I’m sick of you pretend girl and boy pens, all you do is annoy me
So I’ve been sent here to destroy you
And there’re million fans just like me
Who wear red like me; who Call the Hogs like me
Who love the Hill like me; walk, talk and bleed like me
Bret might be the next best thing but not quite me!
‘Cause I’m Hog Heavy yes I’m the real Heavy
All you other Hog Heavies are just imitating
So won’t the real Hog Heavy please stand up,
Please stand up, please stand up?
Guess there’s a Hog Heavy in all of us
Screw it, let’s all stand up
— apologies Eminem, “The Real Slim Shady”
Stand up for what’s worthy!
The Best articles written about the Arkansas Razorbacks over the off-season outclass the Worst in every conceivable way. Loaded with insight and details that let readers envision the writers’ ideas, they all advance a fans’ knowledge and understandings of past events which shape Razorback football. Some chronicle the program’s progress from a mechanical regime to one moving forward with sweet, free beats leaving no doubt in fans’ minds of the stark differences. However, the Best aren’t found exclusively in stories of triumph through change, information and data hand fans the game pieces and the trending behaviors to let them play the game out for themselves.
CBSSports’ Dennis Dodd, CampusRush’s Pete Thamel, Sporting News’ Matt Hayes, Whole Hog Sports’ Tom Murphy, and SBNation’s Bill Connelly make sports stories well worth reading. Each are unique for what they do, so to rank them would be like saying that Brandon Allen is better than Denver Kirkland who’s better than Cole Hedlund. Not only will you see these articles’ excellence, they’ll bring you up to speed for all you need to know as the Hogs host UTEP on Saturday. Enjoy!
Written before training camp started and Jonathan Williams’s injury, “Unique animals” is a solid dog-days article with each sentence hitting a new point and moving from one to the next and covering aspects of the entire program quickly. Offense, defense, recruiting, impact players and facilities are all there with THE details at the heart of each subject. For a broad overview, Dodd does an excellent job.
The majority of Pete Thamel’s audience is clearly not the Arkansas Razorbacks’ fanbase as his first paragraphs run east-west with the same tired story of Bobby Petrino’s success and demise and John L. Smith’s failures that Hog Fans lived. How many times does the story need to be told? It doesn’t. These recitals remind other folks. In that respect “Razorbacks, Reinvented” shakes before settling down into the story that perfectly places the focus on what the Razorback staff is doing to win.
Academics and the weight room have defined the Hogs’ transformation into a physical SEC team, and that’s precisely where Thamel spends his time. To put Bielema’s challenges into perspective, Thamel’s choice to interview Chris Ash is about as good as it gets. Ash came to Arkansas with Bielema as a trusted person and left for the DC position at Ohio State a year later. Ash possesses the first-hand knowledge of the events and is in a position to speak freely. The story moves from those areas into the third critical transformation which deals with Arkansas’ mentality meaning both football education and a winning perception under the label “Hoganese.” Thamel chose his three chords and struck the truth.
Whether fans demand it or writers tend to produce information in quick sound bites as Dennis Dodd’s style piece above, it’s a style to which fans have become accustomed. We tend to drill indiscriminately for the information and miss the smell of the grass or the smell of the roughed up leather of the football, but frequently it isn’t there at all. Step back for a second and re-read the first sentence of Hayes’ work:
He is reminiscing now, emotionally and deftly weaving through the unthinkable, the unwatchable, and finally, the beautiful inevitable of the last three years for which no player in his right mind would have signed on.
He takes care to craft words, construct the sentence and begin a human story as more of a literary piece than a common sports story. That’s only a hint of his effort which produced this result.
In the interest of full disclosure, Matt messaged me as he was getting on the plane for Fayetteville in August. He flew on a Wednesday and returned on the next Friday to Florida. It’s to say that he travelled to Fayetteville to see The Hill first hand. He interviewed Coach Bielema and others and toured facilities.
But a writer doesn’t go through the motions to produce what Hayes has done here. It requires reflection and effort to have the subtext and extended metaphors he employs. Hayes makes a point of the 13 seniors instead of just a “group of seniors” or any numerous ways a senior class might be described. They are “13” in the sense that seniors could be considered an unlucky group for all that they’ve seen. But the “13” fought through difficulty to see a new beginning as Coach Bielema started the season practice with a “fitting proclamation.” It’s a tacit allusion to 13 colonies which started this country. They are the 13 who fought through to a new beginning.
Hayes takes concrete quotes and facts involving land to create a subtle metaphor that this revolution, this team is retaking Razorback land. From Petrino literally and figuratively landing in a ditch to John L. Smith digging a bigger hole, to Jonathan Williams describing the journey as being in a “foxhole,” and to the story being ultimately of “reclamation” (a term used specifically for the restoration of mined land), he describes what Bielema and these 13 did to overcome.
Coach Bielema’s words could certainly stand on their own, but they aren’t the same without Hayes’ description of how they were said, “his voice cracking, then rising and growing stronger.”
Hayes writes about Arkansas’ change in culture. Academics had to improve as a matter of decency because 95% of the players will never get a shot at playing in the NFL and even fewer players will make a roster and fewer still will play for the short average NFL career. Like Arkansas itself, only after Hayes describes the change in culture does football appear in a relevant way in the article with anticipation of the future.
Matt Hayes’ craft and effort are the story equivalent to watching the artistry of McFadden and Jones.
When information on players is what you want, Tom Murphy covers each position for the Hogs telling a reader who to look for, why that player is in that position and lets the reader know what’s expected this season from a player or position. He stays focused on the task at hand allowing him to cover details fans may not see elsewhere. He includes stats for returning players, who’s likely to redshirt, who changed positions, where the Razorbacks are deep, what’s likely to happen with newcomers, who’s a leader, who’s earned time, who’s stood out, and who’s still battling. While not flashy, Murphy delivers what many fans want and does it well.
Bill Connelly shows why “stat guys” have their places in sports writing. They provide empirical support for what fans think they see or debunk common wisdom. Connelly tackles head-on the notion that somehow Arkansas’ close losses in 2014 were meaningful indicators of things to come. Understanding the lingo and methods can sometimes be difficult, but fans get conclusions.
Using previously established standards, Connelly says that the numbers not only support that Arkansas turned the corner last fall, but some stats placed the Hogs among the best in college football. Despite their record last season, his analysis leads him to write, “For now, consider this a warning. Bret Bielema’s almost got his pieces in order.” He addresses Arkansas’ pace of play, fourth quarter woes, Alex Collins and fumbling, the receiving corps and big plays, the real size of Arkansas’ offensive line, and a number of other topics including the quality of the Robb Smith hire. Adding big plays, he says, “would make this offense nearly impossible to stop.”
Without ever stepping foot on campus, Connelly’s story is a different one to tell.
Next up: The Hog Heavy is not so complimentary taking on some of worst wastes of pixel energy.