The last time I went to Lubbock for an Arkansas football game, I thought I wasn't coming home. Hopefully, the one Saturday is an easier journey.
It was the day after Thanksgiving in 1977 and my job didn't really entail covering the Razorbacks. I was the sports editor of the Log Cabin Democrat. I followed Conway High School and the Central Arkansas Bears. Neither was playing that day so my father, Orville Henry, recruited me to do the same-day trip to Lubbock for free help on the Arkansas Gazette crew. My job was to handle the extensive stat page.
So I drove to Little Rock to join the Gazette charter flight out of Central Flying Service on a Beechcraft Baron. I got the co-pilot's seat for the trip out.
Everything was rolling along just fine until halftime when my father realized that the reason there was an empty seat on the plane to Lubbock was because Ish Haley, his Fayetteville-based beat writer, was coming back to Little Rock to cover the basketball game against Mississippi State at Barton Coliseum on Saturday.
“We don't have a seat for you going home just yet,” my father said. “If I were you, I'd talk to the guy in the mask riding the black horse. Maybe he'll loan it to you.”
Just like that, he went back to his seat in the first row and resumed writing volumes of copy. Crap, I thought. It is a long walk to Conway.
Midway in the third quarter, I got a little help from my oldest brother. Butch was the Arkansas sports information director. He had a plan.
“The seat you lost coming out here is being filled by Ish,” he said. “He got here on the radio plane from Fayetteville. So you get his seat going home, to Fayetteville.”
But my car is in Little Rock and I need to eventually get to Conway.
“I got that, too,” Butch said. “My car is at the Fayetteville airport. Here are my keys. It's a brand new dealer car. I'm flying to Little Rock on Saturday for the basketball game. You leave it at the Little Rock airport and I'll drive it back after the basketball game.”
It wasn't the greatest deal. There was no interstate from Fayetteville to Alma in those days. It meant that I had a late-night drive from Fayetteville to Little Rock, then back to Conway in my car.
It gets better, thanks to that dealer car -- with no tags. I drove normal speed over the mountains, but when I hit I-40, I was thinking what a raw deal I got and decided that it was too late to be driving 55. The car's speedometer only went to 75 in those days and I put the red needle all the way flat. That worked until Clarksville where I saw the blue lights.
“You got no plates on this ride, Mr. Henry,” the trooper said. “I think I'll take a look around. You get in my back seat.”
I tried to explain, but the trooper pointed to the open back door and I hopped inside.
That's where it got more interesting. The trunk was full of whiskey and beer. In those days, sports information directors hosted the media at the Holiday Inn for home games. They supplied the booze. I had no idea.
The trooper came back ready to listen this time. What's going on? You running booze?
Rarely do I invoke my father's name, but I thought this might be a good time. Driving 93 mph at 4 in the morning with a trunk full of booze made it time.
So I told my tale. No one could make up all of that. The trooper especially liked the touch from my father about borrowing the Red Raider's horse. And, he had a suggestion that my brother get some registration papers for his car.
Then, there was this: How did we look? Pretty good after Bobby Duckworth fooled them on that out and up.
What bowl are we getting? Orange is a done deal.
Is Mississippi State any good in basketball? No, that one won't be close and this Eddie Sutton can coach.
And how much does your brother drink? It's mainly unsweet tea. That stuff is for the sportswriters, who do drink plenty.
There was one last question: Can you keep it under 55 the rest of the night?
The last chapter in the story was pretty good, too. At least, I thought it was. My brother had given me his house keys. So when he caught a ride home, it hit him that he was locked out. His wife had left for the weekend to see her parents. He eventually forced open the garage door, just ahead of the police, called by the neighbors.
It all reminds me that the sportswriter is not the story. It's about the Hogs. A lonely trooper would rather talk about the Hogs than how fast you were driving.
Do the Hogs have a chance Saturday? Yup, this one should end well for Bret Bielema, who needs a Lubbock win to get his program rolling.
The UA, the bigger more physical team, leads the series, 28-7. And, Tech is just 48-82-2 against the SEC.
Getting in an out of Lubbock promises to be easier this time. These days, you can file your story with Wifi on the trip home. I could be home before you watch the 10 o'clock sports.
I'm reminded that the Red Raiders had no fun getting back from El Paso last weekend. Their game didn't end until 1:42 a.m., then a mechanical issue to the plane forced an overnight stay. They returned to Lubbock at 1:21 p.m.
Don't take anything for granted when you hit the road. Elevators get stuck and there are times there just isn't a seat on the plane. And watch out for tumbleweeds.
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