Many of our favorite Razorback memories involve Ken Hatfield's wonderful back-to-back Cotton Bowl teams of the late 1980s. Therefore, it was a real thrill to get the chance to speak last week with James Rouse, who teamed with with fellow running back Barry Foster to give those Hogs a mighty one-two punch in the backfield.
A Razorback from 1985 to 1989, Rouse ranks sixth on the U of A's list of career rushing leaders with 2,887 yards, and only Bill Burnett (46) and Darren McFadden (41) have more career rushing touchdowns than Rouse's 38. The Little Rock native, who went on to play a couple of seasons with the Chicago Bears, now lives in his hometown and is a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch. In part one of our Q&A, he talks about the day Tony Jones broke his heart, which team he got the most fired up to play against (you'll never guess!) and how his teams stack up against other squads in Razorback history.
Your Razorback career saw a lot of really big wins. What was your favorite one? On the flip side, what was the most disappointing loss?
As fans, you guys are probably going to choose the same one I’m going to choose. I would say it was probably the Houston game in Little Rock, with Andre Ware, the Heisman Trophy candidate [editor's note: and eventual winner]. Just going back and forth and ultimately coming out to win the game — for me, that was one of my favorite games that I played in. It was so exciting, playing against a Heisman Trophy candidate, and we came out on top.
It really seemed like every time each team had the ball, you pretty much had to score because you knew the other guys —
Oh yeah. We knew going into the game against the Run and Shoot, which was a new form of offense that everybody was trying to implement, that we would have to score every time or at least have the defense hold them once or twice in order for us to catch our breath. It felt like whoever had the ball last was going to win the game, and that’s kind of how it happened.
On the flip side, I would say the most disappointing loss probably was the  Texas game in Little Rock. We were winning [14-10]. With just a few seconds left, they had the ball on about our 20-yard line, and they had no more timeouts. It was desperation time for them, and they hit Tony Jones in the endzone for a TD [editor's note: link may not be suitable viewing for Hog fans who remember the game], and that was the ballgame. That was the most disappointing game that I ever played in.
It’s funny. I actually went to the Atlanta Falcons training camp, and Tony Jones was there, and we actually talked about that play. He was kind of laughing about it and said, yeah, that was probably one of the most disappointing losses in Razorback history.
We have a lot of great memories of watching you play in games at War Memorial — it seems like your name was up on that scoreboard a lot. On a personal level, what's your favorite memory from your playing days?
I would say that the most touching moment for me was my senior year, running out through the "A" in Little Rock for the last time. They had maybe 10 or 15 little boys out there with my jersey number on. And soon as I ran through the "A," they let go of balloons.
I would say that’s probably the most memorable or the most touching, just because I knew that it was my last time ever playing in Little Rock, in War Memorial Stadium, and because I knew that these guys that I had become good friends with, that we were going to be going our separate ways. I’ve tried to stay in contact with some, but you lose contact with others.
This might be an obvious question, but which opponent did you guys get the most fired up to play against?
The same game that every fan circled — Texas. The week of Texas, the campus was on fire. The players were fired up. The coaches were fired up. It made for very intense practices. The fans, they were fired up about playing Texas, even when [UT] came to Little Rock or we went there.
There was a love/hate — well, not really a love relationship — basically a hate relationship. We really got up for that game. That’s one that we circled every year, regardless of what our records were. Still to this day, even though we’re not in the same conference, I think that still boils over, the — I’m not going to use the word "hatred," that’s kind of strong — but the dislike for one another, because of all the years that we played against each other.
That was the answer we were expecting to hear!
Coach didn’t really have to say very much during that week to get the guys fired up. We were pretty much ready to go and had ants in our pants, ready to get going and get out there on the field and knock some Longhorns down and do the Longhorn symbol downwards instead of upwards.
We've always felt that those late 80s teams were some of the best Arkansas squads ever. Where do you think they fit in among the other top Razorback teams? Would you guys have beaten the 2006 Hogs, for example?
Without a doubt. My recruiting class, which was 1985, we had so many guys in there that were great players. Over the years, we just got better and better. If you look at it, our worst season was 9-4. If that’s your worst season that you had, that speaks volumes for that recruiting class and the classes of the mid-80s.
You guys had a ton of future pros on those teams. We sometimes don’t think people remember how many stars there were at one time there.
It’s funny that you say that. We’re actually having the ’88 and ’89 Cotton Bowl teams' reunion before the Ole Miss game. I think that’s going to be awesome. Since we’ve been trying to get the reunion together, a couple of guys were talking about how we just feel like we’re the lost team that no one really remembers. When you look at it, they always celebrate the 60s teams, and they’re always celebrating the 2006 team and on up. They never really mention the mid- and late-1980s. Personally, I think that we could have beat any of the other Arkansas teams that they put on the field. We just had so many stars, so many guys that played at the next level, so many guys that were just good.
We were two or three deep, whereas some of these teams that Arkansas has had, they may have a few good players here and there, but they weren’t as deep as we were. We had second teamers who could have started for another team, so that’s how deep we were and how good we were.
People tend to forgot about those mid- and late-80s teams.
Do you think that’s because people kind of soured on Ken Hatfield?
That could be the case. But, a lot of people loved Hatfield as well. The one thing that I always remember is when Coach Hatfield had his TV show, people were saying, "We go to church on Sundays. We want to hear about football. We don’t want to hear about the Gospel." But that’s who Coach Hatfield was. That’s what he was all about. He was all about preaching the word of God and also installing those values in his players.
The fans didn’t really want to hear about that. They wanted to hear about football. That may have left a sour taste in some people’s mouth as well, and then the last year that he was here, the way it all it went down and how he left - that probably played a part in it as well.
Describe Ken Hatfield's relationship with his players. For example, was he intense and demanding or laid-back?
For the most part, he was pretty much laid back. He would let his assistants run the show in practice. Now, I wasn’t in his meetings with them, of course, so I don’t know how it played out when he met with the coaches.
Just from the outside looking in, he was laid-back with the players and with the coaches. He kind of let them do their own thing. When he saw something that wasn’t to his satisfaction, he would come down onto the field, and he would let us know.
The players loved him. They rallied around him. And that’s the reason why I think that we were so successful.
Do you stay in touch with him?
No, I really don’t. I have talked with him on occasion. I see him at certain events here in Little Rock. But, you move on. Life changes, and you lose contact. But, it’s good to see him when I do and good to know that he and his family are doing well.
For the first time in a while, I actually talked to my position coach, Larry Brinson. I talked to him for the first time in 18 years this year.
Did Coach Hatfield have bitter feelings about the way things ended up at Arkansas?
I’m sure he did. If I were him, I probably would have had feelings like that as well. All the success he brought Arkansas – it was kind of like the Houston Nutt saga as well. All of the success that those coaches brought and now the way that they’ve been remembered or treated, it’s hard for any man to swallow.
But, I’m sure that he got over it, and he moved on to other things. If you look at it, he coached for about 15 years after he left Arkansas. So, he did what he wanted to do. He had the opportunities to coach other places and not necessarily have the pressure that coaching at Arkansas brought. He ended his career the way he wanted to end it.
(coming tomorrow...part 2)