On that hot August day in 1995, the bear was certainly a burden to bear.
The granddaddy to the bear carving that was recently completed in front of Wingo Hall at UCA stands majestically in the lobby of Estes Stadium.
It has had a couple of stops and has been a chiropractor’s dream.
It’s 700 pounds of craftily carved hardwood — from the Redwood Forest in California.
Conway businessman Steve Strange Sr. first laid eyes on Redwood Bear while he and his wife, Claudia, and then UCA head football coach Mike Isom and his wife, Susan, were vacationing in northern California in 1995. They stopped by a gift shop at the Muir Woods.
"I think Mike was just looking for a little bear carving to put on his desk," Strange recalled.
But after Strange spotted the huge centerpiece in the gift shop, Strange had a grander idea. Redwood Bear needed to be a UCA Bear.
He went to the cashier, gave him his credit card and whispered that he wanted to buy the big bear as a surprise for his coaching friend. Without Isom’s knowledge, he made arrangements to ship the monster carving to Estes Stadium.
"And one day it showed up," said Strange.
After it was unloaded from a flatbed truck, the bear carving rested in a large crate outside the UCA locker room in the Old Gym, football headquarters at the time but now the Prince Center for volleyball.
Going into the 1995 season, UCA’s offensive line was one of the focal points of the team. Someone had the idea that it would make a great cover photo for the media guide and poster promoting the season for the Bears’ first-team offensive linemen to pose in front of the bear.
The photo shoot was set up in August — and on the hottest day of the year — 100 in the shade with big bear humidity. The linemen were dressed in full gear for the photo.
The most amazing athletic move of the day occurred when Johnny Ray, the equipment manager at the time who was more place-kicker than offensive lineman bulk, moved the bear a few inches outside the crate, so the offensive linemen could take over for the short haul.
The first 10 yards of hauling down a slope to the old practice field next to the old gym was a breeze on a day there wasn’t any.
Then, the group had to carry the bear uphill to the photo site — and they hit the wall ... uh bear.
One smart-aleck observer noted the stops and staggers were reminiscent of that of some friends after a New Year’s Eve Party.
The players finally gathered about the bear for the photo in front of the stadium, then heard some words that gave them shivers on a sweltering afternoon.
"You need to turn the bear around," said the photographer.
"Water, water," the linemen replied, almost in unison.
Isom noted that the only player UCA had taller than the bear was 6-foot-6 Nick Newman.
Once Redwood Bear was placed appropriately, the cameras started clicking.
The players and other observers then did all the posing one could do in front on monster Redwood Bear.
Then, Isom told the players to haul the statue to the UCA dressing room.
It must be noted at this point that in the Old Gym, the Bears had upstairs and downstairs locker rooms. Most of the seniors dressed upstairs. The players, facing a steep incline, to the entrance to the locker room, put up no argument when Isom said he wanted the bear downstairs.
"I feel like I’ve just played a game," one player said.
Ray had the spot picked out near the door, where the players would ceremonially touched the bear every day as they exited the locker room.
Things have changed.
A new stadium was built. That bear has been moved several times to different locations, always causing a rise in local sales of muscle relaxers and pain killers.
It now greet visitors as they enter the coaches offices.
One of the original photos from that hot August day — with the players joined by Claudia Strange — is still displayed on the wall of "Doe’s Eat Place" in Little Rock.
Decades later, it still bears watching.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)