I don’t want to pile on; and I NEVER want to see another person lose their livelihood (except if they are really, really bad dudes who did something very wrong). There is nothing good about this most recent episode. Mistakes made, pent up sentiments spilled out in public. Just unfortunate all the way around.
I will say that my one exchange with Frei revealed that he was pretty opinionated (not necessarily a bad thing, especially for a columnist) and not particularly open to having his opinions challenged (a less favorable trait, IMO).
This was back when his book - the previously mentioned book about the 1969 Texas-Arkansas game - had recently been released, and a few weeks in advance of Texas’ visit to Fayetteville in 2004 (after we had beaten the Horns in Austin the year before). Frei had mentioned in some interviews that to commemorate the 35th anniversary of that game, there would be a ‘reunion’ of the two teams to take place in Fayetteville the same weekend that the game took place. What role, if any, Frei had in suggesting/orchestrating the reunion, I don’t know. I recall that, eventually, Bill Montgomery was running point from the “host” side. Regardless, the reunion was certainly good publicity for Frei’s book, and he came out publicly in support of it. I’m sure he got to know many of the players on both teams during his research of the book, and all involved thought it was a good idea. I think most (not all, but most) of the fans who remember the game firsthand thought it was a good idea as well. Personally, I thought it was a grand thing for the players to do.
However, it was announced a few weeks in advance of the game/reunion that the plans called for players from both teams to be introduced to the audience before the game. For me, personally, I’d like to think that I’m big enough to be gracious to those Texas players, and I believe I would show them the proper respect. But if there’s one time I might be tempted to NOT do that, it would be when I was revved up to play the ‘hated’ Longhorns 5 minutes later! That’s the absolutely worst time to put ANYTHING “Texas” in front of a Razorback crowd that’s got it’s emotions raised to a fever pitch.
It was a situation where I feared many of the crowd would boo the former Longhorns, just because of the timing. And that wouldn’t have been productive for anyone. Had that happened, it would be very easy for the national media to condemn Arkansas fans (and, once again, Arkansans in general). And that wouldn’t be fair. Can you imagine 100K in the Horseshoe politely clapping as members of the 1980 Michigan team that beat them are introduced moments before this year’s Ohio State - Michigan game? Neither can I.
These men were coming to Fayetteville for a reunion and fellowship with the players they competed so hard against in a monumental game 35 years earlier. As difficult as that loss was, the time for animus had come and gone. These men deserved to have a good time, and being booed by 75K at a football game didn’t need to be part of that reunion, IMO.
When Frei heard that there was some negative reaction among Arkansas fans when this wrinkle was announced, he had some sharp and not so complimentary comments about Arkansas fans needing to “get over it”, etc. I don’t remember exactly how I got his email address, but I did; and I sent him a note of explanation. I told that as someone who had his heart torn out over the loss (something Frei was very familiar with, having written about how bitter the loss still was for many Arkansas fans of that era), I was glad they were having the reunion in NW Arkansas, and hoped the Texas players had a very positive experience as our guests. But I went on to explain (as I mention above) that introducing members of a rival team to any crowd right before the game (or at halftime, for that matter) is asking for a negative response, no matter who the rivals involved are. In other words, this isn’t just an ARKANSAS thing.
He replied to me, and was very direct and borderline contemptuous of the Arkansas fan base. I fully realize that we have segments of our fans that cross the line and act like fools from time to time - as does any passionate fan base. But I was very disappointed in his ability to understand that this was a timing issue much more so that a “good” or “bad” fan base issue. With Texas visiting Fayetteville for the first time in 13 years, it was obvious we would have an electric atmosphere (and we did!). It would have been doing a great disservice to that Longhorn team (and that Razorback team, for that matter) to introduce the Texas team and have a negative reaction. With all the research that Frei had done for the book, you’d have thought he’d have had a better grasp on the emotions of that idea.