Losses, Frustration Leave Arkansas Razorback Fans On The Brink

Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

At what point do you let go of the rope?

On September 24, 2005, I woke up, went to my closet, and wavered for half of a second.

It was the Saturday after 70-17 and two weeks after we blew a fourth-quarter lead to Vanderbilt (back when Vanderbilt was VANDERBILT!).

We were playing Alabama that day, and weren't likely to win.

I stood at my closet and hesitated for half of a second. Maybe longer.

It was a moment I'm sure that played out across Arkansas that same morning and many others before and since; a moment of weakness and temptation and angst and drama inside our hearts and minds. We were deciding what kind of fans we would be.

I took out the Gameday shirt I wore every Saturday, put it on, and went about my day.

I'm a diehard. I don't know if it's the way I was born or the way I was raised, and sometimes it feels more like a character flaw than something to be proud of. But it is irrevocably my blessing and my curse. I watch every play of every game, no matter how bad it gets, looking for some glimmer of hope.

Which brings us to the much more recent past; another Alabama game as luck (ha!) would have it.

Last Saturday night, I found myself alone on the couch, mood ruined. My wife had joined me briefly after the baby was put to bed, but she must've sensed the foul vibes in the air, because she didn't stay long.

I'd tried to tell her earlier in the day that this wouldn't happen.

"We've already hit bottom," I said. "It can't get worse."

No hope to win = no disappointment, right? Unfortunately, fandom doesn't work that way. Every week, every loss, every play after spoiled play brings a fresh twisting of the knife.

And so last week, for the first time, I had thoughts of doing something else during an Arkansas football game. Just turning off the television or changing the channel or scanning the Netflix queue or just going to bed. Anything but sitting there taking another beating.

I didn't do any of that, by the way. I sat and watched every miserable play of the game. But I thought about it. I can't honestly say that I wasn't quit-curious. Like Jimmy Carter (kinda), I lusted in my heart for something other than my death-do-us-part Hogs.

And just like that Saturday morning in '05, I know I wasn't alone. Facebook, Twitter and the ArkansasFight.com game thread told the story of a fanbase that's been beaten up over the last season and a half to the point that a significant portion is just about ready to let go of that proverbial rope.

It could happen.

There was a time when Hogs football was a mere distraction before Midnight Madness. Houston Nutt deserves some credit for changing that (because, bygones, right?) - as well as the Hogs' basketball decline. And speaking of that decline, look what has happened to the Arkansas basketball fanbase, which was once one of the strongest, most intimidating in the nation.

Could that happen for football? Especially now that the 2012-13 seasons seem bound to be two of the worst back-to-back years in program history? (Danny Ford's last two teams in '96-'97 each went 4-7; prior to that the Hogs hadn't had such a poor two-season stretch since the early ‘50s.)

The problems with the current team are plentiful and well-documented. And as HawgSports.com's Trey Biddy pointed out on Drive-Time Sports early this week, there's ample room under the bus for whoever fans want to throw there.

But I don't think it's fair to blame head coach Bret Bielema at this point. He inherited a roster that is clearly not up to SEC standards. He deserves and will get the chance to fix it.

But will he be able to?

Isn't Arkansas always going to be at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to recruiting due to the small home-state population base and relative remoteness from major recruiting hotbeds? Isn't it always going to require a perfect storm and/or a transcendent, once-in-a-generation athlete to make us anything more than a relevant also-ran?

I've argued against that line of thinking for a long time. But watching us this year, I'm wavering again.

Last year we were a bad team because of injuries, coaching and general chaos. But there was still NFL-caliber talent at multiple positions. This year we just look completely outclassed everywhere but the defensive line and running back positions.

On September 24, 2005, the Hogs lost to Alabama 24-13. It was an ugly game in which Robert Johnson completed 42 percent of his passes and Arkansas kept it just close enough to make sure you felt let down when Bama iced it with a TD with 2:22 left in the fourth quarter.

But the one memory that remains from that game is freshman Darren McFadden streaking down the left sideline and pulling away from the Tide defense on a 70-yard touchdown run.

It gave us reason to believe, to hope for the best, and to put on our Gameday shirts the next Saturday and all the ones that followed, come what may.

Unfortunately, there was no similar moment in last week's Alabama game, nor has there been since early in the Florida game now nearly three weeks ago.

Nonetheless when next Saturday rolls around, I'll be there, ready to have my heart stomped on or my spirits lifted. I don't know what it will take for me to decide I've got better things to do on a Saturday, but I know we're not there yet.

---

Brent Holloway is an escaped journalist, but will consider returning to the industry for hundreds of thousands of dollars and a position that doesn't require Waffle Hours hours. Cross your fingers with him for three hours every Saturday on Twitter, @thebholloway.

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