Arkansas’ starting quarterback on its 1964 national title team nearly skipped out on that entire season. In 1963, Fred Marshall was a fourth-year junior who had bided his time and was ready to take the reins as Hogs’ full-time quarterback. When he didn’t, he visited head coach Frank Broyles in his office with two games left in the season and told him he’d had enough. “I told him I wasn’t coming back the following year because I thought he’d done me wrong. I was saying, in essence, ‘Coach, you messed up and I’m pissed about it.’”
Broyles didn’t act defensive, Marshall recalled. Broyles heard Marshall out. And he tried to explain to him his reasoning.
The winter before, quarterback Billy Gray had starred in the Sugar Bowl and Arkansas coaches assumed he would be the starting quarterback the following fall. That season great things were expected of the Hogs, which had finished in the AP Top 10 for four consecutive years and entered the fall as conference favorites. Problem was, Gray didn’t want to play quarterback. He wanted to stick to cornerback on defense (this was the era of two-way players). So Marshall goes in, but it didn’t help his cause that in the 1963 conference opener he threw three passes that should have been intercepted.
So the baton was passed around. “I start the season as the starter and next thing I know, I’m not starting any longer,” Marshall said in August, 2o13 interview. “Billy Gray’s starting and Billy Gray takes his turn and lo and behold he joins me over on the bench. And now we got Jon Brittenum starting.” It went on like this through the first eight games of the season as Arkansas fell to a 4-4 record. Gray and Brittenum weren’t as explosive in terms of passing as anticipated. Marshall, more of a running, ball-control type of quarterback, recalled being told by Broyles that “we can’t take the ball and just grind it down the field. We’ve got to have somebody who can make the big plays.” That wasn’t happening as much as expected, though, and Marshall heard about it: “I had people all over the state telling me they didn’t understand why I wasn’t playing. To a lot of people it was clear that I should have been playing.”
With Gray and Brittenum both returning the next year, and Marshall stuck as the third stringer, he decided he’d had enough. “I wasn’t gonna ride the bench for another year,” Marshall said. He was only three or six hours away from graduating at that point and moving on with his life. He had a wife and eight-month-old son to support. “I was going to get into the workforce and do my thing. [Pro] football was not part of my future.”
He vented to Broyles after a 7-0 road loss to Rice, but added that he didn’t intend to stop playing hard for the team for the remainder of the season. During the next game, at SMU, Broyles put in Marshall early but the team still lost 14-7. That didn’t dissuade Broyles. He approached Marshall in the locker room. “If you come back next year, you’ll be my starting quarterback,” Marshall recalled being told. Broyles admitted he’d made a mistake and was going to start him the next game against Texas Tech. ”I look back and wish we’d stuck with Fred in ’63,” Broyles recalled in his autobiography “Hog Wild.” “Instead of 5-5, we might have won eight or nine games.”
Marshall started the season finale at home against Texas Tech [ in the only SWC game played the day after Kennedy was assassinated] and helped the Hogs get out to a 20-0 start. Gray jumped in for Marshall in the second period after a running play in which he hit a defender head on. “As we call it in football language, he got his ‘bell rung,’” Arkansas Gazette writer Orville Henry wrote after the game. “I got a little dazed and nauseated, but I was all right by the middle of the second half,” Marshall told the Gazette.
The Hogs held on for a 27-20 win – the first of what would be 22 straight wins. Marshall would go on to be the starting quarterback the following season in which the Hogs went undefeated and clinched the national title with a 10-7 win over Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl. Marshall engineered the crucial game-winning drive in the fourth quarter and got co-MVP honors along with linebacker Ronnie Caveness. The entire season, under the steady leadership of Marshall and an elite defense, Arkansas gave up only six turnovers.
Would Arkansas have won its lone national title had Marshall quit the previous winter? We’ll never know for sure, but it’s a credit to Broyles’ ability to listen and admit mistakes that Arkansas fans never had to find out.
Last night, Auburn beat Arkansas to send the Hogs to their sixth straight loss, the second longest losing streak in program history. The Hogs still haven’t gotten it together to turn the proverbial corner, but fans are promised that one day soon they will. Just have faith, they are told.
My 14-month-old daughter Eden is also working on putting it together.
Whatever happened to former Auburn coach Gene Chizik? He’s still living in Auburn, for one. He doesn’t have any regrets, per se, about how his Tigers seemingly imploded following their 2010 championship. But if he could travel back in time he would do one thing differently, he tells me for the following piece in the The Classical:
Some myths belong to everyone, and so of course there is a Finnish Icarus, another optimist cursed with fatal ambition who nearly touched the pale arctic sun. He didn’t, because he couldn’t, and so he fell, headlong through the clouds, down and down, a lesson from the gods writ in flame and fearful velocity. You likely already know a tale along these lines.
It ends strangely, though, differently than you might expect. Our Icarus lands not on earth or sea but into the freezing steel belly of Gary Patterson’s man-making fortress, on the campus of Texas Christian University. This is a place Kobe Bryant has visited and—we can safely assume—so has/will LL Cool J. Yes, the ancient Finns predicted the wonder that is the body rejuvenator housed in TCU’s athletic department. The Finns had discerned, in reindeer entrails sprawled on snow, a great and improbable renewal.
In reality, there was nowhere for Gene Chizik to go but down after his 2010 season as Auburn’s head football coach. How swift and how vast the descent would be, though, was less easy to predict. Chizik’s Tigers won the 2010 national title, with much help from defensive tackle Nick Fairley and quarterback Cam Newton; both were juniors, both played far better than anyone had expected in that magnificent season, and both entered the NFL Draft and became first-round picks. From there, it took about a year and a half for things to fall apart.
Last fall, Auburn lost all eight of its SEC games, including the last three by scores of 21-63, 0-38 and 0-49. The day after that 49-point shutout loss to Alabama, Chizik was fired, concluding one of the most wildly disparate ten-year major college coaching runs on record. In that span, Chizik, as a defensive coordinator, coached undefeated teams at Auburn and Texas. Then, as a head coach, he bookended a 5-19 stretch at Iowa State and a 3-9 season at Auburn with the most successful three-year run in more than 120 years of Auburn football history, and the school’s second National Championship.
That rollercoaster ride is over, and Chizik is not currently working in college football. Which is how, in late September, Chizik found himself alone with me and a glass of water, 30 minutes before giving a speech to Arkansas’ largest touchdown club. This is one of the few public appearances he’s made since the firing, but he felt like he owed the event’s founder, David Bazzel. Chizik had also visited Little Rock nine years ago, that time to receive an award for the nation’s best college football assistant coach; it was another one of Bazzel’s projects. Now, he’s back, which is nice as far as favors go and all. But Chizik knows he wouldn’t be talking to me had he just done a few things differently in the last few years at Auburn.
“I think that 90 percent of everything we did was right on,” he says. There were plenty successes and “not a lot of failure but enough to have me sitting here with you today,” he said with a chuckle. “I would go back and really make sure I would never get caught in a position where I don’t have a quarterback that can, you know, grow and win and become your championship caliber quarterback.” In hindsight, then, more time should have gone into recruiting and developing successors to Newton. “We just couldn’t find a quarterback who could really compete in [the SEC]. We ended up going with a true freshman at the end of the year.”
Although his speciality is defense, Chizik knows a team ultimately goes as far as its quarterback. Every top team has a standout, he tells the Little Rock crowd: “Let me give you the case in points. We can go down the list right now. Where do you want to start? Oregon? Mariota. Wanna go to Clemson? Tajh Boyd. Want to go to Ohio State? Braxton Miller. I could go on and on.
“Want to go to A&M? Johnny Manziel.
“Want to go to Alabama? A.J. McCarron.
“I could go down the list,” he says, jabbing the podium three times with his index finger.
“I’ve had the best quarterbacks in college football history on my teams—Daunte Culpepper, Vince Young, Jason Campbell, Colt McCoy, Cam,” Chizik later tells The Buzz 103.7 FM. While their pro careers have gone in varying directions, each of those players were extraordinarily talented and, with the exception of McCoy, future NFL first-rounders. Superstars aren’t necessary to win championships, is Chizik’s point. But “you have to have a man in that position who can handle all the ups and downs and ebbs and flows that come with that position when you’re at a high profile place.” None of the Tiger quarterbacks who immediately succeeded Newton—Barrett Trotter, Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier—flourished at the position. Trotter and Moseley ended up quitting the team in consecutive offseasons. Frazier later switched to wide receiver.
So this is all true, as far as it goes, but quarterbacking woes don’t explain Auburn’s disintegration, or Chizik’s long tumble from zenith.
For the rest of this piece, visit The Classical where it originally published.
For the last few months, I’ve been working on a piece for SB Nation Longform on the new Hendrix football program and how it reflects a larger nationwide trend. It published this week. Here’s a man-sized excerpt:
In recent years, more and smaller colleges and universities are starting football programs or restarting those shuttered long ago. In an era when many major colleges are grappling with increasingly bloated athletic budgets, between 2008 and 2012, 29 smaller colleges started lower-level football programs. And in 2013, despite the fact that mounting medical evidence concerning brain damage has placed the future of an entire sport at risk, 12 more colleges started football programs this fall. In Division III alone, 10 schools have started football programs in the past five years.
To understand the reason so many small college administrators find football to be a lucrative proposition, take a visit to Hendrix’s season opener on Sept. 7 against Westminster University. Pay no mind to the “Undefeated since 1960″ orange T-shirts worn by Warrior fans filling the metal bleachers of the brand new Young-Wise Memorial Stadium, or the concession table covered by Hendrix Warrior seat cushions, pennants, umbrellas and replica jerseys. Note that not a single ticket stub litters the ground. At Hendrix, all games are free. Ticket sales and merchandising are insignificant to the financial benefits of fielding a football team.
Instead, look to the alumni in the stands, and the players in their brand new uniforms. In the stadium are about 30 representatives of the old guard – players from the 1950s and the 1960 team who have come to cheer on the torchbearers they never expected to see. During a pregame ceremony, an announcer said, “After a 53-year timeout, we’ll now start the clock over on Hendrix football,” and the captains of Hendrix’s 1960 team took the field and handed a ball used in their last game to Caton and Hunter Lawler – captains of the 2013 edition. Many from the 1960 team are on the Hendrix booster club, which recently raised more than $50,000 for athletic facilities and equipment.
But the real money is on the field. Focus on the 6’2 Caton, who strides onto the field for the first game with authority, one of only a handful of Warriors who have actually played in a college game before. Then look at his 53 teammates, mostly true freshmen, as they take the field on this blistering hot afternoon.
Only a couple hundred feet to the north sits a glistening new field house, including a locker room with 93 player lockers. Long before they were stuffed with mouth guards and sweaty helmets, each of these climate-controlled spaces held a promise. Every new player gives future Hendrix teams the depth to one day be a serious contender on the field. At the same time, each of those players also provides Hendrix College an influx of the cash it needs to remain relevant in a world where pure liberal arts education is increasingly becoming an endangered species.
I’ve had a couple recent pieces out on the Hendrix football program, which will have its first game this Saturday since 1960. One is an article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the other is a Q&A with Karen Tricot-Steward of KUAR 89.1 FM.
Here’s an expanded version of my article’s beginning:
In cinema, this has been the summer of the rehash: Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, Man of Steel, Monsters University, Fast & Furious 6. A glance down the list of top-grossing movies of 2013 makes no bones about it—when there’s money to be made, nothing more dependably does the job than going with the tried and true. Turns out, this line of thinking also applies to the world of higher education. Many small liberal-arts colleges across the nation shuttered their football programs in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, in part to save money.
But in the last couple of decades, many of those same colleges have developed long-term growth plans that depend on a significant increase in student population and the attendant boost in revenue their tuition and board payments would bring. A new football team typically means an immediate infusion of 80-100 new students. Which can mean something in the vicinity of $3 million after those new football players’ tuition and board payments are totaled.
Vance Strange, a former Hendrix football player and current booster, said that it’s projected a roster of 65-70 Hendrix football players (the roster is currently 54) would annually produce about $1.8 – $1.9 million revenue for the school.
An all-time high of 12 U.S. colleges are starting or restarting football programs this fall, and Hendrix kicks off its new era in Conway against Missouri’s Westminster College. Although its program sputtered in the 1950s, Hendrix had a highly successful program in previous decades. It twice tied the University of Arkansas and lost in a 14-7 contest in 1926 that attracted 6,000 people—said to be the most spectators to attend a sports event in Arkansas to that point. In 1913, the Hendrix Bulldogs beat Ole Miss 8-6…
You can read the rest of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article here. [paywall warning]
To me, one of the most unique aspects of early 20th century football was how openly boosters gave gifts to student-athletes. Back in the day, though, hooking a star player up with goodies was common. As I wrote:
Now: The National Collegiate Athletic Association forbids its student-athletes from receiving payments or gifts from boosters—supporters who donate to the player’s program. The college athlete is supposed to be an amateur, and such payments jeopardize what the NCAA defines as amateur status.
Then: The NCAA was in its infancy and Hendrix, like hundreds of other football-playing schools across the nation, wasn’t a member. Less bureaucracy surrounding the game meant fewer rules and less manpower to enforce them.
Case in point: In 1924, Hendrix football player Wright Salter received a knitted necktie from Keith’s Millinery Shop for blocking the first pass of an opponent during a Thanksgiving Day game, Lester wrote. Salter’s teammate Bill Meriwether won a fruitcake for his sterling play that same game.
I asked Bill Wilson, who played for Hendrix in 1959 and 1960, if he had ever heard about booster gift giving in the late 1950s. He said no, but did add that he heard it happened at what’s now Arkansas Tech University and Southern Arkansas University.
For more of my interviews with Wilson and Tricot-Steward, check out the KUAR 89.1 FM piece here.
Traditionally, one of the strongest positions for the Arkansas Razorbacks has been at fullback. That changed with the advent of Bobby Petrino’s spread passing offense, which de-emphasized the fullback’s role, but we see its reemergence in the Bret Bielema era.
Today’s torchbearer is senior Kiero Small, a 5’10″, 238-pound bowling ball of a bruiser whose health this season will play a crucial role in whether Arkansas can effectively move the ball against the likes of Alabama and LSU.
Who, though, is the best fullback in program history?
I deal with one such candidate in a recent Sporting Life Arkansas article about Mark Pierce. Pierce had all the tangibles you’d want in a fullback and at 6 feet tall and 248 pounds (with a 4.5 40 yard dash), he certainly knew how to use them. Heading into his junior season, he was considered the nation’s best fullback by the Sporting News. Unfortunately, Pierce didn’t develop the intangibles, though, and the results were absolutely tragic.
Here are other top candidates:
1. Leon “Muscles” Campbell (6’0″, 199 pounds)
Campbell was a four-year letterman at Arkansas, rushing for 1,335 yards on 295 carries from 1946-49. The fullback-linebacker held the one-game rushing record of 236 yards until 1973.
He may have the coolest nickname origin story in Arkansas history. It’s found in his obituary: Campbell’s teammate Clyde Scott said when Campbell arrived at Arkansas, he walked into Scott’s room with a railroad spike and a towel. He wrapped the towel around the spike and pulled, bending the iron rod. (Man did kids sure figure out ways to entertain themselves before Playstation 3!)
Soon thereafter, Campbell became known as “Muscles.”
Campbell played for Baltimore, Chicago and Pittsburgh in a six-year NFL career. He scored his only professional touchdown on a 1952 kickoff return. His best year as a pro was in 1953, when he had 659 yards rushing, receiving and on kick returns. He worked for Reynolds Metals Co. in Bauxite for 30 years.
Campbell died at age 75 of malignant mesothelioma on September 2, 2002.
2. Henry Moore
Moore was consensus all-SWC in 1954 and 1955 and led the Hogs in rushing during their 1954 SWC championship season. He was selected as the 19th overall pick in the 1956 NFL Draft and played two seasons as a pro. He won an NFL title his rookie season with the New York Giants.
3. Preston Carpenter (6-2, 190 pounds)
A highly versatile player, who wore “blocking back” as only one of his varied hats. Also a devastating linebacker for Hogs in 1953 and 1954 who was all-SWC as halfback in 1955. Led Cleveland Browns in rushing in 1956 and receiving in 1958, and was a Pro Bowl selection as tight end for Pittsburgh in 1962.
Funny story, as told to me by amateur Razorbacks historian Jim Rasco: Carpenter and his brother, Lew, both played for the Browns in the mid 1950s. Cleveland acquired some rookie running back named Jim Brown before the 1957 season, and at the start of that season, Brown sat down with the Carpenter brothers and made sure to let them know that he deserved the ball and that he expected them to block well for him.
They obliged; the rest is history.
At last, the elusive legend has found a home.
Photo taken by Arshia Khan; courtesy of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.
Imagine you’re 12 years old.
Like most kids, you crave acceptance. Unlike most kids, the acceptance you want the most isn’t from classmates. It’s from your own parents.
You rarely see your father, but over time that kinda, sorta becomes O.K. Some of your friends are in the same boat and nobody’s drowned yet. What gets you – what at a certain level will never stop getting you – is your mother’s rejection. Your mom, a gambling addict, up and left you and your siblings in Pine Bluff and headed to her hometown San Diego with the excuse of finding work. Two Greyhound bus tickets and a few nights later, you and your older brother are knocking on her door.
It doesn’t work out. She isn’t any more ready to provide for her children now than she was in Arkansas. Soon enough, you’re on that bus again, heading to a home with no parents.
The pain is there, always will be. You can’t run from it. But soon enough, you find you can run from just about everything else.
Say the word in most states, an image of a genie, magic lamp, or young basketball pro with the last name ‘Muhammad’ springs to mind.
But here in Arkansas, the name conjures visions of our greatest all-around athlete. The guy who was the very definition of “natural” – who, instead of lifting weights in the off-season, annually lifted the fortunes of his football, then basketball, then track and baseball teams. The guy who to this day remains the only Arkansan to win the National Sports News Services’ USA High School Athlete of the Year award. And, to this day, remains one of the most tantalizing “What-if” stories in Razorback lore.
If you want to better understand how Basil Shabazz rose to the top of the prep athletic world, read Nate Olson’s article in SYNC this week. In it, we learn how Shabazz’s lack of parental guidance might have fueled early success but derailed his chances of sustaining it. For instance, young Shabazz developed a form of “cross training” most children wouldn’t be allowed to even attempt:
He chased and caught rabbits with his bare hands. His strategy was to steer the rabbit to the pavement, where it lost traction, then scoop it up. Shabazz also worked out on the railroad tracks, running from tie to tie without his feet hitting the gravel in between, and running on the rails.
Both of those exercises could have resulted in injury, but Shabazz claims he rarely fell. “When I ran on the rails, I tried to see how fast and far I could go. I made a game out of it and tried to beat my record each time,” Shabazz says.
His other favorite pastime was swimming in the Safeway loading dock. After a heavy rain, water collected in the dock, and Shabazz swam laps.
“I think all of those things helped,” he says. “It helped me get quick feet and gave me lateral quickness and kept me in shape.”
Seriously: what kind of kid spends hours and hours alone on train tracks, tempting fate with every bound? Who runs to a nearby grocery store during thunderstorms, only to jump into its overflowing loading dock?
It’s clear Shabazz was a kid seriously in need of distractions, no matter how ill-conceived or dangerous, and didn’t have parents to steer him elsewhere.
He found a home in sports, and in the love of the families of his best friends/teammates Torii Hunter and Carlos James. But it cannot be forgotten that our state’s most gifted athlete was playing with a severe handicap – no strong parental guidance to push him in academics, or help him navigate the series of critical decisions he faced as high school graduation drew near.
For the rest of this story, visit Sporting Life Arkansas.
Two of central Arkansas’ greatest prep running backs have also played parts in boosting a mentoring program for young, African-American males.
The national Our Kids Program is spearheaded by black officers in various cities’ police departments. It’s specifically aimed at ameliorating a socio-economic “epidemic” which program leaders say afflicts black communities around the nation.
As profiled in this Sync week’s issue, Little Rock has an affiliate program in which teens at four public schools weekly gather for mentoring sessions with police and volunteer adult males. The program’s director makes no bones about requiring everyone directly involved with the program to be African-American:
As [Donald] Northcross sees it, the problems facing many black communities in this nation add up to a full-blown epidemic.
Compared to every other race and gender group, black males are more likely to skip class, not turn in homework, drop out of high school, get arrested for drug use and serve years in prison. Indeed, according to the national O.K. Program, one in three black males will be imprisoned at some point in their lives. Lengthy jail sentences leave yet more single-parent households behind, setting the stage for the entire vicious cycle to entrap younger generations.
How to break free?
Design black male-oriented solutions for what are clearly black male-oriented problems. “I think there needs to be programs that are geared toward specific communities,” Northcross says. “We have a serious problem. We’re not very interested in how it looks — political correctness and things like that.”
Last fall, former Auburn running back Michael Dyer appeared as a guest keynote speaker during a mentoring session. Dyer, a former national championship game MVP, spoke about challenges he had to overcome during a hardknock childhood in Little Rock. Dyer’s still trying to overcome challenges: the 22-year-old spent the last school year at nearby Arkansas Baptist College after tumultuous departures from Auburn and Arkansas State.
Visit syncweekly.com for more on Dyer and D-Mac.
Former head Arkansas football coach Hugo Bezdek lived a full and innovative life. He remains the only person to coach an NFL team (Cleveland Rams) and MLB team (Pittsburgh Pirates), as I found out while researching for my new history feature on Sporting Life Arkansas.
But, before all that, he he spent 1907 through 1912 in Fayetteville pioneering in all sorts of ways. He’s credited, for instance, with changing the team name from Cardinals to Razorbacks. Of the two stories regarding this switch, my favorite comes from one of his players – Phil Huntley – in an interview with longtime columnist Orville Henry:
“We were on a trip in Texas, getting off the train for a stroll — I think in Dallas. Somebody yelled, ‘Here come the hogs.’ See, there were a lot of jokes about Arkansas at that time.
Bezdek stopped and thought a minute. He said, ‘Hmmm, boys, I like that. We’re the Razorbacks from now on.’
Bezdek also led Arkansas to its first undefeated season (and the program’s only undefeated season in its first 70 years of existence).
He spearheaded the first athletic advertising in school history, Huntley added. “He understood importance of placing his program in front of the public. He had cards printed and distributed in towns like Rogers, Springdale, and Fort Smith advertising his home games.”
Lord knows they needed the promotion, given at this time Arkansas’ home facilities consisted of a single wooden grandstand that held about 200 people.
“The field wasn’t too good even though we worked on it, graded it, carried water from the creek to wet it down before every game,” Huntley said in “The Razorbacks: A Story of Arkansas Football.”
One of the most interesting innovations Bezdek developed was an emphasis on fast play. His teams practiced extremely hard to be fit enough in games to pull this off.
As Orville Henry and Jim Bailey wrote in “The Razorbacks”: “Bezdek coached [Arkansas QB Steve] Creekmore to call plays as rapidly as possible — nobody ever huddled then — and so the Razorbacks would run a play, chase the ball, put it in play immediately when it was downed, and drive as far as they could as quickly as they could.
“I guess it was the forerunner of Oklahoma’s hurry-up style in the split-T days under Bud Wilkinson,” Steve Creekmore told an interviewer in 1960. “I know we’d often run four or five plays and then find the official had penalized us back down field for the first one. He’d catch up, and we’d have to go back. The LSU coach protested our system, but it was legal.”
Of course, nowadays, this style of play isn’t unique. College football coaches such as Gus Malzahn, Hugh Freeze and Chip Kelly have taken the concept to the next level to bring unprecedented scoring to the game.
Kelly, in particular, has gotten a lion’s share of credit for innovating a frenetic, no-huddle approach on the major college football level. By 2011, his tactics had fueled the University of Oregon’s first appearance in a national championship.
To date, this is the biggest splash on the national football scene the Ducks have made. Their first splash? Signs point to around 1917, when Oregon made – and won – its first Rose Bowl appearance.
Their coach was none other than Hugo Bezdek.
For more on his career, check this.
Pop music has the Grammys. Cinema has the Oscars. Literature’s got the Pulitzer. And now, in the world of local high school sports: the All Arkansas Preps Awards.
More than 1,000 people attended the inaugural awards ceremony on Saturday night in Little Rock that honored top male and female athletes and coaches in eight sports, as chosen by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Awards were also given for academic achievement, community service and perseverance through sickness or injury.
The banquet’s signature event was an appearance by four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning. The Denver Broncos quarterback gave a keynote speech and fielded questions from emcee Keith Jackson, a color commentator for Razorbacks football who runs the Positive Atmosphere Reaches Kids program in his native Little Rock.
Manning, who’s entering his 15th NFL season, encouraged the 300 student-athletes in the Statehouse Convention Center ballroom to work hard and not see their upcoming college years as only a stepping stone but to “enjoy the experience, enjoy the journey.”
Manning retraced much of his own journey as the second son of Hall of Fame quarterback Archie Manning growing up in Lousiana to Super Bowl MVP with the Indianapolis Colts. Peyton, who never lost to Arkansas during his University of Tennessee career, sprinkled Razorback-related anecdotes throughout the 45-minute Q & A with Jackson.
Below are edited excerpts:
Q: What are some of your memorable moments playing against the Razorbacks 1994-1997?
A: … I remember my senior year here in Little Rock. I always enjoy talking to my dad about the great old college stadiums … He got to play Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, but he never got to play at War Memorial … The the thing I remember about that game, we put a trick play in that week. We put in the ol’ pitch to the running back, throw it to the quarterback, right, and I remember we ran it in practice all week just about perfect. I schooled ‘em every time. I had been dreaming all week about catching a touchdown – I’d never done that before.
And sure enough, during the game we got a perfect look … and I pitch it to [running back] Jamal Lewis and he throws it back to me – a perfect pass – and I caught it and I got two yards. Their defense was a lot faster than our scout team’s.
Q: Talk some about Broncos rookie running back Montee Ball, who played for Bret Bielema.
A: Montee Ball was a four-year running back at Wisconsin. He led the NCAA in touchdowns, so we’re excited to have him on the Broncos. We had a little team function the other day and I was asking him about Coach Bielema and he was saying how [instrumental] he was for him and his career, and how lucky he was to play for him. He just thought the world of him, so I could tell [Bielema] is gonna make a great transition to Arkansas.
Q: What do you treasure most about the South?
A: I think Southern hospitality. My parents are from Mississippi, I grew up in New Orleans … Just the people, I really enjoy getting back to New Orleans, getting back to Tennessee. I’ve been here to Little Rock a number of times. Everybody’s been so nice to me here. The Arkansas secondary was always so nice to me.
Q: We normally see you so serious, but there’s a funny side to you. You had a chance to host Saturday Night Live.
A: … The one that people always talk about is the United Way skit, where I’m throwing the football at the kids. A lot of people have asked “Peyton, please tell me you weren’t really hurting those kids.” And I promise you folks, that was a Nerf football … and all these kids, they were all child actors which is a kind of disturbing field in its own way. And all the parents were there the entire time when we were doing that skit and the director said ‘You gotta hit them in the face, you gotta do it.’ And I had to have a little talk with myself before I could do it.
But I felt a little more comfortable when I heard one of the parents yelling at the director ‘I want him to hit my kid in the face!’”