State of the Hogs: War Memorial Stadium

With Arkansas making its first trip to War Memorial Stadium this week, here are some thoughts of the old place from publisher Clay Henry

I don't have blood relatives in Little Rock anymore. They've all moved away. A daughter lived there a bit. After listening to her it's obvious the place has changed.

It was interesting to hear her describe some of her new haunts. She cruised through areas that were out in the country during my time growing up in Little Rock some 35 years ago.

I still love to go home and it will be an exciting time when we load up Saturday for Little Rock and Arkansas' game with Louisiana-Monroe at War Memorial Stadium.

No longer do I force my daughters to ride out to Meadowcliff to see the first home I remember, the one with the huge yard that now looks so tiny. I probably won't even take them to 18th and Fair Park where I lived from third grade through college days.

I will point to where the Wendy's is on Markham and explain that there was once a white house there with a huge Christmas tree in the front yard. That is the house my parents owned when I was born. We moved from there when I was still an infant, so I only remember what they told me about it.

What is important is that I once lived across the street from War Memorial Stadium. I was born in the hospital above the golf course. And, I grew up on that golf course, walking there with my clubs thrown over my shoulder from the house on Fair Park. If I still had 35 cents by the time I headed home, I'd stop at the watermelon stand at 12th and Fair Park. I will tell those stories to my daughters Saturday as we drive along I-40 to Little Rock.

I'll tell them about walking from home to football games when the Razorbacks played at War Memorial. If my father had extra tickets to the game, he gave them away in the neighborhood and we all walked together, throwing a football along the way. It was an event, not just a game.

I remember the time I spent the night in the hospital up on the hill after dislocating a hip in a junior high football scrimmage on Saturday morning. That night when the Hogs played down below, I could see the lights above the stadium and listened on the radio as Bud Campbell told about the drubbing the Hogs put on Kansas State. I felt sorry for myself until my father came by real late, with a famous Razorback in tow.

War Memorial Stadium was THE place. It all happened there. Driving by there still gives me goose bumps. Maybe the place is now old and maybe the new paint and fancy additions still don't make it quite like other stadiums, but it's still THE place for football in my mind.

I remember the time in 1970 when the Hogs played host to Stanford for national television. That was during a period when not many games were on TV. When they were, it was like the circus came to town. Little Rock stopped for the ABC-TV crews. I was 16 and had just learned to drive, with only a learner's permit. I believe I could drive with a parent beside me, but that's it. Or maybe that was just mom's rule.

I think my brother, then working in the sports information office at the UA, got me hooked up as a runner for the ABC-TV crew for the week. I'd go to the stadium after school on Thursday and Friday and help as they put up their stuff.

Terry Jastro was running the show for ABC. During the game, I took hotdogs to the camera men and did other odd jobs. I don't think I got to see much of the game, but I do remember that Bill Montgomery almost pulled it out for the Hogs.

At the close of the night, as the TV people were leaving, Jastro grabbed me and dumped into my hands the keys of about 15 rented Cadillacs. He also put a folded up bill in my hand for my work for the week. I just jammed it my pocket, not looking.

"Get all of these cars back to the airport Sunday," Jastro said. "Good job this week. You earned that C-note."

I didn't know what a C-note was until I looked in my pocket when I got home.

I asked my mom if she would help me get the cars back to the airport. It took us most of Sunday afternoon to shuttle them back and forth. I gave her $10 and didn't tell her that I had $100. She figured it out. As usual, one of my brothers told. I had to buy the $28 high-top Converse shoes that I wanted for basketball.

Still, I came out ahead. I'm not talking about the money. I'm talking about the experience and the memories.

That's what WMS is about, memories and the Razorbacks.

When you ask about Razorback memories from WMS, the young ones talk about the Miracle on Markham and the last-minute drive Matt Jones engineered to beat LSU.

But that's just a tiny bit of what WMS is about. Old timers bring up the Powder River Play, the Benson to Carpenter pass that beat Ole Miss, 6-0, in 1954. That's the game my father said launched the modern era of Razorback football.

I remember sitting in the end zone watching the Hogs outscore Baylor, 41-39, in 1981. It is still the most exciting display of flawless offensive execution I've ever seen.

The 1975 Texas A&M game wasn't bad, either. The Aggies had all of those future pros and the No. 1 ranking, but the Hogs handed it to them, 31-6. That was the night Teddy Barnes became immortal. I sat in the stands drenched from head to toe while Joe Ferguson passed Texas silly in 1971, another 31-6 whipping. That one was on ABC, too. This one will only be against ULM. There won't be any TV, or any Cadillacs to drive and the only C-notes might be what my daughters spend at Park Plaza Mall.

That brings me to what my father used to tell me. The old Henry estate (please laugh) used to be where the women's part of Dillards sits on that mall site. There was a chicken coop behind the house. My grandfather sold that place and bought a farm in Saline County when he figured out Little Rock was about to expand west.

I could tell you the stories my father spun about that place way before War Memorial Stadium was built. We'll tell those stories on the trip Saturday and it's going to be great fun.

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