“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.”
Jesus of Nazareth, “The Sermon on the Mount”, Matthew 5:14
I love Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The quintessential “College Town”, Fayetteville is indeed the “City on a Hill”. I always wonder, as I top the hill on Interstate 540 just south of the city, how much J. Frank Broyles and the Fayetteville City Council paid the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department to put the road right there: the view is breathtaking.
You come in on Interstate 40 from either Little Rock/The Rest of Arkansas, or Oklahoma/Texas/points west, and take the turn onto Interstate 540. You are 45 minutes from Heaven on Earth. With each breathtaking turn, each architecturally daring bridge, each beautiful valley viewed from the grand plateau of the Ozarks.
Ok, a word about The Ozarks: for those who don’t know, the Ozarks are not really mountains. It (they) is an eroded plateau; over millennia, water and wind have done their work on this giant flat plateau, eroding valleys and rivulets and arroyos into the land until it appears to human eyes to be “mountains”. “Mountains” are pushed up from beneath, as were the Ouachitas just south of the Arkansas River, or pounded into place, as in the Appalachian Range or the Rockies. The Ozarks, on the other hand, are the result of time, wind, water, and the hand of God slowly working their handiwork onto the land beneath. They are truly “the Mountains of God”.
As you go further and further north, passing all the farms, forests, lakes and rivers, clothed in their autumnal glory, you cannot help but be moved. I never made that trip, ever, without gasping at some gorgeous long view or beautiful individual tree or farm. Every time I make that trip, I see something new and wondrous.
(“Autumnal Glory”—New England, Upstate New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania---y’all got NOTHING on Fayetteville, NOTHING. And I’ve seen autumn in those places, and it is glorious, but there’s just something about a crisp, cool autumn day in the Ozarks…).
Finally, north of Greenland, you crest that final hill and there, for a shining second, framed by the Ozarks, crowning the Hill like the glittering diadem of a Monarch on her throne, is the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, with the City of Fayetteville, paying homage, arrayed around her.
Before Interstate 540, there were two ways to get to Fayetteville: the torturous, winding US 71 (one of the 10 worst roads in America, by popular acclaim), complete with spectacular drops (don’t lose your concentration or over the side you’ll go), hairpin turns, lanes whose white stripes abut with the rocky outcrop of mountains, and 45,000 cars, all bound for Fayetteville, potentially in the beginnings of an ice/snow storm. Or, you could always opt for the infamous Pig Trail, that torturous (did I just use “torturous” twice in one paragraph? I did, didn’t I?) strip of pavement that starts in Ozark (the town) and winds through the mountains, twisting and turning its way up to Fayetteville. Amazing fun in a sports car or on a motorcycle; torture in anything else.
I’ve made both those trips a million times, in ‘63 Impala Station Wagon in the “back-back” (my friend Clay Henry’s family called it the “way-back”; those old station wagons had three rows of seats; the furthest back faced the rear, and was usually inhabited by the oldest boy—a private domain, far from Dad’s correcting hand, far from annoying siblings, it was the perfect place for the 8-13 year old male. If the movement of the ‘wagon made the boy slightly nauseous, he would never, ever tell anyone (and the foregoing does not constitute an admission of any kind; I’ve heard it happened to some boys at some times). I’ve made that trip um, slightly inebriated, in a ‘71 Mustang Mach 1, a ‘75 Corvette, and all kinds of other conveyances.
It was a 6 hour trip from Malvern, Arkansas to Fayetteville, Arkansas via the US Highway system, before the interstates.
Fayetteville did have an airport---Drake Field. Flying into Drake has always been an adventure. They did get lights, eventually, but many a flier has flown his/her airplane directly into the mountain that juts at the end of the runway. For generations they suffered with “Scheduled Skyways”, which was –kind of- an airline that would fly you to Little Rock or Tulsa, towns with “real” airports.
This post did not start out as a post about Fayetteville, but the above does set the stage, as it were.
When the gang of “thugs, hooligans, and plug-uglies” (so-called by the Ft. Smith newspaper) started playing football at the (relatively new) University of Arkansas, they played near the baseball diamond, which was located about where Arkansas Avenue now intersects Dickson Street. As the sport grew in both legitimacy and popularity, the boys moved down into the ravine near campus (Campus, of course, consisted of “Old Main” alone), and the students would array themselves on “The Hill” (the side of the ravine) to watch. The ravine, of course, became known as “Razorback Ravine”, the road going down it “Razorback Road”, and the WPA project that put formal stands in (replacing a rickety wooden grandstand) was “Razorback Stadium”.
Over the years, improvements were added: sound, a Press Box, etc---but no lights.
The stadium consisted of two grandstands and a berm around the north end, with a big parking lot (“The Pit”) at the north end. The first time I saw it, it looked like this:
I’ll never forget that first trip. My Aunt Shorty and Uncle Cal, who went to all the games, took me when I was 8 years old. I remember vividly the anticipation, the feeling of being barely able to breathe (I didn’t sleep at all the night before, period). Driving to the Pit, parking, walking to the stadium, everyone wearing red (except those nasty people in Burnt Orange (spit), what were they doing here? Arkansas had been doing pretty well. I wasn’t much into football at that point; my Dad, his brother, and his two sisters were seemingly crazed about it; I had a cousin who played for Baylor (there are two sides to our family), and everybody had the bug---except me. Until that fateful day.
It was a beautiful fall day in the Ozarks, temperatures in the 70’s in the day, down to the 50’s at night; the maples blazing away with their fiery reds and blazing yellows; the sky so blue you could see Jupiter. The game was an afternoon affair, as all were because there were no lights.
The burnt-orange team (which led me eventually to coin the phrase, “Evil Orange Empire of the West”) looked like crap compared to my heroes in Cardinal and White; we got out to a 20-0 lead! This was going to be easy! Ah, but the Evil Orange, led by the wicked sorcerer Royal, came roaring back (what the hell HAPPENED to our team? They got out in front and got overconfident) and took the lead, then added to it. It was cold, it was getting dark, and things were looking pretty bad for Our Side, the side of Goodness and Light. I was devastated that we were going to lose. As the shadows lengthened, and lengthened, and then it just got plain dark, Jon Brittenum, “The Quarterbackin’ Man”, took the ball on the 20 with about four minutes left (remember, in those days, there was no such thing as a “2 minute drill”). He deftly passed to Bobby Crockett, who always seemed to manage to be at the precise spot on the sidelines where and when the ball arrived, to run out of bounds and stop the clock; occasionally, he mixed in a run with Hurryin’ Harry Jones. Down the field came Arkansas, and as time expired, Brittenum hurled the ball over the heads of the defenders to a sky-high Bobby Crockett in the very corner of the endzone, TOUCHDOWN ARKANSAS!!!! The noise was insane! But wait---a FLAG. Arkansas had to back up and try again. 42,000 people held their breath. Brittenum sneaked it in and the referees’ hands went up and 40,000 people went stark, raving, insane (2,000 were very, very quiet). Final score: Arkansas 27, texass u (spit) 24 EAT SHIT AND DIE, TEXASS!!! Oh, sorry, ‘scuse me, this is a family blog and all, “Congratulations to our fine opponents from Texas, they played an outstanding game.” BWAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHA.
I had screamed myself completely hoarse; it was the first time (but not the last) I had ever done so; I would open my mouth and wheezy noises would come out. Uncle Cal, never one to waste cash, bought me a small Cardinal colored pennant, with the seal and “Arkansas” on it; I’m looking at it on the wall in my den in Houston at age 52 as I write this.
So that was my first trip to Razorback Stadium.
The stadium was renovated several times over the years; the grandstands acquired “wings” in 1968; Astroturf appeared in 1969 for the “Great Shootout”; the berm disappeared when they built the first Broyles Field House in 1975; lights FINALLY came to Fayetteville with the addition of the upper deck in 1985; then the construction stopped for the next 15 years. The Broyles Center received an addition in the 80’s as well, but that was about it.
I’m not going to tell the “Great Shootout” story here. Much has been written about it, including an excellent book, “Hogs, Horns, and Nixon Coming” by Terry Frei. Nixon choppered in and saw the game; one of the freshman Congressmen with him (who was lucky to be invited on such a trip) was the youthful George Herbert Walker Bush of Texas. Law Student Hillary Rodham was also at the University, although I don’t know if she attended the game or not. Arkansas alum Jerry Jones came up from El Dorado for the game. It was “a big deal.”
In Ft. Worth, Texas, I had spent the entire week running my mouth (shocking to those who know me as the shy, retiring wallflower I am) to the Texas boys, and was devastated when we lost.
Yes, we lost. End of story.
Arkansas had one of the biggest, nicest stadiums in the Southwest Conference, which used to be about on par with the SEC. In 1970, Arkansas’ stadia (War Memorial and Razorback) would have fit in decently with the SEC; Neyland in Knoxville, for example, seated 60,000; about the same for Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. Alabama played most of their games at Legion Field in Birmingham; it had lights and was bigger than Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. But while Arkansas rested on its laurels, the SEC was on a building spree. By the time Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992, their facilities were woefully inadequate and uncompetitive.
In stepped generous benefactors, and now Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium is as modern, sophisticated, and comfortable as can be found anywhere. When it expanded from 50,000 to 72,000 (now 76-78,000, depending), the fear was that “we’ll never sell all those tickets”. Now, the impetus is on expanding the stadium up to a possible 92,000, on par with the “big boys” of the SEC. With the success Bobby Petrino will bring to the program, this will be a virtual necessity. Tickets are already scarce, and interest has never been higher. It’s that pesky “recession” thing that’s slowing it down.
There’s a lot to be proud of with DWRRS---the huge, screaming, red-clad crowds (the famous story is, a texass u (spit) assistant coach once stated that texass u (spit) should refuse to play there, since it was “like parachuting into Russia”), the lavish skyboxes, the luxurious club seating---oh, and that little television set.
Thanks to the generosity of Southwestern Bell, nee SBC, nee AT&T, Arkansas has the third largest stadium video display board in North America. It was the largest before texass u (spit) got scoreboard-envy and built a bigger one, to be eclipsed by the grandeur in Arlington this year. The Pigscreen TeeVee is amazing; when they first turned it on, coming in on 540 at night, you could see it all the way from the hill. It’ll put your eyes out.
ahem. Yes, that would be me on the PIgscreen TeeVee.
There’s the Hall of Champions, the Hall of Bowl Games, the Hall of All-Americans. There’s the Broyles Complex with its shimmering glass reflecting the blue Ozark sky. There’s the red border of the field, which proclaims to all that this is Razorback country. There’s even the “Traditional GO HOGS spellout” ;-).
Still, probably my favourite part of DWRRS (besides the grandeur and the outright hostility of our crowd) is a thing that not many people notice.
Buried down there under all the upper decks and LED Ribbons and High-Def display boards and Club Seating, little old Razorback stadium is STILL THERE. If you look closely, you can see all the additions. The Pressbox is original; it still says “Home of the Razorbacks” just like it always did; it’s just buried under all that grandeur.
There’s a little piece of the berm left; as you sit in the stadium, look to the right of the Broyles Complex and there it is (look to the right of the Pigscreen in the shot above). If you look, you can see the “wings” and then you can see the original grandstands—again, covered in splendor, but still there, a testament to the past glories of the Arkansas Razorbacks.
I can’t wait for the next thrilling game. The next time a defensive lineman intercepts a pass and lopes down the sidelines with the entire team blocking for him and the sidelines urging his fat ass on; the next time a tight game is on the line and some bright young man with a strong arm stands firm in the pocket in the face of an SEC defensive rush that will be playing on Sundays next year and makes an amazing pass; a streaking receiver makes an amazing over the shoulder catch, a flying running back an amazing run, the defense stands strong on 4th and one as time expires to save the victory; the crowd goes Hog Wild, the Razorback Band plays “Arkansas Fight!” and the roar of the crowd resolves itself into one of the most famous blood cries in the illustrious history of college football.
I can’t wait until, once again, the Hog Call echoes down Razorback Ravine and off the Hills into the crisp fall Ozark air.
WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, PIG!!! SOOOOIIIIIEEEEEEE!!!!
WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, PIG!!! SOOOOIIIIIEEEEEEE!!!!
Pure as the dawn on the brow of thy beauty
Watches thy soul from the mountains of God
Over the Fates of thy children departed
Far from the land where their footsteps have trod.
Beacon of hope in the ways dreary lighted;
Pride of our hearts that are loyal and true;
From those who adore unto one who adores us-
Mother of Mothers, we sing unto you.
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