Columns » Bob Lancaster

Game phase

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I want to talk some football here, so those of you who aren’t interested can take your reading glasses and thinking caps to other parts of the paper.

Also, those of you who already know something about football as it is performed here in Arkansas – and especially you Einsteins who know everything about it – will find nothing useful here.

Nothing to inspire you to call up talk radio and give them a piece of your piece of a mind. Nothing if you’re of the rather large segment that at one time or another on the field or in the stands has murmured the standard FCA appeal, “Lord, help us kick the crap out of these fancy-boy visitor sons-a-bitches. We ask it in Thy name. Amen.”

No, this column isn’t for the football savvy; it’s for football know-nothings. For those who don’t know and 99 percent don’t care what the autumn Saturday hubbub is about, but who might have been vaguely curious for a second or two while changing channels or waiting to see a relative or acquaintance toot or twirl during a halftime show.

Sort of a Complete Idiot’s Guide to Arkansas Football – not a complete guide, mind you, but a guide for complete football idiots.

After that overlong preface, I only have room left to address a few of the football basics. The game essentials. The most fundamental football truth, and one of the hardest to grasp, especially for true believers, for those who use their nipples to punctuate torso-painted hortatory game-day bleacher cheers, for example, is that much of what we call “football” doesn’t really exist.

It’s a national myth, played out on the liquid-crystal matrix that has enshrouded reality in our time and that was outed in the Keanu Reeves movie. Or a combination of myth and legend, the Arkansas version of it hoked up and loosed on the Natural State by an Arkansas Gazette fabulist named Orville Henry, now deceased as the Gazette is.

O. Henry made up Arkansas football, including its history, its rosters, its creed, and most of the NCAA peripherals, in the 1950s and 1960s, and he lugged the thing forward by way of passionate newspaper articles though most of the remainder of the 20th Century. He made up the little Aux Arcs town of Fayetteville with a bucolic but high-spirited campus and upon this arcadian scene he released the woolly boogers Woo, Pig, and Sooey. He made it a sty, in other words -- our sty. Our collective sty. Our pride and joy hogpen. That is to say, he brought forth The Program.

Ah, The Program.

The Program soon ran amuck, as swine will, even mascot swine, but it turned out to have a swell unaccountable beneficial effect on the hoi and polloi: it soothed the overwrought, balmed the inferiority complex, and gave those masses who couldn’t cut it on the harder topics a reason to go on sucking air.

The Program is little changed today from O. Henry’s trap-and-release original. It has players and coaches who come and go, passing through – mythical beings all, the former poorly guised as students, the latter usually once and future failures in commoner pursuits, such as selling insurance or wrestling bears. And presiding over them, then and now and evermore, at least through the millennium, is he who but for the grace of God would’ve been God, and may be anyway. Say hey to Mr. B.

The Program fields a handful of football games every fall, and that’s about all it does. It has basketball, baseball, golf, track and girls’ stuff but … really now. The football games have a lot of buildup and hoopla, but fifteen minutes after a game is over there’s only hot-dog wrappers and facing the drive home. Once a season is over nobody cares much which side of 8-4 it came down on, or about the chickensquat bowl game.

The game itself is grunty close and graceful a ways away, and its object, like that of modern warfare, consists of gaining contested ground, then giving it back, then trying to take it again. Much like Iraq.

Who can say what about football soothes and edifies its enthusiasts? One invests one’s self-esteem in the fickle fortunes of a ball team and if the team fares well, one feels briefly vindicated or authenticated or some damned thing, and if not one goes back to the futon to wonder about the larger purpose.

But that’s only a guess. Orville, the game’s inventor, liked football for the abstract beauty of it. He liked seeing farm boys do feats of grace and strength and heart on lime-lined turf, and he liked to render those feats into a kind of poetry.

Maybe football fetches others with its homo intimations in such game features as taking snaps under center, but I don’t know that.

Anyhow, I started this column intending to bring y’all football ignoranti up to date on what’s been happening lately with The Program at UA. There’s been great turbulence. Heads have rolled. Budding superstars have decamped, as have coaches only recently brought aboard with hosannahs. A morose, accusatory mood has settled in, and cliques and claques swap insulting newspaper ads.

But it’s always that way more or less. Happens every year around this time the same way only different. Maybe we’ll ponder it further here, farther

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