State of the Hogs: NCAA Tourney

HI.com publisher Clay Henry is having a difficult time staying focused on tournament action with Hogs on the sideline. Arkansas National Bank sponsors State of the Hogs.


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State of the Hogs:

This is boring stuff, this NCAA basketball tournament. It doesn't even seem to matter. I've gone to sleep twice trying to get into the action.

I'm having a hard time getting excited about any of it. I don't even care that Florida has lost a game that I picked it to win. I don't even care that Florida A&M won the "play-in game" over Lehigh, my pick.

No, this thing called March Madness isn't anything but a sleep aid. Sadly, I think I know the reason. The Razorbacks are sitting out the Big Dance for the third straight year.

I can remember a time when I thought playing in the NCAA tournament was a given. I figured making the Sweet Sixteen was almost a given. The goal was the Final Four, not just making the tournament.

However, things have changed. They began to change almost as soon as the Hogs reached the mountaintop. That was in 1994 when they cut down the nets in Charlotte for the school's first national title in basketball.

I can remember that night in clear fashion. I recall the walk from the car to the arena with my father and the many people we saw with Arkansas ties along the way. I remember seeing my old friend Cliff Garrison, the veteran Hendrix College hoops coach that I got to know during my days as sports editor of the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway. I recall his prophetic words.

"Clay, the Hogs are going to win tonight and I hope all of these fans in red enjoy it," Garrison said. "It doesn't happen that often. It may never happen again. It's so tough to get here and tougher yet to win."

I nodded my head in agreement, but I didn't really think about it like that then. I figured the Hogs might repeat the next year and they almost did, making it to the national title game in Seattle. I figured Arkansas would be in the NCAA tournament forever.

It was only when things soured after the next year that those words took meaning. What was thought to be the nation's best signing class fell apart and then recruiting became an uphill battle as whispers began that the NCAA investigators were coming to campus.

It was then that I realized what Cliff Garrison told us that night on the steps of that arena in Charlotte could be true. Instead of winning their "first" national title in basketball, I realized the Hogs may have won their "only" national title in basketball.

That hit home this week while watching the selection show on Sunday when the brackets were announced. A graphic appeared on the TV screen showing the schools with multiple national titles. It was a short list and the chances are great that it will stay that way.

It's been almost 10 years since that night in Charlotte. I remember going into the high upper deck seats to check on my father, Orville Henry, assigned a terrible seat because of his late application for press credentials. He couldn't see so we decided to go into the working media room under the arena seats to watch the second half on television. That's where we were when Scotty Thurman nailed the shot to break the tie during the closing seconds.

"That does it, they've got it," my father said, rising out of the folding chair. "Let's go out to the court and watch them cut down the nets."

And, then he hugged me. I didn't understand why then, though I did hug him back.

We strolled out to the basket near the Arkansas bench to see the final foul shots and the final seconds tick off the clock. The security guards who could have stopped us were too busy doing the same thing and we ended up just inches from the back of the basket on the Arkansas end.

As each Arkansas player climbed the ladder under the basket for his snip of nylon cord my father would elbow me and smile in delight. Finally, he whispered in my ears, "Can you hear it, can you hear it?"

I looked to the Arkansas section thinking I would find fans starting up yet another Hog Call. That wasn't it. I didn't know what I was supposed to be listening for and I finally asked.

"Oh, do you hear the cash register ringing for Hawgs Illustrated?" he said. "This will do it for your magazine and you will be here forever."

I hadn't thought about it like that, but he was right. Hawgs Illustrated had not yet celebrated its second birthday on that Monday night in April. It was still a month-to-month operation and sometimes week to week.

"That's why I hugged you back there," he said. "I knew then not to worry about you any more that Hawgs Illustrated would soon reap the benefits of a national title. I remember what it did for the school and everyone associated with covering the Hogs in 1964 when the football national title happened. Same thing for you this time."

Of course, he was right. That national title meant a boost in subscriptions and advertising that made a struggling magazine into a solid business.

Oh, I wasn't prepared to really take advantage of the championship. I added about 1,500 to the press run for what became our National Championship Special that April. Those extra copies didn't last but a couple of days. Someone with some business savvy would have printed 25,000 and sold every one of them.

I told myself that I'd do better the next time, and had plans for a massive magazine when the Hogs reached Seattle just 12 months later. The day of the national title game I was on the phone with our printer to make sure we would be geared up that week to print a 124-page magazine with a press run of 35,000. UCLA killed those plans.

I kinda feel now like all of those Oklahoma and Texas land owners with capped wells. I've seen their bumper stickers on their rusted-out SUVs: "Dear Lord, give us another oil boom, and I promise not to blow it this time!"

I'm ready if Stan Heath can ever get the Hogs back to the Final Four. Right now, it's tough. I'm tired of falling asleep on the couch during March Madness.

 


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