Auburn Tigers vs Arkansas Razorbacks, 10/21/2017, 6:30pm
Final Score: Auburn 52 – Arkansas 20; Attendance: 71,961
Weather: Comfortable 74; Ticket: $0; Parking: $0
Review: “That’ll do Pig” by Tree
The Razorbacks play at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in the hyper competitive SEC. The tailgating was as big as expected. It can also be somewhat exclusive if you are an outsider. If you truly want to experience the great tailgating at Arkansas, and to an extent at all SEC schools, you really need to have a local connection. The University has set up a private tailgating area and even pavilions for hire in a scenic area called the Garden. So if you have a large group paying for the site (and extras) it is the way to go, but it won’t be cheap. Alternatively, with a little planning, you can pick up a parking pass through a third party site, Stubhub, Craigslist, etc., and tailgate in the lots. Not quite as picturesque as the Gardens, but still a very vibrant scene. The good thing with the big schools is that folks do sell their passes. We didn’t buy one, but they ranged from $6 to $40 for an upcoming SEC game with prices probably lowered a bit for Razorback having a down year. As for public parking, we saw lots for $15 within easy walking distance to the private pass lots where all the action is. We drove a little farther down the road right to the edge of the faculty lots and scored free street parking. As is typical, we saw lots of folks toting cases of beers, coolers and other tailgating staples to the popular areas. Of course, there was the occasional lowly schlub carrying the store bought package of cupcakes. C’mon man, make an effort!
We found the folks tailgating to range from cordial to very friendly. We came across a group of parents who had chipped in together for a spot and a tent for the season. They had a great set up with two TV’s and a directv portable hookup. They did the catering themselves and often just hung out in the Garden rather than going to the game. Cary and his crew were typical of the best of what you find in SEC tailgating – great folks looking to a have a good time with friends and family.
We tailgated in a smaller lot that was not as crowded, but we still had a great time. It had been awhile since I had played flip cup and it showed. I am a little old for drinking games, but when in Rome I do as the Romans do. We did have a very controversial tie where even the video evidence showed the final two cups hit at the same time. It was very controversial – for about a minute. We dined on chicken parm and Italian sliders made by our fantastic host. Sliders have become my favorite tailgating food. They are just the right size and make for easy eating with a beer in hand. A little cornhole would have been nice, but that’s just an observation, not a criticism.
The stadium itself is in the process of being upgraded in one end zone, adding what looked to be about 26 more luxury boxes. Our seats were free thanks to our generous hosts. We were on the 50 yard line about five rows back. In addition, we had on field access before and after the kickoff. I don’t usually get that kind of treatment so it was a special experience. Everyone was very accommodating on the field with both the mascot and cheerleaders gracious enough to take pictures with me. The other thing I noticed is how big and athletic these kids really are. When I hear guys say they could do better than those on the field, I just laugh. There’s no chance the vast majority of them could compete with these athletes.
The stadium has two big video screens, one for each end zone. From that perspective, there is not a bad seat in the house. They are bench seats and I did see some folks bring their stadium chairs so plan accordingly. I got to use a special restroom so I can’t comment on the general stadium toilet design. Doug picked up my souvenir cup which was reasonable at $4. He said the concessions were fairly standard although it appeared that there was a pulled pork sandwich from a local joint. He also said they were making chocolate covered strawberries, which is a new one to me from a stadium concession perspective. Alcohol is not sold in the stadium which didn’t bother me considering the preceding, multiple games of flip cup.
As for traditions, the most notable one is the “Whooo pig sooey” said while raising the hands up and twinkling the fingers simultaneously followed by a “Razorbacks” on the third chant. It actually takes a few times to get it right. I was talking to a comely alumni next to me about it and she deadpanned, “What are you drunk? It’s not that hard”. Of course, I feigned insult. Sure, I probably had a little buzz left, but not nearly enough to be impaired. Her sarcasm continued through the rest of the game and I found it quite entertaining. Not unlike finding Fayetteville much to our liking, I was surprised to find a Razorback alum so sharp and witty. I had considered the gap-toothed stereotype sufficiently countered when she also noted that she’s not from “here”. It made me chuckle some more. Honestly though, nearly everyone we encountered was friendly and polite and didn’t at all seem like they married their cousin.
There really wasn’t much else I noted in the traditions area. There’s a weakly generic “another Razorback first down” cheer. The marching band was very good and I enjoyed the halftime show. This being a big time SEC program, the on-field bits during TV timeouts were limited to honoring the military. From that perspective, it was a big time all the way. The other thing that was unusual was the treatment of replay. When the referee was checking out a replay, they would show the view he was looking at on the video scoreboards. It was a cool addition and an improvement.
University of Arkansas is located in Fayetteville. I flew into the Bentonville Airport which was about 20 miles from the city. I wanted to stay in Fayetteville, but I didn’t look to make reservations until a couple of weeks before the game. To my dismay, there was nothing available in the city. We ended up about 20 miles to the north in Bentonville, in the land of Walmart. Even with that distance, my hotel room was pretty steep at about $225 a night. It turns out that it just wasn’t a home game, but the weekend of a major craft fair in Fayetteville hence the premium on hotel rooms. Who knew? It turned out not to be a big deal because we found it easy to get down to Fayetteville and there was plentiful parking in the very cool downtown. My buddy Doug and I had a great time once we got steered to Dickson Street. There were a ton of bars and good restaurants. It had a classic college town vibe. The town is definitely a plus when considering a visit to see the Hogs play.
The Razorbacks were hosting their first SEC game of the season despite being six games in. Auburn had just lost LSU the week before and it was time to put up or shut up. Unfortunately for the Hogs, they definitely did the latter. They amassed over 600 yards on offense and generally stifled the Arkansas offense the whole game. Actually, the first half was pretty close with the Razorbacks hanging in there fairly well. However, to win this game, the Hogs were going to need to take advantage of Tiger mistakes and play mistake free on their end. In the end, it was the other way around with Auburn making the most of their opportunities. As an example, about halfway through the second quarter with Arkansas down 10-3, the Hogs made an interception at about midfield. The Razorback offense goes three and out. The Arkansas defense then holds Auburn to a three and out, but on the ensuing punt return they fumble. Auburn then drives down and scores to go up 17 -3. Arkansas musters a field goal in quick drive but instead of possibly being tied, the Hogs go into halftime down 11. Second half starts, it is third and five and the Auburn QB scrambles 18 yards which ignites a touchdown drive. The Razorback offense responds with six plays and a net of three yards followed by a punt. Auburn drives down the field, scores a touchdown and the game is essentially over at 31 – 6. To the Razorbacks’ credit, Gus Malzone, Auburn’s coach, kind of ran up the score but the Arkansas kids never lost their composure. It says a lot about the program and the coaches. The fans held it pretty much together too except when a young lady ripped off an impressive rant of f-bombs that would make most sailors blush. The demure Arkansas fans around me shuddered their disapproval.
As I mentioned, Doug has friends in high places so we got the royal treatment for this game. I toured the football facilities and I was blown away with what it takes to make an SEC program run. The huge weight room was a long way from the tiny room we had at Mercyhurst College. If I was a player, I would be there all the time. Well, maybe not as you probably don’t get quality study time in that kind of facility – too many distractions. Once again, we got to be on the field right up to kickoff and our seats were fantastic. The only thing I will say is that you could really feel for the staff and associated families at Arkansas. Clearly the program is having a down year but it is not due to a lack of effort. I could feel the worries of the spouses as their little ones were running around the stands. I can see where coaching at this level can be a great career, but it is not without a unique set of challenges. One, of which, is the real time evaluation of success with very defined metrics. If I screw up at work, at least I don’t have 70,000 fans yelling at me.
On the lighter side, hanging out in Fayetteville only continued to confirm the truth that you will never look better than you do in your twenties. Seeing all these fresh faced kids running around, most of them looking like they fell out of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog, makes me pine for the days of youth. It can also make you feel like the creepy old guy. However, the plus to college towns is that a lot of the time the parents are hanging with their kids at the bars. Notice I said bars and not clubs. Anyway, in that environment, I feel very comfortable. When we visit our kids, we go out with them and have an adult beverage or two. It is the joy of getting older as a parent. And generally speaking, I like hanging out with parents who do the same with their kids. Now as for those parents that play drinking games with their kids, I am not sure I can approve of that.
So where does Arkansas fall on the visitation scale? I would say that it is just a notch below must see. It is definitely a good time and worth spending a weekend on. Fayetteville is a blast and the area also has outstanding outdoor sports (mountain biking and hiking). I would take the time to plan out your tailgating approach so as to maximize the fun. Better yet, if you know a Razorback and they are kind enough to invite you (which they probably are) I would definitely take them up on it. Just make sure to practice your “Whooooo Pig Soooey!”