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The Arkansas Razorbacks will celebrate its 75th year of playing football in venerable War Memorial Stadium, located at Stadium Drive and Markham Street in Little Rock at noon Saturday when the Hogs kick off the 2023 season against Western Carolina.
While the University of Arkansas has been playing football since 1894, and the Hogs played “home games” in cities like Shreveport, La., Memphis, Tenn., and even in Little Rock prior to the construction of the stadium in 1948, what we know as the Arkansas Razorbacks really didn’t gel until the Hogs began to regularly play half or more of their home games in Little Rock each season.
Prior to the maturation of the Northwest Arkansas-based businesses — Walmart, Tyson’s, and J.B. Hunt — which have made our area of the state go since the 1980s, Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas, while idyllic in many ways, seemed almost like a faraway place to the political seat of power in Little Rock and the economic powerhouse that once was Eastern Arkansas, when large and small family farms dominated the economic fortunes of the state.
John Barnhill and Frank Broyles built the athletic empire we all recognize as the Razorbacks by taking the Hogs — specifically Razorback football — to the people or at least to a city where folks could travel to from all parts of the state relatively quickly and easily, Little Rock.
Former Arkansas head football coach Lou Holtz, who followed Broyles as the Hogs’ head football coach from 1977-83, once joked that Northwest Arkansas wasn’t located at the end of the world, but that you could see it from there.
The relationship was a boon to Little Rock, the stadium, and the Razorbacks for decades. While it might be hard for some latter-day Hog fans to believe, there was a time when the Razorbacks would routinely play four of its seven home football games in Little Rock and just three in Fayetteville. War Memorial Stadium was the larger, nicer stadium until a series of improvements began to be made to the Fayetteville venue in the mid-1980s.
Circumstances for Northwest Arkansas and the Razorback program began to change drastically in the late 1990s with the opening of Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport near Highfill and the completion of I-49 from Alma to Fayetteville.
All of a sudden Fayetteville didn’t seem quite as remote as it once did to the rest of the state. The renovations and additions to Razorback Stadium, particularly the one in 2001, as well as the shift of economic fortunes in the state, made playing Razorback games in Little Rock more of an odd obligation than the necessity that it had once been.
The days of the Razorbacks playing in Little Rock are likely numbered. Though it’s been more than two decades, they have likely been since 2001. We’ve seen the ties with the Razorback program and War Memorial Stadium become less and less since.
Relationships like the one between the Razorbacks and War Memorial Stadium are hard to totally renounce, though. But no matter how slowly the band-aide is removed, it will come all the way off at some point. One just hopes the scar it leaves isn’t that noticeable.
Unfortunately, anticipation for the season opener with Western Carolina isn’t at a fever pitch. Tickets are still available. Evidently, there are a number of tickets still available for the Sept. 9 game against Kent State in Fayetteville. Razorback Foundation members are able to buy discounted tickets for that contest, too, according to an e-mail sent out Monday by the Razorback Foundation.
While Western Carolina and Kent State have been referred to by more than a few fans and commentators as exhibition games, I’d suggest taking the plunge and going to either or both of these games if you have the inclination.
This is going to be a very good and exciting Razorback football team to watch. It’s hard to give you a win total because the SEC is such a tough league, but it is the most talented Razorback squad since 2006, which, in my estimation, was more talented than Bobby Petrino’s 2010 and 2011 teams that had better records. It might be the most talented since 2003.
Since we’re doing a little reminiscing about War Memorial Stadium and Little Rock, here are a few of my favorite Razorback victories played in the Capital City. I attended my first Hog game in Little Rock in 1974 as a 6-year-old.
1975 vs. Texas A&M
The Aggies were ranked No. 2 in the nation and undefeated, but Arkansas whipped them 31-6 in the final game of the regular season to capture a Cotton Bowl berth and Frank Broyles’ final SWC title. Arkansas’ defense, coordinated by Jimmy Johnson, who reportedly gave a stirring pre-game speech, thumped A&M. Quarterback Scott Bull connected with “The Immortal” Teddy Barnes in the back of the end zone for a first-half TD that set the tone.
1979 vs. Texas
No. 10 Arkansas upended the No. 2 Longhorns, 17-14, in a nail-biter that all but ended with a Longhorn missed 51-yard field goal as Hog fans roared with delight. Freshmen Razorbacks Billy Ray Smith and Gary Anderson had huge nights as UA quarterback Kevin Scanlon played sure and steady for a better-than-expected Razorback team that captured the first of two Texas victories for Coach Lou Holtz.
1981 vs. Baylor
This nail-biter was one of the most explosive college games I’ve witnessed. Both teams were flinging the ball, throwing touchdowns and interceptions, but Bruce LaHay booted a 27-yard, late-game field goal to capture a 41-39 victory for the Razorbacks.
1989 vs. Houston
With the Cougars on probation, there was no TV for this quarterback showdown between Arkansas’ Quinn Grovey and Houston’s Andre Ware. Grovey out-dueled the future Heisman winner, tossing touchdowns of 65 and 51 yards on his way to a five-touchdown, 335 total yards night in the Hogs’ 45-39 victory in Ken Hatfield’s final season as head coach.
1991 vs. Texas
In the two squads’ last meeting as Southwest Conference foes, Coach Jack Crowe’s Razorback posted a 14-13 victory in a game in which the Longhorns uncharacteristically missed a PAT and a field goal in the fourth quarter to absorb the loss. Not the most exciting game, but a great way for the Hogs to say adios to the Steers as the Razorbacks headed to the SEC.
1995 vs. Auburn
ESPN moved the game to a Thursday night making the atmosphere even more frenetic at War Memorial Stadium as fans rushed from work to get to the game. Coach Danny Ford’s Hogs stunned Auburn in the first half, racing to a 27-0 lead before Terry Bowden’s Tigers made a startling comeback to pull within 30-28. The Hogs went on to win their first SEC Western Division title.
1998 vs. Kentucky
Quarterback Tim Couch and the Kentucky Wildcats had the Razorbacks on the ropes with a 20-7 lead in the third quarter before Coach Houston Nutt’s Hogs stormed back to score 20 unanswered points in the final 22 minutes of the second half thanks to two field goals by Todd Latourette and two touchdown passes by Clint Stoerner to Anthony Lucas and Hubert Loudermilk.
2002 vs. LSU
Matt Jones authored some incredible plays and victories with his arm and his legs during his career as the Razorbacks’ quarterback, but none was bigger than his 31-yard pass to DeCori Birmingham for a touchdown with 9 seconds to play to lift Houston Nutt’s Hogs to a 21-20 victory over Nick Saban’s LSU Tigers. The play is lovingly known as “The Miracle on Markham.” Richard Smith made a 50-yard catch from Jones to set up the throw. Fred Talley also had a 56-yard touchdown run earlier in the second half to cut into the Tigers’ lead.
2008 vs. LSU
Bobby Petrino’s first season at Arkansas wasn’t his best, but in the final game of the 2008 season, quarterback Casey Dick threw a 24-yard touchdown strike to London Crawford with 22 seconds left in the game to lift the Hogs to a 31-30 victory over the Tigers, which some Hog fans dubbed “The Miracle on Markham II.”
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