It was 30 years ago, but I still remember a lot of things about the summer of 1990.
I’m a teacher, and it was the summer after my first year of teaching. I lived in El Dorado at the time. My mornings during those days would always start with reading the newspaper. I’ve always been a “news nerd” and even wrote for a newspaper before I taught, so the morning newspaper was like coffee to me. I had to have it. (I have since given up the newspaper, getting news in the many other ways now available.)
I subscribed at the time to the Arkansas Gazette. There were still two statewide newspapers at the time, and the Gazette is the one my family had always taken while I was growing up, so it’s what I subscribed to. There was only one problem: everybody’s favorite sportswriter, Orville Henry, now worked for the Arkansas Democrat. (He had written for the Gazette when I was growing up.) So I would find myself going to the library to read the Democrat, or often just walking down the three or four blocks from my apartment to the local Brookshire’s to buy a copy out of the rack in front of the store.
In late May of 1990, sometime after the SEC spring meetings were held that year, Orville Henry began writing about the fact that Arkansas and the SEC might be interested in each other. The Hogs were coming off back-to-back SWC football championships under Ken Hatfield. They had lost a highly entertaining Cotton Bowl to Tennessee just a few short months earlier. Arkansas wasn’t a large state, but the Razorbacks had a pretty well-rounded athletic program that could be a credit to any conference.
While I’ve always been a Razorback fan, I also consider myself a college football fan. Even in years when the Hogs aren’t very good, I enjoy watching the rest of college football. When Orville wrote about the possibility of Arkansas joining the SEC, that got my attention and I think the attention of everyone else. The SEC obviously had some of the most tradition-rich schools in college football. If Arkansas joined the SEC, we wouldn’t be playing in front of half empty stadiums in the SWC (as was sometimes the case on the road). We would be playing other schools that had a passion for football just like we did.
I was frankly intrigued and excited about the idea. Over a period of a few days, Orville mentioned the idea again. As excited as I was about the possibility, I honestly figured that it would all just fade away and be forgotten.
But it didn’t go away. There were days that nothing might be said, but I don’t think a week went by that Orville didn’t stoke the fires of Arkansas and the SEC. For people who are too young to have read Clay’s dad, you might not realize how his writing was pretty much considered to be divinely-inspired among Hog fans. If Orville Henry said it, it was pretty much gospel. We knew he had great access to Frank Broyles. And as the summer went on, he continued to mention tidbits about the interest between Arkansas and the SEC. Over the course of two months, it never went away. I made sure I didn’t miss seeing a copy of the Democrat because I didn’t want to miss something Orville might say.
It all culminated on August 1, 1990, 30 years ago today, when SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer appeared at a press conference in Fayetteville and formally extended an invitation to Arkansas to join. The Razorbacks gladly accepted.
There have been and no doubt will be debates over whether joining the SEC was the best thing competitively for the Hogs, but 30 years ago today their trajectory changed forever.
(I realized just a few days ago that it was 30 years ago. My, how time flies.)