Why LSU & Arkansas Players Mock the Notion of a True Rivalry Between Them

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Despite the presence of seed, LSU-Arkansas could never really take root. via HogDB.com

Twenty two years after leaving the Southwest Conference for the SEC, Arkansas still doesn’t have a true conference rival. On paper, it should have been LSU, a perennial conference title contender (like Texas) bordering Arkansas (like Texas) that like Texas once prevented Arkansas from winning a national championship.

  Plus, the annual LSU-Arkansas series has had perks Texas-Arkansas never did: a regular spot on national TV during Thanksgiving weekend, the Bellagio of college football trophies in the 200-pound Golden Boot and no in-state rival like Texas A&M to stir Texas fans’ deepest passions (well, no Aggies for a while, anyway).

 On top of all that, LSU-Arkansas has recently produced games every bit as competitive and entertaining to watch as the great Hog-Longhorn showdowns of the 1960s. And it’s likely this Saturday’s game in Fayetteville, for which Arkansas is a 1 point favorite according to SportsBettingAcumen.com sites, produces yet another thriller.

  “It’s a rivalry game,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema told me in an interview for SB Nation. “The boot represents more than just a victory. It’s a battle between two states, something our fans take a lot of pride in. Obviously with LSU being the last game of the year there’s been a built-up rivalry here that we will hope to continue.”

   Bielema lauds the rivalry aspect of the game in public, just as previous Arkansas and LSU coaches and players have. It’s no secret, though, that the enmity true rivals have for each other has been lacking here.

   Take it from Matt Jones, the former Razorback quarterback responsible for the “Miracle on Markham,” possibly the series’ most memorable moment – a 31-yard Hail Mary pass to DeCori Birmingham with nine seconds left in the 2002 game that sent Arkansas to the SEC Championship game. The year before, Jones was on the opposite side as Arkansas lost a 41-38 contest sending the Tigers to Atlanta. “You knew it was a big game for whatever reason but there never ever seemed like there was a connection between Arkansas and LSU,” he says. “It was almost like it was a little bit forced on you.”

Jones says many of his teammates felt the same, as did LSU foes like running back LaBrandon Toefield. After college, Jones and Toefield were NFL teammates in Jacksonville, Fla. “We always joked” about how the series was played up, Jones says. Many LSU players “didn’t see it as a rivalry at all,” he recalls Toefield saying. “It was something the media put out.”

    Carter Bryant, an Arkansas native and LSU grad, is part of the media. Now a radio host in El Dorado, Ark., he’s covered Tiger football for four years and doesn’t understand why the rivalry hasn’t caught on more. “It means a good deal to people in south Arkansas and north Louisiana because of proximity,” he says.

    “But to the people of south Louisiana, it means little compared to other rivalries with trophies. LSU has pushed the Ole Miss rivalry over the years with the Magnolia Bowl trophy. Alabama with [Nick] Saban history has created a fascinating narrative plus instant classics. Every other team in the SEC West outside of Mississippi State is probably viewed as more heavily anticipated and vitriolic matchup in the minds of LSU fans.” That includes Texas A&M, which has supplanted Arkansas as the Tigers’ season finale. Not coincidentally, annual primetime showdowns with Texas A&M will help generate more profit for the SEC most years than an Arkansas matchup would.

  For now, Arkansas fans are as likely to hate Alabama, or Ole Miss, as LSU. Or even an SEC East program.  “The team that I hated the most was Tennessee,” Jones recalls. Jones, who grew up in Van Buren, points to one experience as the reason. He recalls as a nine-year-old hunting with his father and walking onto a cabin in the woods. Inside, people were watched TV and cheered. On the screen, the unranked Razorbacks were pushing the No. 4 Volunteers to the wire on the road. He’ll never forget the euphoria that followed watching Arkansas kicker Todd Wright’s 41-yard field goal sail through the uprights with two seconds left to give Arkansas its first victory in Knoxville, Tenn.

   Tennessee, though, already had Alabama and Florida as nemeses. Another SEC border state, Mississippi, had two in-state rivals. “Everybody kind of had a rival but us, so we had to manufacture one,” former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt says.

    Enter David Bazzel, an entrepreneur who has found a niche promoting Arkansas college athletics. Bazzel loves gold, and he loves football, and from all that love sprung the idea for this:

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Bazzel’s Golden Boot trophy, which depicts the two states’ outlines, debuted in 1996. He hoped its record-setting 4-foot plus height would help the game attract national attention and produce better competition. “It’s about playing for something, whether it be a paper clip, a rubber band or empty Coke can,” he says. In this case, “it just so happens to be a 200-pound trophy.”  He adds: “I wanted it to develop into a fun trophy game, not particularly a rivalry.”

Historically, most trophy games, of course, are based in rivalries. But that’s changing as power conferences create trophies for series involving program with little shared history. Usually these series involve states that don’t share borders,  like Nebraska-Wisconsin or South Carolina-Texas A&M, but the situation with Arkansas’ next SEC-sanctioned rival is different.

That would be Missouri, which replaces LSU as Arkansas’ regular season finale.

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When it comes to rivalry games involving boot booty, Arkansas-LSU stomps all over Wyoming-Colorado State

Arkansas-LSU's boot is far bigger than CSU-Wyoming's. In pretty much every way that matters.

Turns out a rivalry game trophy involving a very heavy boot representation isn’t the sole domain of Arkansas and LSU, who have clashed for the above-pictured piece of hardware since 1996.  Border rivals Wyoming and Colorado State have been battling for a bronze boot all their own since 1968.

That, of course, was at the height of the Vietnam war and unsurprisingly this Bronze Boot has martial origins:

In 1968, the ROTC detachments of the respective schools initiated the Bronze Boot, a traveling trophy awarded to the winner of the “Border War” each year. The boot was worn in the Vietnam War by Cpt. Dan J. Romero, an Adams State College graduate and Army ROTC instructor at CSU between 1967 and 1969. Each year leading up to the Wyoming–Colorado State game, the game ball is carried in a running shuttle relay by the ROTC detachment of the visiting team down US 287 to the Wyoming-Colorado state border, where the home team’s ROTC detachment receives it and runs the game ball to the stadium hosting the game. The trophy is guarded by the ROTC unit of the past year’s winning school during the game.

I have to admit, if what wikipedia is telling me is true, this ritual sounds pretty sweet.

Still, my guess is very few people outside of Wyoming and a slice of Colorado ever get short of breath talking about this rivalry. A far cry from the national implications of today’s No. 3 Arkansas vs. No. 1 LSU game.


In latest Game of the Century, Arkansas’ Offense Battles History Alongside LSU’s Defense

Great defenses more often than not take down superb offenses. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino doesn't want to hear it.

It seems every time one of these games comes around, visions of Thanksgiving Day, 1971 are conjured.

In this particular rendition, Oklahoma played the irresistible force, Nebraska the immovable object.

No. 1 Nebraska entered the heavily hyped fray with a defense – filled with with seven first-team All-Big Eight selections and four players who would earn consensus All-America honors – that to this day many still consider the best in college football history.

The No. 2 Sooners countered on their home field with the nation’s most productive offense, a Wishbone attack averaging 45 points and 563 total yards per game (481 on the ground).

When the dust cleared in Norman, Okla., that superlative defense was left standing. Nebraska won 35-31.
Fourteen years later, the programs switched roles entering another late November showdown in Oklahoma.

This time around, No. 2 Nebraska boasted the nation’s highest scoring offense, with a ground attack racking up 395 yards a game. No. 5 Oklahoma countered with a highly potent running game all its own. But the Sooners’ defense, led by nose guard Tony Casillas, linebacker Brian Bosworth and defensive end Kevin Murphy, was even more impressive.

Oklahoma won 27-7 after holding Nebraska to 161 yards.

It is yet to be seen if No. 1 LSU’s defense will enter the pantheon of the game’s great defenses, as Nebraska ’71 and Oklahoma ’85 have. But in leading LSU through an undefeated first 11 games, a gauntlet including Oregon, West Virginia and Alabama, it so far certainly seems likely. As the Tigers look down the scope at their Nov. 25 game with No. 3 Arkansas, a team to which they have lost three of the last four seasons, they take solace in a defense superior to any of its predecessors.

The legacy of Arkansas’ recently vaunted offense, which has routed its last three SEC opponents, is harder to divine. It suffered mid-season hiccups in lackluster wins against Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, on the heels of failing a test against Alabama, the only team with a defense comparable to LSU’s.

Read the rest of this entry »


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