Q&A: Tony Cherico, Part 2

Hog fans who followed the football team in the 1980s no doubt have great memories of watching Tony Chercio, the undersized but tenacious noseguard who starred for Coach Ken Hatfield from 1984 to 1987. Cherico, who was an All-American in his senior season and a three-time member of the All-Southwest-Conference team, finished his Razorback career with 258 tackles and 26 tackles for loss. He is now a defensive line coach for the legendary Barry Lunney Sr. at Bentonville High School in northwest Arkansas. In today's installment (here's part 1), Tony discusses the most memorable wins and losses of his Razorback career.

Expats: What would you say was your favorite win of your time in Fayetteville?

Cherico: Let me think on this one. We beat A&M [in Fayetteville in 1984]. It was 80 degrees down there and then they came up to us, and it was flippin' freezing. It was an ice storm, and I think we beat them 28-0. At halftime, they just wanted to go home.

Man, that's a tough one. I think all the games - you know, a win's a win. I really couldn't tell you. All of them were fun. Back then, in the 80s, we went to four straight bowl games.

Everything was on the upswing. The fan support was phenomenal. Whether we played at home in Fayetteville or we went to Little Rock, it was deafening. It was fun. The crowd was into it. We fed off of that. The fans were incredible.

A win's a win. You don't really remember the wins. Now the losses - lord, I can tell you about the losses.

I guess beating Texas finally down in Austin [in 1986]. We were the first team to do it in 20-something years. I think the frustrating thing about that was two other years, when we had them in Little Rock and in Fayetteville, we should have beat them.

[In 1985] we hold them to five goals, and we missed three field goals. We had some opportunities to score. We played a great defensive game, holding them to field goals. That one hurt.

And then in Little Rock [in 1987], we had them beaten and then on the last flippin' play of the game, the quarterback completes one to the back of the end zone. I have never in my life seen a stadium go from where you could not hear the person next to you even if they're screaming to where you could hear a pin drop as soon as he caught the ball.

That one - oh lord. It was kind of funny - at the time the quarterback and I were good friends. He had just released the ball, and I hit him, and we both went down. We couldn't tell if it was caught or not. But as soon as I hit him, and he went down to the ground, the place went dead silent. I told him when we were laying on the ground, "Hey, great game, buddy." I knew it.

And then I saw the replay, and I said, "Son of a bitch."

Expats: Was that the most heartbreaking loss of your Razorback career?

Cherico: I think that one would have to be.

Each year, all four straight years that I was there, we were the runner-up in the Southwest Conference. It always came down to one game to keep us out of the Cotton Bowl.

[In 1986] we lost to Texas Teach, a team we should have pounded, at home. [In 1986] we lost to Baylor, a team we should have pounded. Texas, a team we should have beat.

My first year, we lost to SMU the very last game of the year. Shibest, I think, had 200 yards receiving. It was a great game.

Everyone talks about the Miami game. That one was an eye-opener. That was a totally different style of ball. We grew a lot after that game, after getting our heads handed to us on a silver platter by them. Defensively, I know that we learned a lot.

That was the first game that we ever went into where I think some of the players were actually intimidated. After that, we were fine.

But I think Texas was the biggest heartbreaker because it was the last play of the game. You had the game won, and you control your destiny. All you've got to do is do your job and play defense. That was a tough one to swallow.

But life went on, and Coach Hatfield picked us up. Didn't have a lot of time to lick our wounds, and we got back in it.

Expats: Is there a favorite personal moment, whether it was a particular play, or something on or off the field?

Cherico: I think the most positive thing - I refer back to Holtz's last year. We had a mediocre season, and we graduated everybody, and all of a sudden Coach Hatfield comes in. We're all brand-new. Got a brand-new offensive scheme, running the wishbone, or the flexbone, as he called it. We had a brand-new defense. We had a bunch of undersized people on defense.

We go in to play Ole Miss [in the 1984 season opener]. We didn't stand a chance, but we ended up tying that game.

Everyone was asking Coach Hatfield, "How do you stand a chance? You guys are undersized. You guys are big underdogs. How do you prepare your team?"

He goes, "I'm going to prepare this team like I'm going to prepare any other team. I prepare them to win. I expect to win."

He installed that mentality in us. It took us a couple of games for us to really start believing. I think that's what stands out the most. I don't care what you're dealt. Whatever you're dealt, you've got to plan on winning.

Each year, we got better and better. Once you get the players believing it, everyone's clicking.

I can't really say one particular play. I think just the mentality that was instilled in us from day one when Coach Hatfield first came in is what has stuck with me and the thing that I most remember.

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