I caught game two of the NLCS at the recently refurbished Maxine's on Friday night. Yes, on weekdays the decades-old Fayetteville fixture is crawling with slumming hipsters hankering for dollar Schlitz and smoke-filled atmosphere — the kind of snarky slackers likely to haunt message boards for unhealthy chunks of time, if they care for sports at all. But on the weekends, townies come out in full force. Friday night's crowd was draped in camo, dripping with tobacco juice, and getting on up there. These people live and die by the Razorbacks.
When a squat, mustachioed guy approached a much taller Auburn fan at the jukebox, I braced myself for misbehavior. I've been punched in the face for hating the Texas Longhorns, but that was a while back and a few more beers into a very long night. (Long story, too.) Nobody's in the mood for rough-housing on beer number two, no matter how the season's going. But instead of the grunting, testosterone-soaked exchange I'd expected, the Hogs fan pumped the guy's hand like a used car salesman.
The two talked about the vote against Tuberville to replace Ford and Auburn's rough start this year, as well as Houston Nutt's thick head and DMac's Heisman. I generally expect good behavior from Arkansawyers, but this was downright cozy. Spitting in a nearby trashcan the whole time, the Hogs fan actually wished the man well. He said he hoped for an Auburn win and a good day for DMac.
The Tigers gave him half of what he wanted. But if the crowd at Maxine's was surreally amicable, the crowd at Reynolds the following day simmered with hostility. Cops throughout the stands umped testy exchanges between divided Hog fans, and the pace of the game did nothing to quell the unrest.
An injury-laden Auburn D shut the Razorbacks down and the Auburn offense dominated possession by a wide margin. The Hogs lost more yards to penalties (10 for a total of 100 yards) than they earned on the ground (67 yards!) and followed DMac's record-breaking run with a false start. And though one late series brought us together, another ripped us apart. The post-game lot and tailgating area could have gotten ugly fast.
A loss to the Rebels (0-4) won't be any easier to swallow. Last Saturday, Ole Miss spread 284 passing yards among seven different receivers, and while Seth Adams wasn't stellar, more than a few of his tosses were. The Rebel D held a great running back to 62 yards, and look for sophomore end Greg Hardy to wreak havoc again this week. A controversial call cost them the game. This team is better than it looks on paper.
The Hogs still have some big wins left in them, but they'll have to do it in spite of a coaching staff that's coming apart at the seams and a fan base moved to a kind of benevolent treachery in the face of frustration. I'm convinced that it's time for a coaching change. Sometimes you have to lose to win.
POSTSCRIPT: I want a firm no from Jim Leavitt of South Florida before we move on to some half-assed up-and-comer from Boise State. Leavitt boasts athletes (especially at quarterback) who play above their actual skill level, a history of huge wins in a tough recruiting region, and a proven ability to build a program from the ground up. All that equals superb gameday decision-making and sound off-the-field management. Leavitt's about to find out just how far he can take a Big East program, even if that program goes undefeated (which it won't). Hint: It's not far enough for most competitors.