Last Sunday wasn't completely free of forced camaraderie and awkward moments. Occasionally, the reporters and school officials eager to heap praise and respect on Arkansas's greatest team of all time talked themselves into an ineloquent corner. Occasionally, Coach Richardson let slip his irascible nature. Once in a while, a former great revealed what the past 15 years had done to his greatness. But during that half-time ceremony, all was finally right in the world. The eloquence of a crowd's roar drowned out any bitterness and regret.
There's nothing like a losing season to make you appreciate how hard it is to win a national championship. Winning a game this fast — that can break either way in the last moment, that can swing back and forth within seconds — takes more than simple ability and focus during such a long season, one fraught with unpredictable and manifold perils. Something like luck comes into it at the end. The best coaches recognize that and set out to play the odds in their favor.
Richardson accomplished this by making a fast game even faster. He prepped his team to act and react almost mechanically and at top speed — to let the system take over completely. By doing this, he stretched those many game-changing moments out, “Matrix”-style. Other teams may have experienced 40 minutes of hell, but the Razorbacks themselves played for 2,400 seconds.
Scotty Thurman hit that game-winning three with the game tied and a full minute left on the board. By normal standards, taking that shot was a bad decision. He should have looked for points in the paint or tried to draw a foul. Razorback fans held their breath. But Thurman never had to think twice. He was built for close games and waning moments. By Razorback standards, that final minute might as well have been forever. If he missed, he missed: They'd get the ball back. Duke didn't lose just because he made that shot. They lost because they took a tie game into the final seconds against Nolan Richardson's Arkansas Razorbacks.
The performance of John Pelphrey's Razorbacks against Georgia was a fitting tribute to that bygone era and went a long way toward convincing me that those days aren't gone for good. We haven't seen our team press like that during conference play. Pelphrey hasn't pushed his thin roster to quite that extreme since Texas, and our usual starters haven't responded with across-the-board double figures all season. Beating another team in this manner, last place or no, made me feel like we could beat anybody.
The Hogs might have been riding on the shoulders of history, but history can carry us to more victories. The players seemed to recognize that for the very first time, and hopefully this weekend's festivities reaffirmed that for Pelphrey himself. If only the celebration had come earlier in the year. The Hogs need a strong finish in conference play and a good showing at the SEC tournament. At this point, it won't get them into the postseason, but it just might put a positive enough spin on a troubling year to hold us all together until we can finally put it all together.