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Bohls: A one-sided rivalry? Longhorns calling on the Hogs to create more history

  • Longhorn players don't have a real grasp of the intensity of the Texas-Arkansas rivalry.
  • Even though Arkansas left the SWC for SEC in 1992 and not played regularly since, the feud is real.
  • Steve Sarkisian says his team considers the opponent "faceless."

The Longhorns don’t know what they don’t know.

And that could get them beat.

Because Arkansas does know. Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman said he gave his team a history lesson this week. And trust me, the Hogs will know exactly what Saturday night’s game with Texas means because they will be told. By everyone they meet. Over and over and then a little bit more.

Do you know what this Texas game means to Arkansas?

Everything.

Maybe even a little bit more.

The Longhorns hopefully cracked a history book themselves this week because they didn’t have a clue on Monday.

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Had Bijan Robinson even heard of the Big Shootout?

President Richard Nixon presents a plaque naming Texas as the No. 1 team in college football to Longhorns coach Darrell Royal after Texas' 15-14 win over Arkansas on Dec. 6, 1969. To Nixon's right is UT quarterback James Street, behind Royal is UT running back Ted Koy and to Street's right is UT linebacker Glen Halsell.

“No,” the stud Longhorns tailback said, oblivious to the 1969 Game of the Century when James Street and Randy Peschel stole the Razorbacks’ souls in front of President Nixon and the world. “I heard they don’t like us at all.”

Keondre Coburn, Texas’ refrigerator of a nose tackle, had heard an inkling: “I’ve heard this is more like the Texas-OU game. I know they hate us. But who doesn’t hate Texas?”

The man has a point. But, Snacks, there’s hate, and then there’s Arkansas hate. This is an entire state that refuses to sell gas to cars with Texas license plates. This is a rabid following that used to chunk empty whiskey bottles and oranges at the players and even the band.

“At our bus?” Robinson asked.

“No, on the sidelines,” a writer informed him.

“I think I’ll stay as close to the field as I can,” Robinson said.

Now maybe Arkansas has grown an air of civility and collegiality and quite possibly will gentlemanly welcome its future SEC brethren.

Nah.

“You’d think it was 1969 all over again,” Wally Hall, columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for 43 years, said of this week’s temperature in Fayetteville. “Everyone has Arkansas flags on their cars. And this is Arkansas’ first sellout in four years. You had to live it (the rivalry) to understand the hatred.”

Texas' Forrest Wiegand, left, and Randy Peschel signal Jim Bertelsen's 2-yard touchdown that led to the Longhorns' 15-14 win over Arkansas in 1969, one of the most famous college football games ever played.

Every Longhorns player, coach or band member has a story to tell about the Texas side.

Jay Arnold, a former All-Southwest Conference defensive back in 1973 and retired attorney, recalls a road trip to Arkansas where Hogs fans threw gravel at the players' hotel room windows all night before the game. "The last hog calls I heard were at 4 a.m.," he told the Texas Legacy Support Network recently. “The tunnel that we came out of and then exited the field from was like running through a war zone.”  

While not a single Longhorn has ever experienced this blood feud, their new coach has. Steve Sarkisian has been to Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, but he was with the Crimson Tide. The Tide outscored the Hogs 100-10 the last two meetings and have won 14 straight against them.

Sark remembers getting sacked eight times at Washington as a BYU quarterback as one of his toughest road environments, but said Thursday that "Arkansas' hate, as you called it, isn't going to make us play any harder or play any better. The winning formula is not to rise to the emotion of the stadium."

Texas running back Johnathan Gray fumbles into the end zone during the first half of the 2014 Texas Bowl in Houston. An Arkansas player recovered for a Razorbacks touchdown. It was that kind of night: the Longhorns finished with only 57 yards of total offense in the 31-7 loss.

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Of course, as much respect as Sark said he had for Pittman and Razorbacks standouts like Jalen Catalon — maybe the best safety in the country — and linebackers Grant Morgan and Bumper Pool, and Treylon Burks, perhaps the top receiver in America and bulldozing quarterback KJ Jefferson, he also offered, “We treat our opponent as faceless.”

That’s well and good most of the time, but he’d be well to treat this opponent as with Jason Halloween masks.

They’ll be calling the Hogs from dawn to way past dusk Saturday, and they’ll be calling them winners if Texas isn’t careful. The Longhorns are No. 15 in the polls, you say, and the Razorbacks are unranked but not unaware. The Longhorns could be ranked 115th or first for that matter, and it wouldn’t make any difference.

Get this.

The two longtime Southwest Conference rivals haven’t played regularly since 1991. And guess who Arkansas’ No. 1 rival is.

It’s Texas. 

They’d like it to be Alabama, but that’s not happening in a series so one-sided.

At best, the Razorbacks were usually the Longhorns’ No. 3 rival, far, far behind Oklahoma (because more was on the line) and Texas A&M (because, well, they are the Aggies). And sometimes behind others. Depending on who was riding high then, Arkansas might slip behind an SMU when the Mustangs had the best team money tried to buy or Houston when the Cougars were running and shooting or even Nebraska for a minute until Mack Brown made the Cornhuskers irrelevant.

Chykie Brown celebrates a sack against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Royal-Memorial Stadium in 2008.

To make matters worse, Texas always played Arkansas the week after OU. The Longhorns were always emotionally spent, physically exhausted and sometimes sleepwalking into Fayetteville.

The Hogs, on the other hand, were geeked. Too geeked. They wanted it too much. Former Arkansas coach Jack Crow once said the players seemed to “change their personality” for the Texas game and often succumbed to the pressure.

The Razorbacks were the outsiders in the otherwise Lone Star state-only SWC, and by golly they wanted to pay back Texas for all the sins, real and imagined, because Arkansas felt it was always getting jobbed by the refs, that they were on the outside looking in and they felt Texas was running things in the conference. Imagine such a silly notion. (See raised eyebrows.)

“Arkansas was the only SWC school not from Texas,” Hall said. “So you have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder and you get dominated by the University of Texas. Arkansas has been on the wrong end of this rivalry.”

So they up and left for the SEC, a move Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds suggested in 1990 was bait to lure Texas and A&M.

“I’m sure they’d rather have Texas and an A&M than an Arkansas,” Dodds said. “I’m not sure it turned out like the SEC wanted.”

Former A&M coach Jackie Sherrill once told me the Longhorns and Aggies were “very close” to joining the SEC along with Arkansas. 

“Frank’s smarter than they are,” Sherrill presciently said of Broyles in 1990, “because Frank didn’t want to get left behind. But the SEC knows they will get one eventually, either one or both.”

President Richard Nixon, center, watches the 1969 Texas-Arkansas game from the stands at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, the two teams' famed "The Big Shootout" game. Among those sitting with Nixon were Arkansas governor Winthrop Rockerfeller (left of Nixon), Arkansas senators John L. McClellan and J. William Fulbright (to the right of Nixon) and Rep. George H. Bush, far right.

They’ve tried to make LSU their top feud for geographic reasons if nothing else, but that hasn’t really materialized. Missouri offered another possibility, but that hasn’t caught on either.

Don’t take my word for it.

“Texas is Arkansas’ No. 1 rival,” Quinn Grovey said, adding, “From a hatred standpoint.”

Grovey knows a little bit about it. He’s a former Razorbacks quarterback, a slippery sort and probably Arkansas’ best ever option quarterback who dazzled more than a few defensive backs and won two SWC championships. But even he didn’t know that much about the rivalry until he got there, having grown up in Oklahoma and playing at the same time as Longhorns quarterback Casey Thompson’s dad, OU's Charles Thompson.

“We’d go to class all year, and they’d ask, ‘Are you ready for Texas?’ Go to the grocery store. ‘Are you ready for Texas?’" recounted Grovey, an Arkansas radio personality now. “People couldn’t wait until Texas Week. We didn’t have a week for anybody else.”

Now Grovey does admit there’s a “generation gap” of sorts. 

“People who are 40 and up, they hate Texas,” he said. “Those 30 and below, they really don’t hate Texas.”

Not yet, maybe. They’ll learn. And once they renew the rivalry on an annual basis, look for all those hard feelings to bubble back to the top.

Arkansas fans cheer during the 2010 Arkansas-Texas A&M game in Arlington. Those two schools have played some memorable matchups as SEC schools, something that may duplicate when Texas joins the conference in the next few years. Saturday's Texas-Arkansas game in Fayetteville is a sellout.

Historians will note this is one of the most lopsided rivalries in all of college football, with all due respect to Jim Harbaugh’s misery against the team from down south. Arkansas has won a scant 22 times to Texas’ 56 victories dating to 1894, in part because Texas got inside the Razorbacks' heads.

“The Texas game, for everybody in the conference, is as much psychological as it is scheme and strategy,” legendary Hogs coach Frank Broyles told me for the “Bleeding Orange” book that John Maher and I co-authored. “Not just us. Everybody.”

Alas, Broyles had to live with a 5-14 record against the burnt orange. He told me he could never bring himself to watch a tape of the ’69 game. “No use in crying about it,” he said.

Darrell? Royal owned Arkansas. He simply went 15-5 against the Hogs, twice losing by a point, once by a field goal and another by five points.

Joe Tessitore expects a full knock-down, drag-out affair on Saturday night.

“If you ask Arkansas fans what hits deep, it’s always been Texas,” the ESPN broadcaster said on our "On Second Thought" podcast this week. “It’s ingrained so deep. It’s so rich, so intertwined. I think it’ll be a one-possession game.”

Tessitore, of course, is the accomplished play-by-play man who famously called Texas’ epic overtime win over Notre Dame on a Sunday night in Austin in 2016 and unabashedly proclaimed, “Texas is back, folks.” 

It wasn’t, of course, as the sand began to slip out of Charlie Strong’s hourglass in that 5-7 season. Tess gets reminded of that bold call in airports and restaurants and recited that Sam Ehlinger-like call for us on the podcast.

As a bit of a refresher course, these two sides have locked horns in many a memorable game. Sure, this graybeard remembers being a UT freshman watching the 1969 game in his apartment with brother Kent and best friends Jody and Mickey and rushing to the Drag to celebrate with 10,000 of our closest friends after the 15-14 conclusion.

In Big Shootout II, yours truly held aloft a 3-foot, orange No. 1 sign to the stadium to watch Texas dismantle a damn good Arkansas team ranked No. 4 by a 42-7 margin in maybe the most complete Longhorns win of all time.

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Texas wide receivers Jordan Shipley, right, and Quan Cosby celebrate the first of Shipley's two touchdown catches during the Longhorns' 52-10 win at Royal-Memorial Stadium in 2008.

There have been other thrillers, like Bret Stafford’s last-play touchdown pass to Tony Jones in the end zone in Little Rock to shock No. 15 Arkansas and Grovey in 1987 and the punt that Earl Campbell blocked and Doug English fell on in 1974 and the screen pass Randy McEachern threw to Earl in 1977 to help topple No. 8 Arkansas in Texas' perfect regular season of 1977.

And don’t forget that somber night in December 1976 when Royal and Broyles, rivals but best friends and golfing buddies forever, both retired on the night of a 29-12 Longhorns win in Austin when several minutes mysteriously evaporated off the clock and both coaches agreed to play on.

Arkansas won its share, too, just not as many as Texas. The Hogs did upset the top-ranked Horns 14-13 to deny Royal back-to-back national titles in 1964, but Texas has always gotten Arkansas back.

There’s so much rich history between these two sides and wonderfully will be more in the years to come.

Now some Longhorns players have an inkling about the history. Linebacker Luke Brockermeyer, for instance, has been schooled in all things Razorback by his father. Blake Brockermeyer was as good an offensive lineman as Texas has had, and he experienced this rivalry firsthand.

“I know a lot of the history,” Luke said. “The Game of the Century, I heard a lot about that. It’s going to be really exciting.”

Exciting. Yeah like a fish fry unless you’re the fish.

“I’ve heard it’s a cool atmosphere,” Texas offensive tackle Derek Kerstetter said of the, uh, warm ambiance he expects in Fayetteville. Uh, right.

On Saturday night, Kerstetter and his Texas teammates will get a little glimpse of the past but also a whole bunch of the future. And maybe another history lesson.

Saturday's game

15-Texas at Arkansas, 6 p.m., ESPN, 104.9