State of the Hogs: Mousing Around

This controversy could lead to more problems for the Razorbacks. publisher Clay Henry is worried after listening to interview after Thursday's practice.

This was a Reggie Herring day for the media that covers football practices at Arkansas.

That means we weren't going to be talking about any of the Springdale boys, the book or any of the other controversies that seem to be dominating water cooler talk about the Razorbacks around our state these days.

I thought, "Give me one day without controversy, Reggie. Just one."

Should have known better since I do know Reggie Herring, the Arkansas defensive coordinator who once tried to light a fire under the under achievers by putting them in pink jerseys.

(By the way, I have about 12 pink polo shirts and I was truly offended that there would be something wrong with wearing that color.)

Oh, well, Reggie has done it again. It might cause a riot. It might mean that this is Arkansas' last time to play in an Orlando bowl game. Heck, it might even mean ESPN never sends its GameDay crew to Fayetteville again.

There may be serious consequences here. There may be a march on the Broyles Center. There may be empty seats in the donor section at the home football games next year.

After all, the home schedule isn't exactly wonderful next year.

I'm really worried that these comments will be taken in a bad way by some fans. It could be that my own children revolt. I'm trying to figure out a way to tell them that this isn't as bad as it seems. I'm working on a way to spin this when it gets out.

I wish I could say Herring was talking with tongue planted firmly in cheek, but I'm just not sure. He may be serious because it's hard to tell with Herring at times.

OK, I'm going to get into this now. I'm worried, but I'm not one to duck a big news story and this is as big as it gets. It could end up on the national news or possibly even the world news. And, it's going to spread like a wild fire.

I am going to offer one disclaimer. I don't like violence and I do not advocate this at all. Just don't shoot the messenger. Don't try to hunt me down at my home in east Fayetteville. And, just to be clear, my home phone is no longer listed. If you get upset, point your venom straight to Coach Herring.

Let me set the stage. It was just a few minutes after practice Thursday. Coach Houston Nutt had already met with the media concerning the Hogs' workout in preparation for the Jan. 1 game with Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla.

Herring, along with Nutt, were discussing the foe, a particularly nasty and tough Badger football team that is as big and physical as they come in college football. Herring was pleased that the Hogs had gotten downright nasty in practice Thursday after plodding through a lackluster defensive workout on Wednesday.

Herring mentioned the Badgers by name and discussed their strengths, spending extra time on the offensive left tackle, 6-8, 313-pound Joe Thomas, recently given the Outland Trophy as the nation's best lineman.

The Arkansas defensive coach mentioned how he had recently met with the once thought to be mythical Sasquatch, supposedly bigger and nastier than Thomas. He wanted to take Sasquatch to Orlando, but learned he would not be available for the bowl and the Hogs would have to fight these Badgers with just the players they've had over the past 13 games.

So, they'll just have to arrive in Orlando in a nasty frame of mind, Herring noted. He said they'll have to rely on themselves and no one else to battle the physical Badgers and the plan is to try to upgrade their physical nature over the next few weeks before they arrive in Orlando.

Then, he said it. I'd like to ignore it, sweep it under the rug that the Hogs practiced on in Walker Pavilion, act like he didn't say it. Alas, cameras were rolling. It can't be ignored. It's going to be on all of the TV highlights for days to come, so I am forced to unload it here, too.

"We've got to go to Orlando and be ready to punch Mickey Mouse in the mouth," Herring blurted out.

The media gasped. Some shook their heads in disbelief. It even rattled me, one of the old-timers in the group. Where I wrote "mouth" in my notepad, my letters trail off. I only got down "mou" before I lost my grip on my pen and it slipped from my hand.

Let me get this straight, you can't attack Mickey Mouse. It's not like talking badly about a Razorback or a Badger. He's every kid's mascot. He's an icon. It's like saying apple pie is no good and baseball has been ruined by drugs. Oh, never mind on that last one.

But asking your players to punch Mickey in the mouth is just wrong. Mickey is Disney World's mascot. Disney owns ABC. Disney owns ESPN. (Or is it the other way around?) I've got a bunch of stuffed Mickeys around my house. So does everyone else.

I was visibly shaken when Herring just went on like no one had heard his remarks concerning Mickey Mouse. I didn't think that was appropriate.

It was time to leave Walker Pavilion and I noticed that one of Herring's top players was also heading to the Broyles Center. I asked defensive tackle Keith Jackson Jr. if I could walk with him. He's around Herring more than any member of the media and I was hoping he could put things into perspective.

I told the story about Mickey Mouse and Herring's desire for his players to hit him in the mouth. I paused to check the look on Jackson's face. I was hoping for some key words from a team captain and a promise that no one was going to throw down Mickey Mouse, much less hit him in the mouth when they get to Orlando.

"Mr. Henry, don't you know by now that Coach Herring is crazy?" Keith said. "We don't pay any attention to that stuff. We'll leave Mickey alone."

Jackson hugged me and left no doubt that Mickey is safe.

"Oh, Coach doesn't mean anything when he talks like that," Keith said. "I bet he even likes Mickey Mouse."

Oh, no Keith is talking about his coach. He'll probably have to issue an apology. And, there may be another parent-coach meeting on the horizon.

I know we've had the controversial Year of the Dog. If there's a book, this one might be Day of the Mouse.

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