Saturday will mark the 20th anniversary of a somber moment in American history (more on that tomorrow), but it's also a Saturday in September. That means football. This Saturday means Arkansas vs. Texas football.
Appropriately, the University of Arkansas will weave into today's football festivities some "special acknowledgements" of that terrible day in 2001 when terrorists attacked our nation and the days, months and years that followed when so many people made sacrifices to protect this nation and hunt down those responsible.
But even more specific to what's happening at Reynolds Razorback Stadium today is an even longer history. The Longhorns and Razorbacks have been competing against each other on the football field since 1894. They were great rivals in the old Southwest Conference -- back when Arkansas was the only non-Texas school in the league. And word has it the two schools will find themselves within the same conference again within just a few short years.
Texas has bigger rivals. All one has to do is watch the build-up to the Texas-Oklahoma game to realize that. And the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry can get pretty intense. But the long, colorful tradition of Arkansas vs. Texas still renders this a meaningful game.
"I appreciate the rivalry and love all that it entails but on the flip side of that, from our preparation standpoint, we just go right in. Quite frankly, every opponent is a faceless opponent," first-year Texas Coach Steve Sarkisian told reporters early this week.
Time apart has undoubtedly helped fade the passions that once existed at birth for Arkansas fans. It's hard to keep the temperature high when the fire gets stoked so infrequently. Texas hasn't been to Razorback Stadium in 17 years. The two teams last played each other in Houston's Texas Bowl in 2014.
Still, a burnt orange fire can produce serious heartburn in the guts of plenty of Arkansas fans, particularly older ones. Beating Texas always feels so ... right. It might take a few minutes for some younger Arkanas fans to figure out how to form the two-finger "Hook'em Horns" gesture, but it won't take much longer for them to learn how to turn it downward.
Longhorn defensive lineman Keondre Coburn this week said he's heard Arkansans "don't like us" and that he's heard of the traditional rivalry through the years. "Everybody to us is a rivalry," Coburn told reporters.
It's a reasonable thing for a young player to say. For him, anything about a rivalry with Arkansas has just been handed down, told in stories, but not lived. Rivalries require grudges, which in turn have to be fed a steady diet of head-to-head contests, memorable plays, unforgettable missed calls or fumbled balls or occasional brawls. They require familiarity, the kind Frank Broyles and Darrell Royal shared through both friendship and intense competition between the teams they coached.
Arkansans haven't had much of that with Texas lately. But that shared history since 1894 isn't far below the surface. If the Longhorns and Razorbacks, by virtue of becoming part of the same athletic conference, soon start to play on a regular basis again, the inconsistencies of the last 30 years will be forgotten. The intensity of the word "rivalry" will be restored.
Today is just a one-off game, a non-conference contest scheduled long ago. But Texas' pending addition to the SEC could be a rebirth of the rivalry that once held a dominant place in the lore of Razorback fans.
If this is the start of more frequent meetings between these two teams, why not leave Texas with a reminder of what a "wild band of Hogs" looks like?
What’s the point?
Occasional games can’t sustain a strong rivalry, but maybe the Arkansas-Texas relationship is making a comeback.