The University of Arkansas Razorbacks won a combined 21 games during the past two football seasons.
The last time that happened prior to 2010-11?
The answer is 1964-65.
Let’s be clear that Bobby Petrino does not quite have the Arkansas football program to the point where Frank Broyles had things in 1964-65. The Hogs played 10 regular season games in those days instead of the 12 that are now played, so the winning percentage was better back then.
There’s also the fact that the 1964 team won several versions of the national championship, and Arkansas would have been almost a unanimous pick for the national championship following the 1965 season if not for that upset loss to LSU in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, 1966.
That was the first of the 19 Cotton Bowls I’ve attended. I’ve written here before how I cried in the cab (I was age 6, but I’m sure there were grown men from Arkansas crying that day) we took from the stadium back to the Baker Hotel in downtown Dallas.
Still, Petrino has Arkansas back in the national championship conversation. Since the Cotton Bowl is the only bowl game remaining on Fox, the promotion the network provided in the week leading up to the game was extensive.
To be on Fox on a Friday night in prime time — and to win by a double-digit margin — was good for Arkansas’ national brand.
Those 21 wins during the past two seasons had me thinking back to 1964-65. I ran across two stories Dan Jenkins wrote for Sports Illustrated during the 1965 season.
Jenkins, a Fort Worth native who still does some writing at age 82 for Golf Digest and Golf World, long has been among my favorite writers.
Asked recently by Texas Monthly to list what he reads each day, Jenkins answered: “At my doorstep every morning I get the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (what there is of it,) The New York Times (although I’m under doctor’s orders not to read Paul Krugman or Maureen Dowd, but I do enjoy Gail Collins’ wit even though she seems to represent the other team) and my lifesaver, The Wall Street Journal, best newspaper in America today. The Saturday WSJ has more good stuff to read — and enjoy or be informed by — than any single publication, magazine or newspaper in North America.
“When I’m done with all that and breakfast and coffee are over, I go to the computer and get on Drudge. Then I click on The Washington Post and see if my daughter, Sally Jenkins, has a column up that she hasn’t told me about. Then I check all the usual suspects — Noonan, Coulter, Steyn, Cal Thomas, Buchanan, Thomas Sowell and, of course, Charles Krauthammer, the smartest man in America. By now you may have guessed my politics.
“Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post is the best sports columnist in the country. Second best is Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN.com and third is Dan Wetzel on Yahoo!.”
Jenkins attended TCU and played on the golf team there. He was familiar with the Razorbacks from covering the Southwest Conference for the Fort Worth Press and the Dallas Times Herald (sadly, neither paper exists these days). He went to Sports Illustrated in the early 1960s.
Jenkins retired from SI in 1985 after having written more than 500 articles for the magazine. Jenkins — the author of novels such as “Dead Solid Perfect” and “Semi-Tough” — will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in May in the lifetime achievement category.
In a story titled “Arkansas On Top Of The World” that was published in the Oct. 25, 1965, edition of Sports Illustrated, Jenkins began by quoting from the song “Quarterbackin’ Man,” which was playing on radio stations across the state at the time.
“When John Brittenum was a little bitty boy, sitting on his mammy’s knee, well, he said to his mother, don’t you worry now, Big Frank’ll make a quarterback o’ me, Big Frank’ll make a quarterback o’ me.”
Jenkins wrote: “You hear it not only in Fayetteville or Little Rock or Fort Smith, but in Possum Grape and Poplar Bluff and Pea Ridge and Terrapin Neck, far along the leafy Ozark hills and then down in the river bottoms where a wild hog — a razorback — looks for acorns when he’s not listening to some barefoot fellow hollering at him … or when he’s not beating a Texan at football again.”
Maybe someone informed Jenkins at the time that Poplar Bluff is in Missouri, though close to the Arkansas border. Perhaps he meant Poplar Grove over between Marvell and Helena (it has been incorrectly listed for years as Popular Grove in the index to the official state highway map).
Terrapin Neck is not on the map but apparently was on the route of the old Reader Railroad in south Arkansas between Reader and Waterloo.
Jenkins went on to write, “You could hear this song about Jon Brittenum, who beat Texas last week, 27-24, and another one about Harry Jones, who helped Brittenum simply by being fast and being there, and songs about last year’s unbeaten team. There is, in fact, very little you can hear about in Arkansas now except Coach Frank Broyles’ Razorbacks, who may be long gone toward college football’s next great winning streak.
“If the song, as sung by groups called The Rivermen and Cecil Buffalo and The Prophets, did not have you convinced in the last few days before the game, the signs did. Like the songs, they were everywhere, at food markets, real estate offices, bank buildings, restaurants, service stations and theater marquees. They said, ‘Go, Hogs, go. Beat Texas. Fryers 29 cents a pound,’ and ‘Beat Texas, Apples $1.99,’ and ‘No Vacancy. Beat Texas,’ and one of them was even on a church — the First Baptist Church of Fayetteville — and it said, ‘Football is only a game. Eternal things are spiritual. Nevertheless, beat Texas.’
“The people who made the signs wore red hats, red vests, red coats, red dresses, red ties, and the red banners were dangling down from high windows and roofs just everywhere, and the songs — instant folk songs — kept peeling all these layers off your brain, so how were even the amazing Texas Longhorns supposed to win a game in that atmosphere? They weren’t.
“Even after the Longhorns came from a stunning 20 points behind to lead by 24-20 with just four minutes left and Arkansas back on its own 20-yard line, Texas was not supposed to win last Saturday because of all this belief that had been mustered from the hills and river bottoms and given to Jon Brittenum and the fastest team in the land.”
Just two weeks later, Harry Jones (who now lives at Lowell and will be inducted Feb. 3 into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame) was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and Jenkins had another feature on the Razorbacks.
This story had a headline that read “The Man For The Next Few Seasons.”
Jenkins wrote: “Aw, yew bet. There’s White River channel cat — Frank Broyles likes it better than steak; ask anyone — and strawberries as big and red as Harry Jones’ helmet, and fried chicken so tender and flavory it makes a man want to weep. There’s good duck hunting and better fishing. You mean you’ve never throwed a hook in Bull Shoals? There’s the Watermelon Festival in Hope, the Grape Festival in Tontitown, the Diamond Cave in Jasper, the Bracken Ridge Lodge Doll Museum in Eureka Springs and the Oil Jubilee in Magnolia.
“Gen. Douglas MacArthur got himself born in Little Rock, of course, and there was Fay Templeton, the actress, Bob Burns, the comedian, and Albert Pike — he wrote something or other. You also got to consider that Mr. Winthrop Rockefeller, sitting up there on his hill, likes it pretty good. It isn’t as though the state of Arkansas never had anything to be proud of before Frank Broyles taught the Razorbacks to bristle and snout. But God love Frank Broyles, and don’t cash his personal check. Frame it.
“There is a special kind of hysteria in Arkansas now. It is the kind that comes only with a winning college football team. It dabs small, rosy blotches of pride on the cheeks of everyone. And it spreads like measles. It happened in Oklahoma with Bud Wilkinson, in Iowa with Forest Evashevski, in Mississippi with Johnny Vaught, in Texas with Darrell Royal and in Alabama with Bear Bryant.
“A man comes along — the right man at the right time — to organize things, rally the people, put fire in the athletes, build a winning tradition and, suddenly, there is an empire. Arkansas is the newest, and those old familiar cries — ‘Boomer, Sooner,’ ‘Hook ‘em Horns’ and ‘Roll Tide’ — are being drowned out by a curious new one: ‘Whoooo, pig, sooey,’ And Coach Frank Broyles — you will simply have to forgive this — is the sooey with the fringe on top.”
Jenkins went on to describe Broyles as a “tall, talkative, excitable, evangelistic native of Georgia” who had caused “hysteria” to reach out “in all directions. The banker, the farmer, the mechanic, the housewife, the grade-school student — they are all afflicted. They wear red, the university color, almost all of the time, but especially to the games.”
With everything from a former president to the world’s largest retailer to the top new art museum in the world, Arkansas has a lot more to hang its hat on nationally these days than it did in the early 1960s.
One thing hasn’t changed: Nothing unites Arkansans like a winning Razorback football team.
21 wins in two seasons.
Not bad in 1964-65.
Not bad in 2010-11.
Not bad at all.