State of the Hogs: How Big?

The Big Shootout was big enough that you could miss basketball practice -- sort of.

How big is No. 1 LSU versus No 3 Arkansas? You have to go back to 1969 when No. 1 Texas played at No. 2 Arkansas to find anything that comes close to this kind of regular season finale for the Razorbacks.

A third grade teacher at Westside Elementary in Rogers was trying to explain to her class before a Razorback pep rally to end Tuesday that it was the biggest Arkansas game in her lifetime.

"Miss Henry, you are really old so we must not have had many big games lately," a youngster said.

The good news is that we don't have to use 8-year-olds to measure Razorback history. The bad news is that the teacher is now in her 30s. While that does not make her old, it does make her father ancient.

I do remember 1969. I remember the largeness of the Big Shootout. And I remember getting suspended from the LIttle Rock Central basketball team for missing three practices to attend the game.

Three practices? Yep. My father rented a house in Bella Vista for the week. He took us out of school the last two days of the week to cover the festivities in the Ozarks.

I went to Don Nixon, the Central coach, to ask permission to go to the game. Sure, he said. It's the biggest football game ever played by the Hogs. He wouldn't stand in my way.

But I was still suspended when I got back to school on Monday. Why?

"If you had invited me to go with you, no problem," the basketball coach said. "We would have canceled practice for a few days. But you didn't. And if I told you were going to be suspended, you wouldn't have gone. I couldn't have had that on my conscious."

So a 10th grader missed a couple of junior varsity games. No big deal.

Make no mistake about it, this is a big deal this week. It could be bigger than 1969, if the Hogs win.

But the buildup isn't the same. Both teams were undefeated in 1969. Billy Graham did the invocation. Richard Nixon came to the game. I saw him land in a helicopter sometime after kickoff on about the spot that's been dug up in the last week to build a new football operations center.

Our family tickets were on the 50-yard line, about 45 rows up. They were right under the press box. They were good enough that a White House secretary called our house to inquire whether or not they would be available for the president's party.

I heard one side of that conversation. My mother said no, with a word hooked to it that I'd never heard from her mouth. I can't write it. There was something else about voting for someone else.

I told my mother that I agreed with her. Afterall, I was lobbying for a new pair of high top Chuck Taylor basketball shoes, to match those of my teammates. Little did I know that I wouldn't need them for one week.

The key to these kinds of games, win them. The Hogs fell back after the 1969 loss to Texas. Recruiting went in the dumpster after that game and a void appeared fairly soon.

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino knows how much a victory in these Friday games can lift recruiting. Every high school football player in the country will be watching. Win and great things happen.

Can the Hogs win? You bet. They have more weapons than any team in the country. They have a defensive line that is coming together at the right time.

And they have a mission. They are playing for No. 88, fallen tight end Garrett Uekman. LSU has the best team in the country. The Tigers deserve to be No. 1.

But I feel like the Perfect Storm is setting up for Friday. In fact, it's been brewing for several weeks. That third grade teacher from Rogers sent me a text after last Friday night's Oklahoma State loss. Another one came Saturday night as I drove back from Little Rock around 11 p.m. after both Oklahoma and Oregon went down.

"Perfect Storm, dad," it said. "Put it on the front cover of Hawgs Illustrated. It's all going to turn out just right for the Razorbacks."

And that would be for the first time in her life.

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