As we all know, the football team is sitting out this bowl season in Fayetteville where the new head Hog is busy putting together a staff and some players are preparing for the NFL draft. Fans, well, we can still enjoy the 3,231 bowl games, haha, on television and reminisce on Arkansas bowl games past. And that is what I would like to do here for this post, a personal look back to the bowl wins of the SEC era. And I will include a poll at the end, so that you can vote on your favorite recent bowl victory.
THE 2000 COTTON BOWL (Arkansas 27 vs. Texas 6 ) - The Hogs had lost seven straight bowl games going into this renewal of the old annual SWC showdown between Arkansas and Texas. Our last bowl win had been in the Holiday Bowl, way back on December 22nd 1985. Think about that, from the middle of the Reagan years to the last full year of Clinton, there had not been a single bowl victory for our Hogs. This was my second bowl game to attend, having been to the Citrus Bowl the year previously, a loss with a long drive back to Arkansas to follow it. I was ready to see an Arkansas bowl victory for a change. And with my mother and father in the stands with me on a clear and windy morning in Dallas, we saw it. And not only was it a bowl victory, but a bowl victory against Texas (spit!). I can picture all three Razorback rushing touchdowns (Cobbs and Jenkins) very clearly in my mind's eye. And the defense, still my beating heart! It was fierce and in that Longhorn backfield all game long. And the fans, we had our first taste of chanting "SEC! SEC!" and were united as we ever have been or will be when the final seconds ticked off the clock. I have framed and on my wall the sports page from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette for the following day. It along with the memory of this bowl victory are two of my most precious possessions.
THE 2003 INDEPENDENCE BOWL (Arkansas 27 vs. Missouri 14) - The disaster that was the Las Vegas Bowl, the flat note that was the Music City bowl, and the bitterly cold and boring loss to OU in the Cotton Bowl came between the victory over Texas and this victory over what none of us would have guessed at the time was a future conference member. For us, it was another family trip, and this time we were able to include my brother, who was working during our previous trip to Dallas. Being South Arkansas people, we appreciated how close Shreveport was to us, but we still spent two nights there where we attended the pep rally the night before and celebrated the New Year in a motel room so on the seedy side that we saw what looked like frat boys turn the place down, haha. But, hey, we needed a room! And Arkansas needed to salvage a very promising season (wins over Texas and Alabama) that went south in the 0-3 month of October. Thanks to Chris Balseiro's kicking, a Matt Jones scramble for a touchdown, and Cedric Cobbs' last touchdown as a Hog, they did just that. Cobbs rushed for 114 yards in that game and got the MVP, but I always thought that Balseiro's record number of field goals was worthy enough to name him at least co-MVP.
THE 2010 LIBERTY BOWL (Arkansas 20 vs. East Carolina 17) - Just as that motel room in Shreveport gets seedier with each retelling, the 2010 Liberty Bowl gets colder and colder with each retelling. I had no idea that Memphis could be that cold in January. I remember being disappointed when the people who were sitting in front of us got up and left, for they had served as wind blockers. This time we added family friends to the mix whom we joined just in time for kickoff after having depended (foolishly, as it turns out) on the city of Memphis to bus us over to the stadium. They had not secured enough buses. In an every man for himself move, we just made it on the last bus in North Memphis that made it to the Liberty Bowl in time for kickoff. I had had a bad feeling about this game the whole day long. And sure enough, Arkansas underperformed yet again in a bowl game. But they still performed just enough to get an over-time victory off the bad kicking leg of East Carolina's Ben Hartman and Alex Tejada's good leg on the final kick of the game. I have a feeling that if Tejada had not been true in the end, the temperature of this bowl retelling would fall another twenty to thirty degrees, haha.
THE 2012 COTTON BOWL (Arkansas 29 vs. Kansas State 16) - Hard to believe that this game was played this year, right? Just so much has happened since then. Of the four Arkansas bowl victories since joining the SEC, this is the only one that I didn't attend personally. My family had had a year of being in and out of the hospital with my father, more in than out, so we decided we would just rest on our couches and call the Hogs from home this time. Knowing the outcome now, I look back and wish we could have all been together at the game itself. Instead, I kept in constant telephone contact from Oklahoma to Arkansas. I know calls were made after Joe's great punt return and Cobi's catch in the endzone. And through the last minutes of the game, I watched Broderick Green run the fat lady out onto the field while talking to my father on the phone. It would be the last Razorback game we would share together. I'll never forget how he joked around on the phone about how the Hogs could still find a way to lose the game, that is until there was no way for them to possibly lose. Due to cancer, we lost my father later on in June of this year. The members of the 2011 team will never know just grateful I am that they made my father's last Razorback game a victory. Even if it was by phone, I'll cherish the fact that we got to experience this bowl win together.
Yeah, they are essentially exhibition games, with no greater consequence than a bowl "W" or "L" on the record books and a winners trophy or not. But as a fan, Arkansas bowl victories, rare as they have been, are also snapshots of where you were or happen to be in life. I can look back at these four games and see myself in a certain chapter in life, and no doubt, I will do the same with future wins. The intriguing question of the moment, is just where will Coach Bielema take us at the end of future seasons? The ghost of Bowl Games Future, what would he show us if he arrived on Christmas Eve night? More wins than losses? Warmer climates than Memphis? More Sugar? A bowl of oranges? Cotton picked indoors? Whatever the future might bring, I don't think it will have too many seasons like this one where the Hogs and their fans stay home for the holidays.
Okay, as promised, here is the poll. Share with us your vote and then in the comment section, any bowl memory that you would like to share.