A couple of weeks ago, Mrs. Anthony and I took our small pop-up camper ( I'm still trying to get used to the whole "towing" thing) and traversed the state of Missouri, entered "The Natural State", and landed in a small KOA campground just outside of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. (I'm also trying to get used to the whole "camping" thing, too!) This was our first journey to Razorback country, as well as being another chapter in the continuing saga of Matt's attempt to visit every stadium in the Southeastern Conference.
"Why?" you ask. Well, because I love college football. And while baseball will always be my favorite sport, there's nothing quite like the tremor of excitement that exudes amidst parking lot after parking lot of tailgaters on a football Saturday.
I'm pretty lucky, in that my wife is a sports fan. (she's a huge baseball fan, which explains her eagerness to marry me....on a baseball diamond!) But as far as college football goes, she's more of a "camping" fan (hence, the pop-up trailer) so she indulges my lust of SEC football so that we can sit around a campfire at night in 40 degree weather wearing 9 sweatshirts each and munching on char-broiled hot dogs and Tostitos. Our proximity to SEC football, based on our St. Louis locale, makes driving to most stadiums a fairly lengthy journey, so Fayetteville was the closest spot of all the schools that we had not yet visited. So far, we've been to Knoxville to see the Vols, Nashville to see Vandy, Tuscaloosa to see 'Bama, and now Fayetteville to see the Razorbacks.
Yes, I know college football is a big business. Yes, I know that most of these "scholar-athletes" are alot more "athlete" than they are "scholar". And, yes, I know that many of the players who show up on the radar of ESPN's College Gameday will probably not finish all four years at their respective schools. It's the way it is. But the pageantry and tradition that surrounds the college football experience can truly not be duplicated. (And pardon my saying so, but the NFL doesn't even come close, so don't even try.)
The weather on game day: strikingly gorgeous. (As were the women in the two groups partying next to us prior to kick-off. Don't tell my better-half, but is there a mutant gene that all of a sudden makes itself known within the female gender somewhere south of I-64? Some Ph.D. candidate simply must devote his or her dissertation to this subject!) On the other side of us was a family of fairly elderly, quiet Razorback faithful who simply nodded to us and continued to enjoy the day....until one of their cell phones rang and the noticeably-oldest of the group shouted, "Hey, ya'all, Florida is kicking the s%*t out of Kentucky 63-3!"
Gotta love the SEC.
We also managed to score some free food, especially some ribs that a gentleman, wearing jean bib-overalls with the Arkansas logo plastered on them, started cooking at 5 a.m. that morning. (they were good...but the ones we had at the Alabama game were better!) We also tried to hook up with the brother of a former client and friend of mine...a Razorback season-ticket holder...but we never made it to his shrimp-boil. (damn!)
Our seats? Not great. But, it doesn't matter. I like the fact that most people are in their seats 45 minutes before kickoff. (Here at Rams games, people don't even make it to their seats until 5 or 6 minutes into the first quarter....if they hadn't already sold their tickets to Packers fans, that is.) It's a good thing we made it to our seats early, because it gave us an opportunity to learn how to properly "Call the Hogs". Now, as it was explained to us by some folks sitting next to us, "calling the Hogs" takes timing, dexterity...and a few Miller Lite's. (although a Miller Lite wouldn't get within 3 counties of these lips) Anyway...the act of raising the hands above the head, with the fingers twirling, AND while chanting "W000000000", legitimately, should not take more than 8 seconds. Then, both arms are thrust downwards while screaming "Pig", and very quickly, the right arm gets thrown upwards with a fist, exclaiming, "Sooie"! This is repeated twice more, with the only difference being at the end of the third call, where everyone ends with a resounding, "Razorbacks!". Now, to see some petite co-ed standing next to some grizzled ex-veteran standing next to a seemingly docile college professor-type, all standing next to some couple from St. Louis on their maiden voyage to Fayetteville, and all screaming "Wooo-Pig-Sooie"....well, that's not gonna happen at a Jets game, or a Chiefs game, or a Browns game, for that matter. And if "Calling the Hogs" doesn't do it for you, head to Annapolis for a Navy game and watch the Midshipmen march in, or stay in your seat at halftime for a Buckeyes game in Columbus and watch the band peel off a "Script-Ohio", or show up at Neyland Stadium before a game and immerse yourself in the sea of orange that makes up the "Vol Walk", or any of the hundreds of other solemn college football traditions and you'll see why the NFL doesn't even come close to touching it, on any level.
The final? Ole Miss (and Houston Nutt's return to Fayetteville) eeked out a win, even though the Razorbacks led a charge all the way to the end.
As we ended up back at the fire in front of our little camper 40 miles away in Eureka Springs, I silently plotted our next trip. My wife, wrapped in her newly-purchased tie-dye hoodie with the Hog logo in the middle (I'm certain she was the only person amongst the 70,000-plus crowd who wore one), handed me my hot dog and asked, "Well, where to next year?" I thought for a moment, enjoyed another warming swig from my Avery Maharaja Imperial India Pale Ale, and said, "Start stocking up on the toilet paper, hon. I'm feeling a little trip to Auburn and Toomer's Corner.
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