I’ve forgotten his name. I’ll not forget his actions in 1975. In the culture of the day, what he did was a "southwest classic."
For simplicity’s sake, I’ll call him Jim. He was a pressman for a newspaper where I worked in southeast Texas.
Jim was a hardcore Texas A&M fan. That’s titanium-core Aggie. He has no use for Texas, unless it was followed by A&M. He thought coach Emory Bellard was almost at Bear Bryant level.
These were the days that Bellard fielded some of his best teams in Aggieland, and Jim always loved to converse with us in the sports department to make sure we knew it.
Then, came the 1975 game with the University of Arkansas that would determine a Cotton Bowl berth.
Jim was coming in later that evening because he cleared a block of time to watch the nationally televised game from War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
He came in early looking like someone who had seen his pet dog run over.
He shyly asked about the final score.
Sometime between Scott Bull’s pass to Teddy Barnes that gave the Razorbacks a 7-0 lead with 34 seconds left in the half and the finishing touches of a dominating, 31-6 victory by Arkansas, he had thrown some readily available hard object (I think it was a work boot) through the screen of his television — a self-imposed blackout.
It took Jim most of the year to get over that defeat.
That’s how it was with attitudes during the height of the battles in the old Southwest Conference.
Before it dissolved, the classic SWC could tickle or stab the emotions as well as any conference in college football. A lot of it related to the league having true neighborhood rivalries. Supporters of all the schools could live on the same street, attend the same churches, shop at the same malls in the larger cities. All schools except the University of Arkansas were situated in Texas, and Arkansas has always had a strong alumni presence in Texas and recruited the state heavily in those days.
Arkansas alumnus and Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones is trying to revive some of those old feelings as he has matched Arkansas and Texas A&M for the next 10 years in what is billed as the Southwest Classic in the new Cowboy Stadium.
But it won’t be the same Saturday and may never be.
Those SWC rivalries are buried in the memory of longtime supporters. A couple of generations of students and alumni have no clear relation to them. The UA is solidly entrenched in the Southeastern Conference and A&M in the Big 12. Even though the two leagues are in the same geographical area, there is not a lot of interaction between the conferences.
Both Arkansas and Texas A&M have had their struggles in the new leagues, and neither is a national power. It’s a nonconference game.
So while it’s a classic rivalry, the Hogs and the Aggies will be breaking new ground this weekend.
There are lots of questions about both the renewal of the rivalry and where the teams stand this season.
Texas A&M is the national leader in total offense. Arkansas’ defense is in the lower echelon of the NCAA.
But the Aggies have played one of the softest schedules thus far of any NCAA Division I team in the nation. The Hogs are coming off back-to-back conference games against two tough and nationally respected SEC teams, Georgia and Alabama.
How good is the A&M offense? How bad is the Arkansas defense?
Both schools are in the second year of new coaching regimes. Head coaches Mike Sherman of A&M and Bobby Petrino of Arkansas both have pro backgrounds. Both have seemed to have settled on a quarterback of the future.
How effective can UA quarterback Ryan Mallett be if he is forced to move around?
How does an SEC team picked in the lower part of its division match up with a Big 12 team picked in a similar spot?
The schools are the same. The passions may be similar. But the perspective and the culture is entirely different. This new/old rivalry has to grow new roots over time.
It may take awhile for those old fires between the schools and supporters to start burning again.
The game is simply a step, or a measuring stick, to bigger things for each team.
I don’t expect many objects to be thrown through television screens this weekend.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)