OK - so maybe that headline is a tad misleading. Along with approximately 500 other people, I was fortunate enough to attend last Saturday's dinner honoring the 1994 national championship team. Here are some notes and observations from a very memorable evening, one that featured remarks from Pelphrey, Nolan and all of the attending '94 team members:
• Pelphrey began his remarks by saying, "It was my understanding that when Corliss and Scotty left, they still had one year of eligibility remaining. Guys, I only need you for three games." [At that point, the Hogs had three regular-season games left.]
• Nolan was in a great mood, laughing heartily throughout the evening. At one point during his talk, he offered support and encouragement for Pelphrey and the current team. He asked for fans to be patient. He looked directly at Pelphrey and said, "You've got some time. You've got some time." And then he quickly joked, "Now, you don't have a lot of time here."
In closing, he noted that many people had commented on his gray hair. "I'm just trying to look like the man who fired me," he quipped.
• One of the more moving moments came when Roger Crawford took the microphone. He directed his comments to his former teammates and lamented that so many of them had fallen out of touch with each other and told them they must be better about this in the future. "We're a family," he said. As his comments drew to a close, he appeared to be on the verge of tearing up.
Darnell Robinson also struck a reflective tone when he said, "I see everybody here with their kids, and I think, 'Wow, we are getting old, aren't we?'"
• Craig Tyson, a forward who never played in a regular-season game for the Hogs because of knee problems, had some poignant remarks as well. "My comments are going to be as brief as my career," he joked. But he then got serious and told Richardson that he'd never thanked him for the opportunities that Richardson had given him. "I'd like to now," Tyson said and then shook Nolan's hand. It was a very nice moment. A lady sitting next to me said, "Ahh. Bless his heart."
• Reggie Merritt is one entertaining dude. He had the crowd laughing for much of his time at the microphone.
The former walk-on noted that his five years in Fayetteville covered three distinct periods of Arkansas basketball. His first year, during which he redshirted, was the last season of the Day-Miller-Mayberry era. The next three seasons were, of course, were the Corliss-Scotty era, and his final season was the beginning of the Kareem Reid-Pat Bradley-Derek Hood phase.
"I know Coach Richardson had to be thinking, 'Is this guy ever going to leave?'" Merritt said. (Later, in his remarks, Nolan joked, "Every time I looked up, there was Reggie. Everywhere I went, there was Reggie.")
Merritt also recounted that he crossed paths with many of his future teammates while they were all in high school. He recounted watching a Memphis AAU squad featuring Corey Beck, Dwight Stewart and Anfernee Hardaway crush another AAU squad led by Ken Biley in Little Rock Parkview's gym. "I saw Corey walking across the campus with his big jheri curls," Merritt said, drawing big laughs from the crowd.
He also talked about playing against Scotty Thurman in AAU ball. "Scotty was running his mouth even back then," Reggie said.
• Clint McDaniel said that people used to always ask how he became such a good defensive player. During his freshman year, he said, he was upset with his lack of playing time and went to Richardson's office. "I've got Todd Day, Lee Mayberry and Oliver Miller," Richardson told him. "If you want to play, you've got to play some defense."
McDaniel, however, thought he'd simply bide his time until the following season, when surely there would be offensive opportunities heading his way. "But coach didn't tell me he had signed Corliss and Scotty," he laughed. Once again unhappy with his playing time in his sophomore season, McDaniel returned to Richardson's office and asked why he wasn't he wasn't on the court more. "I knew the answer as soon I asked the question," Clint said.
When Nolan spoke, he kidded McDaniel by saying, "When you got here, you couldn't guard nobody."
• Speaking of his game-winning basket against Duke, Scotty Thurman said, "For those of you who think that was a miracle shot, go back and look at some of my other shots."
He talked further about the basket, noting that Expat favorite Dwight Stewart was all set to take the shot before he famously fumbled the ball and passed to Thurman. "He was going to take the shot - and he was going to make it," Thurman said.
Scotty also pointed out that Corliss and Beck had their men boxed out. "They would have gotten the rebound if I had missed," he said.
• Corliss said he's frequently asked which championship is more meaningful to him - the NCAA title he won with the Hogs or the NBA title he won with the Detroit Pistons. The answer, he said, was easy: the NCAA championship.
Williamson also said last weekend marked the first time his five-year-old son had heard his college nickname. "Daddy, those people are saying you're nasty!" his puzzled son told him.
• Speaking of kids, Dwight asked his 10-year-old son to stand up so the crowd could see him and added that his son is a budding hoopster. He then added he'd love to see his son in a Razorback uniform. "Let's get him up here," he told the crowd. (Nothing would make us Expats happier.)
Scotty also broached the possibility of his son playing in Fayetteville, joking to Pelphrey that his son had met Mike Anderson (now the head coach at Missouri) and that the Hog coach has some catching up to do.
• Finally, I was struck by how moving the evening was. I was expecting it to be fun, but it turned out to be more than that.
As the evening unfolded and the players spoke of that season with obvious emotion, I found myself reflecting not only on that championship team, but on that period in my life. I was thinking of friends and family that I shared that season with. Many of those people, I don't see much any more. I thought of the two family dogs - both of whom have long since passed away - that were by my side when I watched the championship game. I'd be lying if I said I didn't grow misty-eyed at times.
The inimitable Brian Gunn, creator of Redbird Nation, an unfortunately now-defunct St. Louis Cardinals blog, once wrote of baseball: "It’s not that I don’t enjoy the games for what they are, but they’re more than just games. They’re portholes into my past, my memories, my shared experiences with loved ones."
And about the Cardinals clinching the 2006 World Series title in Game 5, Gunn wrote: "I’ll remember my own little brother racing over to my house—he had to work late—and making it just in time to catch the final out. It was a glorious moment, with a whole bunch of us in my living room, friends, family members, losing ourselves in a scrum of rapturous glee. I’m not sure the Cards will be back in the Series anytime soon, and I suspect the comedown from their victory might eventually result in some form of postpartum depression, but that instant in my living room will still be enough to keep me warm these next few months, if not for the rest of my life."
The 1994 Razorbacks created memories that I suspect you and I will always carry with us. To get the chance to relive them last Saturday in such up-close-and-personal fashion was more gratifying than I could have imagined.