Tuesday, January 26, 2010

An Open Letter to Jeff Long

Mr. Long,

We have never met. I am an avid fan of the athletic programs of the University of Arkansas. The Razorbacks. Those teams which you endeavor to manage. And though my meager annual contribution to the Razorback Foundation in a perfect world might purchase me some voice, however distant and tinny, regarding the personnel you choose to maintain as coaches of my beloved Razorbacks, I am a realist. I know I have no legitimate voice. No legitimate means of influence.

Still, I feel compelled to write.

Last Thursday, as you are certainly aware, the Razorbacks men's team played the Florida Gators in Bud Walton Arena, and lost a close decision. 71-66. It was a game that Arkansas could have, and perhaps should have, won. Florida did not win impressively. To my eyes, they played poorly. They did not shoot the ball well, and yet escaped Bud Walton Arena, our Basketball Palace of Mid-America, with a victory.

But basketball teams lose games sometimes. Heck, we lost 16 of them last year, and have lost 11 so far this season. We even lost three in 1994 when we won the national championship. That the Florida game was an agonizing loss at home is something else that I know I have to stomach. Basketball teams lose home games sometimes. I know that. We can't win them all in Bud Walton. Well, I guess technically we can, but we've only done it twice in 17 seasons. Home losses, however tough, are part of the game.

Still, I feel compelled to write.

Last night, I sat on my couch and watched the Border War on ESPN. Bill Self's #2 ranked Kansas Jayhawks hosting Mike Anderson's Missouri Tigers. If you watched the game, you saw Kansas dismantle Mizzou in impressive fashion. The noise inside Allen Fieldhouse was deafening, and the knowledgeable fans there were active and engaged for the entire game.

I'm sure you already know this, but with a capacity of around 16,000, Allen Fieldhouse is actually smaller than Bud Walton Arena. And due to its ingenious design and the foresight of Frank Broyles to create a facility built purely for big-time basketball, Bud Walton Arena's 19,000 seats are actually closer to the floor than the seats at Allen Fieldhouse. Proceeding logically, and I have seen nothing from you to doubt your loyalty to logic, you have to be open to the possibility that Bud Walton could conceivably be louder even than intimidating Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks have now won 54 consecutive games.

I am no basketball expert, but I do have an appreciation for the game and a respect for its history.  I know that the James Naismith that Kansas' court is named for is the same James Naismith that invented the game in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891, and was also Kansas' first basketball coach.  I know that Allen Fieldhouse is named after Phog Allen, Naismith's successor at Kansas, and one of the most successful collegiate basketball coaches of all-time.  I understand and appreciate the stature of programs such as Kansas.  As Kentucky.  North Carolina.  And I realize that Arkansas is not in that echelon.

Still, I feel compelled to write. 

To put it simply, I sleep too easily.  After our loss to Florida last week, I went to bed and I fell asleep.  Immediately.  I was angry momentarily following the game, but it dissipated as soon as I turned the television off.  There was a time when sleep would have been impossible following any such loss, much less one in such an agonizing manner....especially one at home.  It seems that time has passed, however.  How dignified is it, after all, to lose sleep over Morgan State, East Tennessee State, and South Alabama,?

I am 28 years old.  I wasn't around for The Triplets and Eddie Sutton, but I came to love basketball during our finest hour as Hogs.  These things may not mean much to you, but I remember the 1990 Final Four.  I remember the life-sized newspaper insert poster of Todd Day that hung on my wall for years.  I remember Corliss Williamson's delayed debut in the winter of 1993 due to a stress fracture, and the dominance that followed it.  I remember great games.  Overtime against LSU and Kentucky.   I remember great players that I demonized because they played against the Razorbacks.  Shaquille O'Neal.  Anfernee Hardaway.  Jamal Mashburn. 

I remember the final game inside Barnhill Arena.  Jim Robken and the Hog Wild Band.  Capturing the "spirit" of Barnhill to transport to Bud Walton Arena.  I remember that some people were angry, and that virtually everyone was sad.  Can you believe that?  A fan base so tied to an old, outdated facility that it was hesitant to move into a sparkling new facility twice the size of its predecessor?  It happened.  Here.  That's how great Barnhill was, but as great as it was, I have personally witnessed Bud Walton Arena exceed it in every way. 

The problem, Mr. Long, is that you have not. 

The past two seasons have seen our numbers dwindle.  The past two seasons have seen our wins dwindle.  Bud Walton Arena,  a place once feared, has become what residents of this state swore it would never, ever be.  Just a building where basketball is played.  The "spirit" that was captured in 1993 has escaped somehow, and been replaced with something dangerously close to apathy.  I could never turn my back on the Razorbacks, but despite my best efforts to combat it, it seems I am vulnerable to dozing off on them, and that is alarming.

It compelled me to write.  What does it compel you to do?

Woo Pig Sooie,


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