to visit relatives. I was the political editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette at the time, obsessed with the second year of the Clinton administration and the coming midterm elections. Watching the game on CBS provided a nice respite from politics.

It was a warm night in Little Rock. I can remember going out onto my back deck to listen to the radio postgame coverage once the television coverage had ended. I could hear the cars honking up on Cantrell Road. Over at Reservoir Park, they were setting off fireworks.

Thurman, Williamson, their teammates and their coaches will be honored Feb. 3 when the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2012 is inducted during the annual banquet at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock.

This is the second time in its history that the Hall of Fame has inducted an entire team. Arkansas is still a football state, so it was probably to be expected that the first team to be inducted would be the 1964 national championship Razorback football squad. It was inducted in 2010.

It was a no brainer, however, for the second team to be the Razorback basketball champions from 1994. The man who coached that team, Nolan Richardson, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998. Thurman was inducted in 2010, and Williamson was inducted in 2009.

There also will be 11 individuals inducted as part of the Class of 2012.

One of them is Lee Mayberry, who joined with Todd Day to lead Arkansas to the 1990 Final Four in Denver, where the Hogs lost in the national semifinals to Duke. Day was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008.

The Class of 2012 will consist of six people from the regular category, three from the senior category and two from the posthumous category.

In addition to Mayberry, those being inducted from the regular category are former Oaklawn Park track announcer Terry Wallace, former Newport High School head football coach Bill Keedy, former Razorback basketball player U.S. Reed, former Razorback football player “Light Horse” Harry Jones and Little Rock native and former Oklahoma State University head football coach Pat Jones.

Those being inducted from the senior category are former Forrest City star athlete Elmer “B” Lindsey, former college coach and NFL scout Bob Ford of Wynne and former Southern Arkansas University women’s basketball coach Margaret Downing.

Those being inducted from the posthumous category are former University of Central Arkansas head football coach Raymond Bright and 1892 Kentucky Derby winning jockey Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton.

The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inducted its first class way back in 1959. Here’s a short look at some of those in the Class of 2012:

– Harry Jones: The Enid, Okla., native lettered for the Razorback football team from 1964-66. He was an All-Southwest Conference selection in 1965 and developed a national reputation for his breakaway runs on offense, earning the nickname “Light Horse.”

Jones played safety on the 1964 national championship team, ending the season with 44 tackles and two interceptions. During the 1965 and 1966 seasons, Jones rushed 166 times for 974 yards and seven touchdowns. He also caught 29 passes for 598 yards and five touchdowns.

He was the first Razorback to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated following Arkansas’ 1965 win over Texas. Jones was selected in the first round of the 1967 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles and played for the Eagles from 1967-70.

– Pat Jones: The future coach developed an interest in football while growing up in Little Rock. He was a lineman for the Forest Heights Eagles in junior high, a guard for the Hall High Warriors in high school and a linebacker and nose guard for the Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys in college before transferring after his freshman season to the University of Arkansas.

Jones was the head coach at Oklahoma State from 1984-94 after having served five years as an assistant at OSU under Jimmy Johnson. His teams compiled a 62-60-3 record and went 3-1 in bowl games. During the five-year stretch from 1984 through 1988, the Cowboys were 44-15 with records of 10-2 in ’84, 8-4 in ’85, 6-5 in ’86, 10-2 in ’87 and 10-2 in ’88.

Oklahoma State won the Gator Bowl after the ’84 season, the Sun Bowl after the ’87 season and the Holiday Bowl following the ’88 season.

Jones coached nine All-America players at Oklahoma State and later was an assistant coach for the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders under Johnson, Dave Wannstadt and Norv Turner.

– Bill Keedy: A Newport native, Keedy attended Arkansas State University and is still a member of the radio broadcast team for Red Wolf football games. Keedy had a successful run as the head football coach at Paragould High School in the early 1970s. Following the 1975 season, he went to Sylvan Hills. After just one season as the head coach there, Keedy returned to his hometown of Newport in 1977. He compiled a 175-48-3 record at Newport before retiring. His overall record as a high school head coach was 199-55-4.

Keedy was the district coach of the year 17 times, and his teams reached the playoffs 19 times. Newport won state championships under his leadership in 1981 and 1991. Greyhound teams also reached the championship games of 1988 and 1989. Newport made it as far as the semifinals eight times.

Keedy, who was a member of the high school all-star coaching staff 10 times, was later inducted into the Arkansas High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

– Lee Mayberry: Nolan Richardson recruited Mayberry out of Will Rogers High School at Tulsa, where he had led his team to the 1988 state championship. Mayberry would wind up scoring 1,940 points during his college career at Arkansas.

Mayberry, one of the best point guards in school history, was an All-Southwest Conference selection in 1990 and 1991 and an All-Southeastern Conference selection in 1992. The four teams Mayberry played on at Arkansas had a combined record of 115-24 and made the NCAA Tournament all four seasons. The Razorbacks were 25-7 his freshman season, 30-5 his sophomore year, 34-4 his junior year and 26-8 his senior season.

Mayberry was selected in the first round of the 1992 NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks. He played from 1992-96 for the Bucks and from 1996-99 for the Vancouver Grizzlies.

– U.S. Reed: If Thurman made the most famous shot in Razorback basketball history, the second most famous shot was almost certainly made by U.S. Reed. He hit a shot from just past the half-court line at the horn in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Austin in 1981 as the Razorbacks defeated the defending national champions from Louisville, 74-73.

I was sitting at courtside that afternoon in Austin, covering the game for Arkadelphia’s Daily Siftings Herald. I’ll never forget it. Abe Lemons, then the head basketball coach at the University of Texas, came out of his office after the game and led the Arkansas pep band in calling the Hogs. What a day.

You can still watch the shot (and hear Paul Eells’ radio call of “Arkansas did it, Arkansas did it, Arkansas did it”) by going to YouTube.

Arkansas lost its next game in the tournament to LSU at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans (I was at that game also), but Reed’s shot in Austin will always live in Razorback lore.

Reed had helped lead Pine Bluff High School to a state championship in 1977 and was part of the Razorback team that made it to the 1978 Final Four. Reed, a guard, was a starter by his sophomore year. The Razorbacks made the regional finals of the NCAA Tournament in 1979, losing to an Indiana State team led by Larry Bird.

In 1979, Reed also played on the U.S. team that won a gold medal at the World University Games. The four Razorback teams on which Reed played went 32-4, 25-5, 21-9 and 24-8, making the NCAA Tournament all four seasons.

We’ll take a look at the other members of the Class of 2012 in a later post.

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The Delta, cotton and the Great Migration

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

In an earlier post, I discussed Gene Dattel’s recent visit to Little Rock to talk about his book “Cotton and Race in the Making of America: The Human Costs of Economic Power.”

In that book, Dattel touches on one of the most significant events in the history of the Delta regions of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi — the Great Migration of blacks from these cotton-growing regions to the factories of the Upper Midwest and other parts of the country.

There were two phases of the Great Migration.

The first phase occurred from 1910-30 when about 1.6 million blacks left the South.

The more drastic phase was from 1940-70 when the mechanization of agriculture, combined with the evils of segregation, led to almost 5 million blacks abandoning the region.

By 1970, American blacks had gone from being a largely rural population to an overwhelmingly urban population. Almost 80 percent of them lived in cities.

For many Delta counties and parishes, there has been a steady population decline since the 1950 census. In the 1950s and 1960s, those leaving were mostly black. Since widespread school integration began in the 1970s, those leaving have been mostly white.

The one constant has been that the population is getting smaller. Arkansas counties such as Phillips and Mississippi counties now have about half the population they had 60 years ago.

The Great Migration is generally considered to have ended in 1970, but much of the Delta continues to bleed population as whites move out in search of better jobs and schools.

I’ve written before that Arkansas is rapidly becoming two states within a state. One “state within a state” in the central, west and northwest is gaining population and doing relatively well economically. The other ”state within a state” in the south and east is losing population and doing poorly economically.

Consider the information provided by the 2010 census: Arkansas had 39 counties that gained population in the previous decade and 36 counties that lost population.

Monroe County in the Delta lost 20.5 percent of its population.

Benton County in the Ozarks gained 44.3 percent in the same decade.

I see nothing to suggest that these demographic changes, which have had such a huge effect on Arkansas as the center of political and economic power shifts, will end anytime soon.

Much of it began with the Great Migration.

“Just as a labor shortage had created the need for slaves and later for free blacks in the cotton fields, so the 20th century migration of blacks was economically induced by a demand for labor,” Dattel writes. “Yet racial overtones persisted. Cotton, disenfranchisement and de jure segregation may have been absent in the North, but repression and de facto segregation were not. The Great Migration would force white America to confront race yet again, but this time in a Northern context. It would introduce black Southerners to the reality of white ‘Northern racism, the business cycle and class relations.’”

Frederick Douglass had posed this rhetorical question in 1865: “What shall we do with the Negro?”

Dattel writes: “White America’s answer was simple and resounding: Keep him in the South to cultivate cotton. … Before the introduction of mechanization to the cotton fields in the 1930s, and its full impact in the 1950s, the Great Migration surrounding World War I represented a real threat to the structure of Southern cotton production. Until the 1930s, the methods and technology of cotton farming were remarkably similar to those of post-Civil War America.”

Dattel notes that the need for cotton laborers in the South meant that “the presence of blacks was tolerated. And while they were needed, Southern state governments and individuals tried to prevent black cotton workers from moving north during the Great Migration. Only when mechanization arrived would white Southerners abandon their interest in black workers.”

In other words, mechanization changed everything.

Much of the nation began to prosper in the years following World War II. Thanks to congressional approval of the GI Bill, thousands of veterans became the first members of their families to attend college.

Following college, those veterans married, bought homes and purchased automobiles. American manufacturing made the switch from producing products for the armed services to meeting consumer demand. The automobile and steel industries flourished.

Men and women who once had worked as sharecroppers on cotton plantations in the Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana Delta now found themselves in steel mills and automobile factories in Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, Gary and other Northern cities. Some of the best Southern cooking was now found on the south side of Chicago.

To truly comprehend the scope of the Great Migration, drive through the Delta during the Christmas holidays and look at the automobiles in the driveways with license plates from Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and even California. The owners of these vehicles have Delta roots, but their grandparents and parents fled the region years before in search of a better life.

Too often, those left behind were the poorest of the poor. Too often, the education their children received was below par and health care was almost nonexistent. It led to a downward economic spiral that continues to this day in many Delta counties and parishes.

Federal, state and local government agencies have spent huge amounts of money in the region. Having spent four years working for the Delta Regional Authority, I can attest to the fact that there are a lot of smart people doing good work in the region. I can also tell you there’s too often a lack of planning and therefore a lack of a clear investment strategy. Funds are spread thinly rather than strategically, serving simply to sustain misery in some of the tiny crossroads communities that have been dying since the end of the sharecropping era.

Pete Johnson, the original federal co-chairman of the DRA, once compared the Delta to a “giant Indian reservation, separate from mainstream society in the region’s larger cities — out of sight, out of mind unless it’s a weekend gambling excursion.”

The decline of manufacturing in Northern cities, family ties and improved race relations have brought some blacks back South. But the 2010 census figures show the speed with which whites have now abandoned a number of Delta counties and parishes.

It comes down to economics. Prior to mechanization, a large landowner might have needed 400 laborers to cultivate his thousands of acres of cotton. By the late 1950s, he was doing the same amount of work with 40 people. Now, it’s just four or five people doing the work.

I suspect that when the 2020 census figures are released, dozens of Delta counties and parishes will be even smaller overall than they were in 2010 while the percentge of black residents will be higher.

“The Delta is truly the quintessential intersection between cotton and race,” Dattel writes. “Cotton dominated the economy; blacks dominated the population. It was in the Mississippi Delta that cotton and culture combined to produce the musical genre of the blues, which has earned the region a reputation as a ‘primary taproot of black culture and history in America.’ It has been referred to as the greatest single subregional contributor to the stream of black migrants to the urban North. As one of the spokesmen for the Delta Chamber of Commerce noted in 1938, more than 40 percent of all cotton produced in America bloomed within 200 miles in any direction of the Mississippi Delta.”

Speculators and railroad developers brought in immigrants to fuel the boom. Chinese and European labor supplemented the existing black labor. Vicksburg grew from 4,591 people in 1860 to 12,443 in 1870.

“Times changed quickly,” Dattel writes. “No longer were cotton farms filled with black sharecroppers and their shacks. Mules and the farm equipment of a bygone era disappeared. Sheds for tractors and mechanical cotton pickers replaced barns and mule stables. The many black churches that dotted the farm landscape were abandoned as blacks moved to Southern towns and cities and to cities in the North. High unemployment resulting from the displacement of unskilled farm laborers remains an enduring feature of the cotton plantation landscape. The coincidence of the advent of technology, the civil rights movement and the end of legal segregation has left blacks in the plantation world groping for an economic identity.”

Dattel concludes that in the 80 years from 1861 to 1941, cotton descended from “an indispensable product to a surplus commodity. It was replaced by oil as the eventual strategic resource in the post-World War II global arena. In many ways, cotton had been the oil of the 19th century.”

So you want to understand what’s happening in the Delta today?

Go back and study the cotton economy.

Go back and study the Great Migration.

Then study the 2010 census figures.

You’ll have a much clearer idea how we got to where we are and a much more pragmatic grasp of what the future holds.

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College football: Week 9

Monday, October 24th, 2011

He called that play, Chuck!

He almost did it, didn’t he?

He almost pulled off the upset Razorback fans had feared the most.

In this space last week, I said that ol’ HDN didn’t have the talent to get it done. In the end, I was right.

But it was close. Real close.

Why do Arkansas defenses seem so woefully unprepared in the first halves of important games — the Sugar Bowl in January, the Texas A&M game earlier this season, Saturday’s near disaster at Oxford?

A few thoughts:

– Yes, I picked Arkansas to win by 23 points. Still, I couldn’t help but be amused last week listening to the fans calling in to radio talk shows and predicting 40- or even 50-point victories. Arkansas is not Alabama or LSU. If you don’t believe me, just go back and check the results of that Sept. 24 game in Tuscaloosa. Alabama and LSU have the two best defenses in the country. Until the Arkansas program puts as much emphasis on defense as it does on offense, it will never consistently compete at the highest levels.

– HDN makes more than $2.5 million a year to put up with the grief that comes with being a major college head coach. Does he really need to start his postgame news conference attacking some poor ol’ reporter who likely makes less than $100,000 annually? The guy’s sin in HDN’s mind was that he picked Ole Miss to lose. The last time I checked, Ole Miss lost the game. In fact, the last time I checked, the Rebels had lost 10 consecutive Southeastern Conference games, the most in school history. The Rebels haven’t won an SEC game since Oct. 9 of last year against Kentucky (you mean they still play football in Lexington?).

– Larry Lacewell had a great line at Monday’s meeting of the Little Rock Touchdown Club. He said HDN has the unique ability to “be booed by two sets of fans at the same time.”

– Earlier this month, I was listening to the radio broadcast of Oklahoma’s game against Kansas. The Sooners were starting slowly. Merv Johnson — who was participating in his 400th consecutive football game at Oklahoma either as a coach, administrator or radio analyst — said this: “The goal is to get the W, get in the car and go home.” Winning road games in the SEC is no simple task. For now, Arkansas can just be glad it got the W and got back across the Mississippi River intact.

Bottom line: The Razorbacks are 6-1 for the first time in the Bobby Petrino era and for the first time since 2006.

Arkansas is 12-8 against Ole Miss since joining the SEC. The overall series record is in dispute. Arkansas says it leads the series 32-25-1. Ole Miss says Arkansas’ lead is 31-26-1. The 1914 game is the subject of disagreement.

One thing is not in dispute about 1914. Arkansas and Ole Miss both lost to Ouachita that season. You knew I couldn’t leave that out.

Yes, Tyler Wilson struggled at times in Oxford. He was 13 of 28 passing for 232 yards and no touchdowns. It was the fewest completions in a game for Arkansas since 12 completions against Ole Miss two years ago. It was the first time for Arkansas not to have a touchdown pass since the 2009 game against South Carolina.

Wilson was seven of 15 passing at halftime for 72 yards. I have a feeling that Petrino was not commenting on the nice weather when he would meet Wilson on the sideline following first-half possessions.

Ole Miss outgained Arkansas 250-128 in the first half and had a 14:24 lead in time of possession.

In spite of the early starting time, I have a hard time believing Petrino will allow a team to sleep through another first half on Saturday.

The record on picks was 6-2 last week. That makes the record for the year 51-16.

On to Week 9:

Arkansas 44, Vanderbilt 21 — We might as well go with the same score we used for last week’s prediction against Ole Miss. As noted, the Razorbacks should play better this week. Vanderbilt improved its record to 4-3 with its 44-21 win over Army. Jordan Rodgers — the younger brother of the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers — got his first start at quarterback. The redshirt junior was 10 of 27 passing and rushed for 96 yards. Vanderbilt finished with 530 yards of offense. This isn’t the Army defense, however. Is it? Wake ‘em up early, Willie!

Arkansas State 38, North Texas 24 — Western Kentucky upset Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday to end an 18-game home losing streak. Why is that important? It’s important because it leaves Arkansas State alone atop the Sun Belt Conference standings. I attended the Red Wolf game last Tuesday in Jonesboro and had a fun time despite the cold weather. The Red Wolves went to 5-2 overall and 3-0 in conference play with their 34-16 win over Florida International. Quarterback Ryan Aplin rushed for a career-high 175 yards and two touchdowns. ASU had 385 yards of offense. The Red Wolf defense held Florida International to 66 yards on the ground. North Texas, meanwhile, posted a 38-21 win over Louisiana-Monroe last Saturday. The Mean Green opened the season with losses of 41-16 to Florida International, 48-23 to Houston and 41-0 to Alabama. Since then North Texas has defeated Indiana, Florida Atlantic and Louisiana-Monroe while losing to Tulsa and Louisiana-Lafayette. I just don’t see the Red Wolves losing their homecoming game to the 3-5 Mean Green. Hugh Freeze has his players believing, and he has the folks in northeast Arkansas believing. Heck, he has me believing.

UCA 40, Southeastern Louisiana 35 — The Bears have now won four consecutive games. They went to 5-3 overall and 4-1 in the Southland Conference with a 38-24 victory over Lamar in Beaumont, Texas, on Saturday. Lamar led early, 14-0, but UCA came back to tie the score at 17-17 just before halftime and ended up dominating the second half. The Bears had 355 yards of offense, including 168 yards on the ground. Nathan Dick was 13 of 22 passing for 187 yards and three TDs. Southeastern Louisiana scored 17 unanswered points in the second half for a 38-28 win over Texas State. The only other victory for the 2-5 Lions was against Savannah State. The five losses have come by scores of 47-33 to Tulane, 52-6 to Southern Mississippi, 48-27 to McNeese State, 48-38 to Lamar and 51-17 to Northwestern State. The Bears aren’t blowing people out, but they’re winning. They’ll win again in Conway on Saturday.

Grambling 30, UAPB 20 — Show up for the fights and perhaps a football game will break out in Pine Bluff on Saturday afternoon. The numerous suspensions will hurt the Golden Lions. Granted, this isn’t a vintage Grambling team. The Tigers are 3-4 with wins over Alcorn State, Concordia and Mississippi Valley State and losses to Louisiana-Monroe, Alabama State, Alabama A&M and Prairie View A&M.

Ouachita 50, Harding 49 – It will be like an arena league game in Searcy on Saturday afternoon. Two good offenses. Two bad defenses. Ouachita stayed alone atop the Great American Conference with a 53-43 win over Southern Arkansas. The Tigers are 4-0 in the GAC and 5-2 overall. They need a win to stay in the running for a playoff spot. Junior quarterback Casey Cooper continues to play well. He had 260 yards passing and 102 yards rushing on Saturday. Ouachita finished with 518 yards of offense, including 269 on the ground. Up the road in Searcy, Harding was scoring 70 points. The Bisons scored touchdowns on all six of their first-half possessions in a 70-28 victory over Southwestern Oklahoma. Harding had 479 yards on the ground, the second most in school history. The Bisons, plagued earlier in the year with turnovers, are just 3-5 overall but remain in the conference race with a 2-1 GAC record. Last team with the ball wins.

East Central Oklahoma 31, Arkansas Tech 28 — The Wonder Boys snapped a five-game losing streak with a 28-16 win Saturday over Southeastern Oklahoma. Tech is now 2-6. East Central’s conference title hopes suffered a blow with a 42-41 overtime loss to Henderson in Arkadelphia. East Central scored first in overtime but missed its extra point attempt. Henderson then scored on a fourth-down play and made its extra point attempt. Tech is at home, but East Central (which is 5-3 overall and 3-2 in conference) seems to have a bit too much talent for this edition of the Wonder Boys to overcome.

UAM 39, Southeastern Oklahoma 37 — These are two teams that started strong but have faded down the stretch. Southeastern Oklahoma began the season 2-0 but has since lost five consecutive games. UAM also started 2-0, but the Boll Weevils now find themselves 3-5 on the season. Northeastern Oklahoma scored with 24 seconds left last Saturday to beat UAM, 47-46. Give the Weevils the edge against Southeastern since it’s homecoming in Monticello.

South Alabama 42, Henderson 33 — The Reddies have found their offense in recent weeks. They’re now 4-3 overall and 3-1 in conference play. For a second consecutive season, Henderson makes the long trip to Mobile, Ala., to take on the Jaguars of South Alabama. The Jags are 4-3 with wins over West Alabama, Lamar, Texas-San Antonio and Tennessee-Martin. The losses have come to North Carolina State, Kent State and Georgia State. The Reddies won’t win, but expect them to keep it close.

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College football: Week 8

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Razorback fans had a free Saturday.

So did followers of the Red Wolves.

Some of us stayed busy with college football last weekend. I made the long trip west to Weatherford, Okla., to watch the Ouachita Tigers remain alone atop the Great American Conference with a 48-38 victory over Southwestern Oklahoma.

It’s back to work tonight (Tuesday) for the Red Wolves as they host Florida International in Jonesboro in an ESPN2 game.

For Razorback fans, there’s the short trip over to Oxford on Saturday.

“Do you think we’re walking into a trap?” someone asked me at breakfast this morning.

There’s this notion among Arkansas fans that Houston Nutt can motivate his troops enough to spring one really big upset each year. They fear that upset could come this Saturday.

Here’s what I told the fellow who asked me the question: HDN simply doesn’t have enough talent in 2011 to pull that off. He can try all the motivational tricks in the book. He can tell them that you spell “fun” W-I-N. He can say it’s time to hold the rope. He can give them sticks and tell them to “bring that wood.”

It shouldn’t matter.

Arkansas has superior talent.

And with two weeks to prepare for this game, it seems obvious that Bobby Petrino and his staff will have their players focused. What, they’re going to be caught looking ahead to Vanderbilt?

So enjoy your trip to Oxford, Hog fans. It should be a fun day.

As for last weekend’s action, there were more punches thrown at the end of the UAPB game in Pine Bluff than were thrown in the entire Bernard Hopkins fight in Los Angeles. The Golden Lions are open this week, so we’ll stay away from further boxing analogies.

Let me just ask this: Why did the Golden Lion head coach, former NFL star Monte Coleman, get hit in the face with pepper spray?

First, he was at home. You spray the visiting coach, not the home coach.

Second, he won. I might understand it if UAPB had lost.

Memo to the UAPB security force: Don’t spray your own head coach after exciting home victories.

We were 4-3 last week. We shouldn’t have picked UCA and UAPB to lose (I might get pepper sprayed for that pick). Still, the record for the year is 45-14.

On to this week’s picks:

Arkansas State 31, Florida International 24 — FIU defeated the Red Wolves, 31-24, last season. We’ll pick ASU by that same score tonight since the Red Wolves are 3-0 at home against the Panthers. This is a key game in the first year of the Hugh Freeze era at Jonesboro as Freeze continues to build confidence among his players and regional fan support. ASU is 4-2 overall and 2-0 in the Sun Belt Conference. FIU is 4-2 and 1-1. The Red Wolves played four of their first six games on the road, including the first two conference games. For the first time since 1985, an ASU team has won back-to-back conference road games. A victory tonight would give ASU its best record through seven games, its first 3-0 start in conference play and its first four-game winning streak since 2006. The Red Wolves are 26-7 at ASU Stadium since the 2005 season. Hopefully being at home will make the difference tonight.

Arkansas 44, Ole Miss 21: Let’s face it: The 2-4 Rebels just aren’t very good. Ole Miss had only 113 yards of offense in its 52-7 loss to Alabama. Just 28 of those yards came on the ground. Alabama’s 52 points were the most for the Tide in an SEC game since 1990. It was the worst conference defeat for Ole Miss since a 49-3 loss to Florida in 1981. Alabama scored on five of its six second-half possessions. The Crimson Tide had 615 yards of offense. Alabama finished with 389 rushing yards with 183 of those yards coming from Trent Richardson. One other prediction: Several thousand Ole Miss fans will choose to spend the entire afternoon in the Grove, never wandering over to the stadium.

Ouachita 48, Southern Arkansas 42 — Ouachita is alone atop the GAC standings at 3-0. The Tigers, who are 4-2 overall, can be impressive on offense at times. But the Ouachita defense gives up a lot of points. That’s why you should expect a high-scoring game as Southern Arkansas rolls into Arkadelphia. Ouachita had seven rushing touchdowns in its victory over Southwestern Oklahoma — three from sophomore Chris Rycraw out of Bryant, three from junior Daniel McGee out of Fort Smith Southside and one from junior quarterback Casey Cooper from Conway. The 2-5 Muleriders showed a bit of offensive life last week in a 49-17 victory over Arkansas Tech. It was the widest margin of victory for a Southern Arkansas team since 2005. Mulerider quarterback Tyler Sykora was 17 of 27 passing for 335 yards. His five touchdown passes set a school record.

UCA 26, Lamar 18 — The Bears started the season 1-3 but have now won three consecutive games to go to 4-3 overall and 3-1 in the Southland Conference. UCA held off McNeese State in Conway last Saturday afternoon by a score of 21-18. It took an interception with 17 seconds left to secure the victory. McNeese fumbled seven times and lost three of those fumbles. The Bears also came up with two interceptions. UCA senior linebacker Frank Newsome set a school record with a 98-yard fumble return for a touchdown. UCA quarterback Nathan Dick was 15 of 25 passing for 201 yards and two touchdowns. Lamar is 3-3, but two of the victories came against much smaller schools, Texas College and Incarnate Word. Texas State defeated Lamar last Saturday, 46-21. It’s homecoming in Beaumont, but the Bears should be able to take care of business on the road.

Henderson 46, East Central Oklahoma 35 — This may be the best game of the week in the GAC. Henderson started the season 1-3, but the Reddies have rolled on offense in back-to-back wins over West Georgia and Southeastern Oklahoma. Henderson is now 3-3 overall and 2-1 in conference play. In the 30-14 victory at Southeastern Oklahoma, the Reddies had 525 yards of offense, including 319 yards on the ground. For the first time since 2004, Henderson had two running backs top 100 yards rushing in a game — Israel Valentin with 134 and Jarvis Smith with 105. Meanwhile, East Central held UAM to just 163 yards of offense in a 34-9 victory over the Boll Weevils. East Central is 3-1 in conference play (its only GAC loss was to Ouachita in the season opener) and 5-2 overall.

Southwestern Oklahoma 30, Harding 28 — This is a tough one to pick. One of these days, the 2-5 Bisons are going to hold onto the football long enough to win another game. Harding lost a 49-41 heartbreaker at Northeastern Oklahoma last Saturday. Trailing 43-41, the Bisons lined up for the potential game-winning field goal from 38 yards with three seconds remaining. The kick was blocked and returned for a touchdown. Southwestern fell to 4-3 overall and 2-3 in conference with its loss to Ouachita. The Bulldogs, however, have a talented sophomore quarterback who should pass for plenty of yards in Searcy on Saturday afternoon.

Northeastern Oklahoma 42, UAM 29 — Northeastern Oklahoma, which is 4-3 overall, has won three consecutive games. UAM fell to 3-4 with its loss at East Central Oklahoma. The Boll Weevils seem to be getting worse on offense rather than better as the season progresses.

Southeastern Oklahoma 21, Arkansas Tech 19 — These are two teams that are struggling mightily. Tech fell to 1-6 overall and 0-2 in conference play with its loss in Magnolia. It’s strange to see the Wonder Boys this far down. After winning its first two games, Southeastern Oklahoma has dropped four straight. It’s certainly a winnable game for Tech if the Wonder Boys can find a way to recover mentally from that disaster in Magnolia last Saturday.

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Cotton picking time down South

Friday, October 14th, 2011

It’s cotton picking time in the Delta.

Fields are white with cotton, and gins are operating around the clock.

When it comes to cotton and its legacy, many Americans think of Mississippi and Alabama. The fact is that Arkansas grows more cotton than either of those states.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Arkansas ranks fourth among states this year in the amount of cotton acreage. Texas is first (growing five times as much cotton as the next closest state), Georgia is second and North Carolina is third.

With the cotton harvest in full swing, it was an appropriate time for Ruleville, Miss., native Gene Dattel to appear at the Clinton School of Public Service and talk about his book “Cotton and Race in the Making of America.”

Dattel spoke Thursday night.

“The story of cotton in America is a dramatic economic tale whose fundamental importance in the nation’s history has been largely ignored,” Dattel wrote in the book’s preface. “Because of its connection with race, cotton is uniquely tainted in American history. … Slave-produced cotton was shockingly important to the destiny of the United States; it almost destroyed the nation.”

Ruleville is in Sunflower County, which is in the heart of the Mississippi Delta’s cotton-growing region. Dattel’s ancestors were part of the influx of Jewish immigrants who moved to the Delta in the late 1800s and early 1900s to serve as peddlers and merchants in what was then a growing region.

Dattel’s family came from Latvia. His grandfather opened Dattel’s Grocery and Market in Sunflower.

“The Delta was opening up,” Gene Dattel said. “It was a frontier area.”

Bottomland hardwoods were being cleared, lumber was being shipped north to Chicago and what was once forest became vast fields of cotton. Levees were built to hold the water out, and railroads were built to haul out the cotton.

The Dattel family moved from Sunflower to Ruleville when Gene Dattel was age 2. His father opened a dry goods store in Ruleville, and many of the customers were black. Saturday was the big day for merchants as sharecroppers and tenant farmers came to town to shop, visit with neighbors and seek entertainment.

Gene Dattel would work in his father’s store from early in the morning until late at night on Saturdays.

“I became quickly aware of how poor people shopped and was privy to their wants and dreams,” he told Memphis writer Helen Watkins Norman. “It’s not difficult to develop sensitivity in that situation. There’s no way to talk about the Delta without talking about race.”

Of the large number of Jews in the Delta in those days, Dattel said: “There were so many Jewish athletes that the high school football coaches would call the rabbi to find out when the high holy days were so they could schedule football games.”

Norman wrote: “Dattel made friends, played sports and, like every other white boy in Mississippi in the 1950s, became an authority on Ole Miss football. But his ethnicity and family background were different from the majority living in the Delta, and he knew it.

“‘No one in our family hunts,’ he laughed. ‘Our family sport was arguing. It was egalitarian, nothing personal. Our Thanksgiving holiday sometimes required reference material.’

“By the time Dattel reached high school, the Delta was in the throes of desegregation, and racial tensions were high.

“‘My little world in Ruleville was confining, and I wanted out,’ he said. Besides, he explained, he had outgrown the public schools in Ruleville and was looking for more academic challenge.”

In the second semester of his junior year, Gene Dattel moved to Memphis to live with relatives Ann and Sidney Dattel and enroll in the Memphis University School.

Sidney Dattel, a former physics professor at the University of Prague, spoke six languages. He had been injured in World War II and was a paraplegic. Each night, he would grill young Gene with various questions.

A classmate at both MUS and Yale was Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx.

Gene Dattel excelled in school and was accepted at Yale. In the fall of 1962, he was the only Mississippi student in the freshman class.

James Meredith became the first black student at the University of Mississippi that same fall. After having been barred from entering the university in September, Meredith was admitted on Oct. 1. His enrollment sparked riots in Oxford the day before, requiring enforcement not only from U.S. marshals but eventually from Army troops shipped in from Fort Campbell in Kentucky.

The riots left two people dead, including French journalist Paul Guihard. At one point, there were 20,000 U.S. combat infantry, paratroopers, military police and National Guard troops in or near Oxford.

Time called it “the gravest conflict between federal and state authority since the Civil War.”

In his book “An American Insurrection: The Battle of Oxford, Mississippi, 1962,” William Doyle wrote: “The mayhem of the riot was so severe that many reporters fled the scene early in the fighting or couldn’t get there until after the fighting ended. Since the crisis occurred in the days before national TV networks began covering such events live, there were almost no TV images of the battle. There were exceedingly few newsreel or still images, either, since it was a nighttime battle and photographers on the scene were threatened and attacked by rioters. There do not appear to be any newsreel or video images of the daytime rioting in downtown Oxford on the morning of Oct. 1, though a few still photos were made.”

Still, the word of what was happening in north Mississippi dominated the news.

More than 1,000 miles away in Connecticut, Dattel followed those sometimes sketchy news accounts, shocked by what was happening in his native state.

He said he was “put on the defensive because I was from Mississippi.”

Reacting to the events back home, Dattel became immersed in Southern history as a way “to understand where I was from and who I was.”

The famed Southern historian C. Vann Woodward, an Arkansas native, was a professor at Yale at the time. Woodward had arrived at Yale the previous year from Johns Hopkins. He would become Dattel’s favorite writer.

Dattel also helped start a speakers’ program at Yale that brought some of the top Southern writers to the campus. One of those who spoke was Hodding Carter, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the Delta Democrat-Times at Greenville, Miss.

Norman wrote: “Dattel’s interest in the Mississippi Delta and how it worked economically, socially and racially led to a fascination with what he calls systems. By that, he means economic systems, legal systems, financial systems and value systems — the broad picture. After graduating from Yale with a degree in history, he entered law school at Vanderbilt.”

Dattel wrote a senior thesis on antitrust as it relates to institutional investment. It came back to his interest in systems — in this case the movement of money. He joined Salomon Brothers in 1969 and spent years working his way up through the ranks at the investment firm.

Dattel was a vice president for the company in New York, London and Hong Kong. During the 1980s, he managed Salomon’s Tokyo branch as it grew from five to 250 employees.

Dattel later managed Morgan Stanley’s equity operations in Tokyo, serving as an adviser to U.S. and Japanese financial institutions.

Dattel’s first book, “The Sun That Never Rose,” came out in the early 1990s and accused Japan’s financial institutions of “squandering the wealth of the nation” due to a lack of accountability, a lack of central planning, bureaucratic excess and provincialism.

Dattel later turned his focus back to the Southern United States. Now 67, Dattel had long been fascinated with how cotton shaped the global economy in the 19th century while increasing racial problems in this country.

“Without cotton,” he wrote, “slavery would most probably have been headed for extinction.”

His book covers events from the 1780s until the 1930s when subsidies began making cotton what Dattel calls “a permanent ward of the federal government.”

A European thirst for clothes made of cotton rather than wool made cotton the top U.S. export from 1803 until 1937. Southern cotton farmers needed black labor to grow the massive amounts of cotton demanded by consumers worldwide. And even though many people in the North had opposed slavery, racism remained rampant in Northern states.

“The blatant racial bigotry in the North played a vital role in consigning blacks to a life in the cotton fields by impeding and even curtailing their physical and economic mobility, thus furthering the entrapment of most blacks in the South after the Civil War,” Dattel wrote.

Racial oppression, you see, wasn’t limited to the South.

Dattel spent three years writing “Cotton and Race.” The book was released in 2009. It was a subject Dattel had begun researching as a freshman at Yale.

Ruleville, surrounded this week by fields of white, now has about 3,000 residents. More than 80 percent of them are black. Ruleville was larger when Dattel was growing up there with the population evenly split between black and white.

“I do think what’s going on in the Delta is of interest and value outside the Delta,” he told Norman. “If you want to talk about American history and developmental economics, you don’t need to go any further than the Delta. It had a beginning and an end in terms of economic growth.”

Towns were being born in the Delta regions of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi when Dattel’s ancestors arrived from Latvia. Now, dozens of those communities are almost dead.

When Dattel’s book came out two years ago, he spoke to about 60 people at the Mississippi state archives in Jackson. Sitting quietly in the back of the room, wearing an Ole Miss cap, was James Meredith.

As he spoke, Dattel was looking at the man whose efforts to integrate Ole Miss had sparked in a young Yale freshman the hunger to explain the South’s history and the effect of race and cotton on the region.

“The symmetry was unbelievable,” Dattel later would tell The Associated Press.

In a sense, Gene Dattel had come full circle.

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Race and the Razorbacks

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

They honored Darrell Brown on Saturday night at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

It was another smart move on the part of University of Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long.

Like so many in this state, I grew up thinking that Jon Richardson was the first black football player at Arkansas.

I never knew the story of Darrell Brown.

If you have time to read a lengthy story, I urge you to look up Dan Wetzel’s feature on Brown for Yahoo Sports. It’s a fantastic piece of writing.

Here’s a taste: “The first time Darrell Brown went to receive a kickoff during a practice many thought he had no divine right to participate in, he naively believed it was his big chance.

“‘I thought they were trying to see how good I was,’ he said.

“It was the fall of 1965, and Brown was college football’s most improbable player, a non-recruited, inexperienced black man trying to break a regional color barrier. He was one of just a dozen black students at the University of Arkansas and wasn’t interested in trying to change the world by sitting in at a segregated lunch counter.

“No, Darrell Brown was trying to crash the hallowed roster of Frank Broyles’ Razorbacks and in the process integrate college football in the South all by himself.

“His fellow black students thought he was crazy. Many whites were stunned he would even consider it. It wasn’t just Arkansas that was still all white and happy to keep it that way; it was the entire Southwest, Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences.

“Here was Darrell Brown at practice, though, a walk-on with the legendary Broyles, fresh off his 1964 title, perched up on some scaffolding at the adjacent varsity field, capable of seeing it all.

“And here, Brown figured, was his opportunity. Catch the kick, race his powerful 5-foot-11, 190-pound frame around some defenders and there could be no denying him. Even amid the craggy hills of Fayetteville, that practice field was presumed to be level.

“‘I didn’t know any different,’ Brown said. ‘I didn’t think to even notice.’

“He failed to recognize this was a full-contact ‘drill,’ one that called for 11 players on the kick team and just one on the return: him, the black guy.

“Until he fielded the kick and began to run up the field, Brown failed to realize no blockers stood in front of him, he hadn’t a prayer in the world.

“This was kill-the-man-with-the ball, 11-on-1 violence assured.

“‘They were good at gang tackling,’ he said. ‘Especially me.’

“When the pile eventually relented, Brown did what he had learned to do in the face of any setback growing up in little Horatio, Ark. He did what his proud schoolteacher mother and janitor father had taught him. He did what his hero, Dr. Martin Luther King, preached at the time. He did what came naturally to a man whose trailblazing life would come to be defined by superhuman determination.

“He stood up. And said nothing.”

The story of this Horatio native who tried to integrate college sports in the South is compelling.

Brown, 63, lives back on a farm in Horatio these days. He told Wetzel: “For the university to finally acknowledge I tried and for a particular reason I didn’t get the opportunity, it’s a major thing. All these years later, it’s a major, major thing.”

Moves such as this one — recognizing what Brown tried to accomplish — make me appreciate Long’s leadership.

If you ask Razorback fans about Long’s most important achievement since becoming athletic director almost four years ago, most of them likely will say it was the hiring of Bobby Petrino as head football coach.

I think it’s the hiring of Mike Anderson as head basketball coach regardless of how Anderson’s teams perform on the court (and I think they’ll perform well).

Let me explain.

Prior to Anderson’s hiring, a wound still existed in our state — a wound caused by the events that followed Nolan Richardson’s departure from the university. The mere act of giving Anderson the job helped heal that wound.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’m working on an Anderson profile for the November issue of Arkansas Life magazine.

Here’s part of that story: “In a place where love of the Razorbacks has always transcended sports, Anderson inherits a far better situation than he had inherited at Missouri. Arkansas has tradition, a fan base that understands and appreciates basketball more than the fans at any SEC school outside Kentucky and one of the finest arenas in the country.

“‘We just might surprise a few folks this season,’ Anderson says as he walks briskly from his office for a photo shoot downstairs in the Razorback dressing room.

“While Anderson won’t describe himself as a healer, he doesn’t mind noting that he’s a tie that binds the basketball program’s past to its future.

“‘The fans recognize me as one of their own,’ he says. ‘I’m a tie to the former players. I’m a tie to Coach Richardson, who was my mentor. We can now bring all of that back together.’

“Indeed, Anderson has reached out to former players, and they’ve agreed to support the program financially and otherwise. Anderson also has kept up a heavy travel schedule across the state since March in an effort to reignite the basketball flames. When he saw 5,000 people in the stands that Saturday morning when his hiring was formally announced, he knew he had made the right decision.

“‘It showed just how passionate Razorback fans are,’ he says. ‘They were greeting us with open arms. It told me I was in a place where they love college basketball. I had told my assistants how special Razorback fans are. This proved it. I’m not going to be content until we have 20,000 of them back in here for every home game.’

“Crowds at Walton Arena fell to an all-time low of 12,022 last season, down from the 20,134 the school averaged during its national championship season.

“Even though Anderson is an Alabama native who attended college at the University of Tulsa, there was a lot of talk that day about ‘coming home.’

“‘Welcome home’ said the signs that were sprinkled throughout the arena.

“‘When a Razorback wants to come home and the university wants him to come home, it’s a match made in heaven,’ said David Gearhart, the chancellor of the Fayetteville campus.”

Anderson is a native of Birmingham. Ala., and proud of it. Little Rock had been ground zero for the civil rights movement in 1957, but Birmingham took on that role for much of the 1960s.

It was a Sunday – Sept. 15, 1963 to be exact – when the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed in Birmingham.

Bobby Frank Cherry, Thomas Blanton, Herman Frank Cash and Robert Chambliss were members of the United Klans of America. They placed a box of dynamite with a time delay under the steps of the church.

The bomb exploded at 10:22 a.m. as 26 children were walking into a basement assembly room. The explosion blew a hole in the church’s rear wall and destroyed all but one-stained glass window, which showed Jesus leading a group of children.

Four black girls were killed — Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Welsey, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair were their names.

Twenty-two others were injured. It marked a turning point in the civil rights movement and helped galvanize support for what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Mike Anderson was only 3 years old when that bomb exploded in his hometown.

He was only 13 when Theophilus Eugene ”Bull” Connor, the segregationist strongman who had ruled Birmingham from 1937-52 and 1957-63 as commissioner of public safety, died.

Anderson, however, grew up steeped in the history of the civil rights movement. No, he doesn’t carry the anger that had burned in Nolan Richardson since Richardson was raised in the barrio of El Paso. But Anderson understands what made Richardson seethe.

Growing up in Birmingham gave Anderson a strong foundation — a sense of history and place. He won’t talk much about it, but that sense of history allows him to grasp his current role in healing festering wounds in Arkansas.

Having been Richardson’s loyal assistant for 17 years, he understands the past and how it affects the present. He’s a son of the deep South who is at home now in the Ozarks.

Anderson, who led a Hog call on the field last Saturday night as 72,000 of his closest friends joined in, would understand Darrell Brown’s feelings better than most.

Anderson admitted to me when he visited last week that he had hoped to be chosen to replace Richardson “because of what had taken place here and all the time I had spent here. No one knew the program better than I did.”

He then hastened to add that “deep down my gut told me it wasn’t going to happen.”

It didn’t, but things worked out. He had the chance to go home to Birmingham and experience success at UAB before his next stop at Missouri.

Now, Jeff Long has brought him to a place he also considers home.

There’s still work to be done in healing certain wounds, but Mike Anderson is indeed the tie that binds. Like Jeff Long, he’s the right man at the right time for Arkansas.

 

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Nolan, Bobby, Mike and Jeff

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

I mentioned in an earlier post the feature story I wrote on University of Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long for the current issue of Arkansas Life magazine.

Long, by the way, will be the speaker at next Monday’s meeting of the Little Rock Touchdown Club at the Embassy Suites.

Last week, I had the pleasure of spending some time with Mike Anderson, the new Arkansas basketball coach. My profile of the Razorback coach will appear in the November issue of Arkansas Life. Suffice it to say that I’m on the Anderson bandwagon.

Jeff Long has done important things in his almost four years as athletic director.

He brought Nolan Richardson back into the fold.

He brought central Arkansas business leaders, angered by Frank Broyles’ attempt to move football games from Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium, back into the fold.

He hired Bobby Petrino.

He hired Mike Anderson.

Let’s take those one at a time.

As for Richardson, Long says: “When I first got here, I thought he would be vilified by the fans. But I kept listening to people and realized he was still loved and respected. I’m very proud of having been a part of bringing Coach Richardson back to campus for a reunion of the 1994 national championship team. Had we not had that event, I’m not sure Mike Anderson would be our coach today. That began the healing process.”

As for central Arkansas, the athletic director says: “We have to have the whole state behind this program. We don’t just want to show up and play a football, basketball or baseball game in central Arkansas. We want to make it a major event each time.”

Key business figures — people such as Warren Stephens and Joe Ford — felt betrayed by the loss of football games at War Memorial. Long appears to have closed many of those wounds.

The main thing he has going for him these days, however, is the fact that he’s the man who hired Petrino and Anderson.

Here’s how I put it in this month’s edition of Arkansas Life: “Long can easily tick off the things he has accomplished — blending the separate men’s and women’s athletic departments into one program, creating a new management team for the department, streamlining the various administrative processes. The average Razorback fan, of course, isn’t aware of those internal changes. To the average fan, Jeff Long is now known for two things: He’s the man who hired Bobby Petrino as head football coach and Mike Anderson as head basketball coach.

“These days, that’s enough to make them like Long.

“From the outside, it seemed that Long was struggling to find a Razorback head football coach following Houston Nutt’s resignation at the end of the 2007 season. The names of coaches who didn’t exactly excite the Razorback fan base were floated on websites and message boards.

“‘A lot of those reports were erroneous,’ Long now says. ‘A job actually has to be offered before it can be turned down.’

“In Bobby Petrino, who had found his short stint in professional football with the Atlanta Falcons to be distasteful, Long landed a proven winner who would be embraced by Arkansans.

“‘He already had decided he was returning to college football,’ Long says of Petrino. ‘I’m glad it was Arkansas. I knew he had been a great college coach at Louisville, and I was comfortable with his reasons for leaving Atlanta and the NFL.’

“When Long later negotiated a contract extension with Petrino that included record buyout clauses, Razorback fans again celebrated.

“‘Bobby was the first one who said, ‘Let’s go a bit longer with this contract,’ Long says. ‘He wanted to end the constant banter that he was somehow looking to leave Arkansas. Bobby said to me: ‘I’m not leaving you, and you’re not leaving me.’

“But it was perhaps the March hiring of Anderson as basketball coach that truly caused the people of this state to embrace Jeff Long as one of their own. That hiring was about much more than college basketball. At its core, it represented the healing of an entire state.

“When 5,000 people showed up for a Saturday morning event at Bud Walton Arena to officially announce that Anderson was leaving the University of Missouri, it was evident that something bigger was at play than basketball. There was a revival atmosphere inside the arena. A number of people were crying as Anderson took the stage.

“During those confusing, disheartening days of early 2002 — as Arkansans divided into the Nolan Richardson camp and the Frank Broyles camp — there was one constant. Everyone, it seemed, liked Mike Anderson, Richardson’s loyal, talented assistant of 17 seasons. Anderson would not be considered as Richardson’s replacement. The wound was still too raw, and Anderson was viewed as too close to Richardson.

“Because the Razorbacks so permeate the Arkansas culture, the hiring of a head football or basketball coach inevitably sends a message. With the hiring of Anderson, Long sent this message: The past is past, the wound has healed.

“‘I didn’t know Mike as well as the people of this state knew him,’ Long admits. ‘But I saw the success he had after leaving here as he became the head coach at Alabama-Birmingham and Missouri. This is a man who’s going to be successful wherever he goes.’

“Long was gratified the day of the announcement as section after section of Walton Arena was opened to accommodate those who poured through the doors to welcome Anderson.

“‘The size of that crowd floored me,’ Long says.

“Russ Bradford, the author of the book ‘Forty Minutes of Hell: The Extraordinary Life of Nolan Richardson,’ has this to say about the athletic director: ‘Arkansas doesn’t award a Nobel Peace Prize, but if it did, this year’s winner should be Jeff Long. … Not every AD would have hired Mike Anderson. Jeff Long did. The move got huge publicity as well as support from both Richardson loyalists and Broyles supporters.’”

Pick up a copy of this month’s Arkansas Life to read the full story.

And I hope to see you at Monday’s meeting of the Little Rock Touchdown Club to hear Jeff Long.

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College football: Week 7

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

You’re high on the Hogs again, aren’t you?

Just think how low you were at halftime of the Texas A&M game. You figured your beloved Porkers were headed to their second consecutive defeat, and you had resigned yourself to a 7-5 or 8-4 regular season.

Now, you’re talking 11-1 and a return to the BCS.

There’s really not much to complain about following the 38-14 win over the defending national champion. Arkansas has now defeated teams ranked in the Top 15 on back-to-back Saturdays. The only other time that happened was in 1999 (HDN’s second season at the helm) when the Razorbacks polished off No. 3 Tennessee (we never tire of hearing Paul’s Stoerner-to-Lucas call, do we?) and No. 12 Mississippi State.

Auburn’s 24-point losing margin was the worst in Gene Chizik’s three seasons at the helm.

And what about Gus Malzahn?

Since leaving the Razorback coaching staff, he has been associated with teams that are 47-11 outside Razorback Stadium. He’s 0-3 inside the stadium — Tulsa’s 2008 loss and Auburn’s 2009 and 2011 losses to the Razorbacks.

You had Joe Adams’ 92-yard touchdown jaunt, the second longest TD run in school history.

You had a defense that came up with three interceptions, the first time that has happened at Arkansas since the 2009 game against Troy.

You had Tyler Wilson completing 24 of 36 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns. He has now thrown for 594 yards and six touchdowns total in two games against Auburn.

Wilson had 14 consecutive completions against Auburn last year. He had 19 consecutive completions Saturday, the third longest streak of its type in the long, glorious history of the Southeastern Conference. Wilson started the game two of seven passing on Saturday but then completed his final 18 passes of the first half and his first pass of the third quarter.

You even had both of Auburn’s touchdowns scored by Arkansas products — a 55-yard touchdown run by Michael Dyer out of Little Rock Christian and a seven-yard touchdown run by Kiehl Frazier from Shiloh Christian (which finds itself 3-3 on the 2011 season without his services in Springdale).

Yes, there was a little something for everyone in Fayetteville on Saturday night.

You’ll have to get your football fix elsewhere this weekend since the Razorbacks have an open date. That gives them two weeks to prepare for ol’ HDN and his Rebel Bears. It should be a fun afternoon in Oxford on Oct. 22 as Ole Miss frat boys with heavy starch in their dress shirts drown their football frustration with Wild Turkey.

Meanwhile, Hugh Freeze’s Arkansas State program is showing signs of life. ASU has won back-to-back conference road games for the first time since 1985.

That’s right — 1985, the Larry Lacewell era.

The Red Wolves went to 4-2 overall and 2-0 in the Sun Belt Conference with a 24-19 win at Monroe against ULM. ASU also has this weekend off but must turn around and play a strange Tuesday night game next week against defending conference champion Florida International.

Freeze told the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday that he doesn’t care when games are played if it means national television exposure for his progam.

UCA evened its overall record at 3-3 and went to 2-1 in the Southland Conference with a 37-31 win over Nicholls State deep in the bayou country last Saturday.

After having won two consecutive SWAC games, UAPB has now dropped two consecutive conference games to fall to 3-3 overall and 2-2 in the SWAC.

When it comes to the state’s Division II programs, there simply aren’t any strong teams in 2011. The Great American Conference schools went 0-5 against Gulf South Conference teams last week, and most of those games weren’t close.

Fortunately, the three-week period in which GAC teams must take on GSC teams has come to a conclusion.

We were 8-1 last week with our picks. Our mistake was to pick one GAC squad (Harding) to defeat a GSC squad (West Georgia, the weakest of the five remaining Gulf South teams). We forgot that the Bisons cannot hang onto the football in their option offense. They lost five fumbles in a 41-24 loss to West Georgia.

We’re 41-11 for the season and move bravely forward to make Week 7 picks:

McNeese State 38, UCA 32 — Saturday afternoon’s contest in Conway should be a good choice for those looking for a college football game to attend. The Bears are by no means a dominant team. They had to stop Nicholls State on fourth-and-one at the UCA seven with 1:16 left to preserve the victory over a squad that’s now 1-5. But if Nathan Dick has a productive day passing, the Bears could beat McNeese. Dick was 25 of 33 through the air for 306 yards and three touchdowns against Nicholls State. McNeese State lost at home last Saturday to Texas State, 21-14. McNeese is 3-2.

Southern University 29, UAPB 24 — It’s hard to tell from week to week which UAPB team will show up. The Golden Lions were not competitive last Saturday in a 48-10 loss at Jackson State. UAPB plays for only the second time this season in Pine Bluff against a Southern team that’s 2-4. The wins have come by scores of 21-6 over Alabama A&M and 28-21 over Mississippi Valley State. The losses have been by scores of 33-7 to Tennessee State, 28-24 to Jackson State, 38-33 to Florida A&M and 23-20 to Prairie View A&M. Prairie View won in Baton Rouge last Saturday on a 19-yard field goal with 10 seconds remaining in the game.

Henderson 41, Southeastern Oklahoma 35 — Henderson has had two weeks to prepare for this game after finding its offense in a 50-30 win at West Georgia on Oct. 1. Southeastern Oklahoma started the season 2-0 but has now lost three consecutive games, including a 38-28 loss to Northeastern Oklahoma in Durant last Saturday. The Reddies should make it four consecutive losses for the Savage Storm.

Arkansas Tech 21, Southern Arkansas 20 — This is a battle between two 1-5 teams in Magnolia. Somebody has to win. Tech lost 44-10 last Saturday to No. 1 North Alabama in Russellville as the Lions rolled up 601 yards of offense to go to 6-0 on the season. West Alabama improved to 5-1 with a 38-10 win over Southern Arkansas.

East Central Oklahoma 30, UAM 27 — These two teams appear evenly matched. East Central defeated Southwestern Oklahoma 29-12 last Saturday to move to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the GAC. UAM fell to 3-3 overall with a 34-20 loss to No. 3 Delta State in Cleveland, Miss.

Ouachita 31, Southwestern Oklahoma 28 — Ouachita started the season 3-0 and moved to No. 25 in the Division II national rankings but has dropped back-to-back games to Delta State and Valdosta State. Those are two powerhouses, but the Tigers were not competitive in either game. Southwestern Oklahoma only made it to the red zone twice in its loss to East Central.

Northeastern Oklahoma 39, Harding 36 — Harding can gain a lot of yards but, as noted, the Bisons simply cannot hold onto the ball. Harding is now 2-4 after its loss to West Georgia. Northeastern State scored 17 unanswered points to start the second quarter in its win over Southeastern Oklahoma. The RiverHawks rolled up 429 yards of offense and held Southeastern to 288 yards.

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College football: Week 6

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Well, what do you know!

Arkansas is in the Top 10.

Do the Razorbacks deserve to be ranked so highly?

Probably not.

But does Auburn deserve to be No. 15?

According to former Auburn coach Pat Dye, the Tigers don’t have any business being ranked at all with one of their youngest teams ever.

Next year or the year after? That’s another matter, Dye told the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday.

The reputation of the Southeastern Conference goes a long way these days. That’s what five consecutive national championships will do for you.

So, deserved or not, it will be No. 10 Arkansas hosting No. 15 Auburn in Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday night with a national ESPN television audience looking on.

How quickly things can turn around in this game of college football. At halftime of last Saturday’s Southwest Classic, Razorback fans were in despair. Trailing Texas A&M by 18 points at the half, the Hogs seemed well on their way to a second consecutive defeat.

For the Arkansas faithful, visions of the Liberty Bowl and a cold December afternoon in Memphis danced in their heads. After that amazing comeback, those same fans are talking BCS again.

The truth probably lies somewhere in between — the Cotton Bowl or maybe even the Capital One Bowl.

At this point, it doesn’t appear that the Razorback defense is as good as we were led by some to believe it would be. Yes, there have been injuries. Yet there also have been critical breakdowns in the past two games.

Dye’s comments led us to believe he’s a fan of Bobby Petrino, who was almost the head coach at Auburn. Dye also was quick to note that you typically need a stout defense — along the lines of Alabama or LSU — to win SEC championships. This isn’t the Big East or Conference USA.

Arkansas’ defense won’t be confused right now with a stout defense. Texas A&M finished the day with 381 rushing yards (Arkansas had 71) and 30 first downs. The Aggies had 404 total yards in the first half. The Razorbacks will have to defend Saturday against an Arkansan, Little Rock Christian’s Michael Dyer, who carried the ball a career-high 41 times for 141 yards against South Carolina.

And then there’s that Malzahn guy, another Arkansas expatriate, calling the plays.

Auburn went to 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the SEC with its 16-13 victory at South Carolina. Auburn’s defense held Marcus Lattimore to 66 yards on 17 carries. It was South Carolina’s seventh consecutive loss to Auburn.

The defending national champions now face a stretch in which they must play Arkansas, Florida and LSU. Auburn might come back to earth with a thud.

We were 7-3 on picks last week, making us 33-10 for the season. On to Week 6:

Arkansas 38, Auburn 30 –If your defense puts you in a hole, you at least know you have an offense that can dig you out of that hole. You have a quarterback that just broke a school record with 510 passing yards. You have a receiver who had broken a school record that had stood since 1971 for receiving yards by halftime, for goodness sakes. We expect Auburn to score quite a few points Saturday night. We expect Arkansas to score more.

Arkansas State 24, Louisiana-Monroe 22 — The Red Wolves have had trouble winning on the road in recent years. They struggled again Saturday, scoring the winning touchdown against a woeful Western Kentucky team with just 43 seconds left in the game. Western Kentucky has now lost 18 consecutive home games. So much for the home field advantage. A 36-35 overtime loss at home last year to Western Kentucky helped cost ASU head coach Steve Roberts his job. So Hugh Freeze will take Saturday’s 26-22 victory that made ASU 3-2 overall and 1-0 in the Sun Belt Conference. Ryan Aplin was 37 of 49 passing against Western Kentucky for 396 yards and one touchdown. Now, the Red Wolves need to take the next step and beat Louisiana-Monroe in Monroe on Saturday night. The 1-3 Warhawks posted their only victory over a fairly weak Grambling squad. The losses have been by scores of 34-0 to Florida State, 38-17 to TCU and 45-17 to Iowa.

UCA 29, Nicholls State 27 — The Bears got back on the winning track in Conway on Saturday with a 38-28 win over a Stephen F. Austin team that’s now 1-4. Nathan Dick, who missed the previous week’s game at Arkansas State, was back in action and went 17 of 22 through the air for 247 yards and two touchdowns. The Bears moved to 2-3 and go on the road this week to take on a 1-4 Nicholls State team. Nicholls fell last Saturday to Texas State, 38-12. It was the fourth consecutive loss for the Colonels. This certainly appears to be a winnable game for the Bears.

Jackson State 20, UAPB 17 — The Golden Lions fell to 3-2 overall and 2-1 in the SWAC when Alabama A&M scored the winning touchdown with 57 seconds left Saturday in Huntsville, Ala. Another road game awaits Monte Coleman’s squad as the Lions go to Jackson, Miss., to take on a Jackson State team that’s 4-1 overall and 3-1 in the SWAC following a 58-13 win last Thursday over Texas Southern. It’s homecoming in Jackson, giving Jackson State the distinct edge in this one.

Delta State 42, UAM 26 — The Boll Weevils shocked the small college football world Saturday with a 23-9 victory in Monticello over No. 4 Valdosta State. It was UAM’s first win over Valdosta since 1999. Coach Hud Jackson and the assistants he brought with him from UCA have the Weevils off to a 3-2 start. It’s a program on the rise. But Delta State, which made it to the national championship game a year ago, is up to No. 3 in this week’s American Football Coaches Assocation Division II poll after thrashing a Ouachita team that had come to Cleveland, Miss., last Saturday with a 3-0 record and a No. 25 national ranking. Delta just has too many horses for the Weevils to pull a second consecutive upset as they go to Cleveland for a Thursday night game. The Statesmen may well be back in the national title hunt.

Valdosta State 39, Ouachita 34 — It’s hard to imagine Valdosta State losing two consecutive games even though it’s Ouachita’s homecoming contest. The Tigers didn’t compete well in their 45-14 loss at Delta State. They’ve shown they can score points this year, but the Ouachita defense and kicking game remain suspect.

West Alabama 32, Southern Arkansas 16 — West Alabama took advantage of six Harding turnovers last week and rolled up 390 yards of offense against the Bisons. West Alabama improved to 4-1 on the season with the 31-17 victory. Meanwhile, Southern Arkansas gave up 42 consecutive points to the team that’s now No. 1 in the country, losing 42-14 to North Alabama in Magnolia. At 1-4, the Muleriders don’t seem to be a good bet to win on the road as West Alabama celebrates homecoming.

North Alabama 45, Arkansas Tech 28 — The Wonder Boys continue to struggle. They fell to 1-4 Saturday with a 42-16 loss to No. 19 Central Missouri on the road. The good news for the Wonder Boys is that they’re back home in Russellville this week. The bad news is that it’s No. 1 North Alabama coming to town.

Harding 31, West Georgia 28 — Henderson, which is open this week, found its offense in a 50-30 win at West Georgia. That loss dropped the Wolves to 2-2. Harding fell to 2-3 with its loss at West Alabama. We still think this Harding team has potential if the Bisons will quit fumbling so much while running their option offense.

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