King: OH was a must-read

By: Harry King
Published: Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Columnist Orville Henry, left, and Arkansas Democrat publisher Walter Hussman are shown during a news conference Aug. 28, 1989, in Little Rock.
Photo by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette File
Columnist Orville Henry, left, and Arkansas Democrat publisher Walter Hussman are shown during a news conference Aug. 28, 1989, in Little Rock.

— Waiting for Bill Montgomery to initiate a conference call, preparation included a cursory review of the 30 or so Arkansas athletes who dominated the laptop screen.

Never did I imagine that an obvious choice was missing from the evolving list of candidates for the Southwest Conference Hall of Fame.

On the call, committee members reviewed the qualifications of Joe Ferguson, Ron Brewer, Jim Benton and a couple of others before Montgomery introduced former Arkansas Gazette sports editor Orville Henry into the conversation.

Thinking outside the box, Montgomery hit a home run. Henry never competed, but he is as deserving as any of the 13 Razorback athletes also inducted last month in Little Rock.

Honored to be on the selection committee since its inception, my reaction to Henry was an enthusiastic “absolutely.” Keenly aware of his decades-long role in Razorback athletics, committee members agreed there was no reason to debate the impeccable qualifications of the man.

Through his published words, Henry whet Arkansans’ appetite for all things Razorback. Too lengthy for today’s newspapers, his Monday rehash was a must-read prep for folks talking Razorback football around the water cooler, at the doughnut shop or anywhere else.

Although Henry is inexorably linked to former Arkansas head football coach/athletics director Frank Broyles, his promotion of the Razorbacks preceded Broyles’ arrival in Fayetteville by more than a dozen years.

When Henry was named sports editor in 1943 and his weekly salary was doubled to $32, sports was not a big deal at the Gazette. But, a short time later, newspaper owner J.N. Heiskell called Henry into his office and told him that a gentleman named Gordon Campbell suggested “in this time of growing sports interest, we should do more to support the Razorbacks,” Heiskell told Henry.

Agreed, Henry said, and soon Campbell arranged transportation to Fayetteville for the final game of the season for the journalist who didn’t have a car to make the trip.

A decade or so later, Razorback football was on Page One of the Sunday paper on the day after a game.

Like an athlete who hungers to get “bettah,” Henry took coaching.

Early on, editor Clyde Dew applied scissors and paste and a No. 3 pencil to a lengthy Henry column and approached the author.

Henry told Jim Bailey in an archived interview that Dew said, “What the bleep does this mean?” And I said, “It means this.”

“Why in the hell didn’t you say so in the first place?” Dew asked.

At that moment, Henry decided: “I’m never going to create a word or a slang or something. I am going to say exactly what it is. I will repeat it over and over.”

From then on, a baseball was a baseball, not a pellet or a bean or some other silly attempt at flowery writing.

His gift for using the just-right word was envied by those in the business.

In the Oct. 18, 1964 newspaper, he summed up Arkansas 14, Texas 13 in the first paragraph, next described Marvin Kristynik’s pass “behind the fleeing Hix Green as he crossed the goal-line, looking vainly over his shoulder” on a two-point conversion attempt and then wrote:

“Thus did the Razorbacks harvest bounteous balm and retribution for the last-minute 7-3 loss they suffered here two years ago with the same pot of gold at stake.”

Wow.

On an early December day in 1969, he nailed Texas 15, Arkansas 14.

“Arkansas clobbered the No. 1 collegiate football team in the nation for three quarters Saturday afternoon.

“Then, Texas’ James Street seized the bit.”

At one point in the interview with Bailey, Henry said he “stumbled into a style that was to state a fact, use an anecdote, state a fact, anecdote. And that way you could go on and on and write a long story and not bore people.”

That style, plus knowledge gleaned from keen observation, plus incontrovertible sources, were all part of the Monday review that came about because of Henry’s routine to return from staffing a game in Texas on the Texas Eagle that arrived in Little Rock at 3 p.m. on Sunday.

“… I would get into the dining car with my Olivetti typewriter and start writing it there,” Henry said. “I would have made notes practically — little notes of what I had seen or recalled that didn’t get into the story or projections — from the time I got back to the hotel, and I was still making them as I got on the train.”

Back in town, he would call Bowden Wyatt each Sunday “to clear up anything …” and Wyatt, following the advice of John Barnhill to cooperate with Henry, was always available.

Until then, Sunday was a day of rest for most sports editors.

When Broyles was hired in December 1957, Henry’s Sunday interviews with Arkansas’ head football coach were well established. Later, no day was off limits for a phone call between the men.

Henry, who learned football nuances early on from then-Little Rock Central coach Wilson Matthews, watched practice with a purpose, either isolating himself or relying on a coach he trusted to help him understand on-field happenings. In turn, such preparation resulted in well-founded questions that Broyles surely appreciated.

After Broyles began doing a one-hour TV show in Little Rock on Sundays, Henry would pick him up at a private hangar and drive him to the TV studio downtown. Sometimes, they ate at the nearby Franke’s.

On some Sundays, Henry’s son, Clay, was in the back seat when his dad picked up Broyles. Once, he heard Broyles tell his dad that Arkansas would beat Texas that particular year because the Razorbacks had gone to a two-platoon system and the Longhorns had not.

Questioned by his son about Broyles’ reasoning, Orville explained:

— Arkansas players got twice the amount of practice time.

— They would be fresher in the fourth quarter.

The year was 1964.

Trusting Henry, Texas coach Darrell Royal, SMU coach Hayden Fry, and others in the SWC called him at home. “They generally knew my mother’s name or something else about my family, and clearly considered my father their friend,” said Clay, who answered the phone on occasion.

Those who grew up on social media might doubt the existence of such coach/media relationships, but here’s another example:

After former Austin American-Statesman sports editor Lou Maysel died, Royal said: “I remember in tough situations, I used to be able to tell Lou the whole story and give my side of it, and then say, ‘Lou, now I’m on the record.’ He never violated that.”

I suspect Henry and Broyles had a similar relationship.

At a shindig in Little Rock, Broyles told me one reason he confided in Henry was that Henry convinced him the Gazette could reach every one of the state’s 75 counties.

Henry made good on that promise, delivering the Razorback message with unmatched enthusiasm and insight.

This article originally appeared in Hawgs Illustrated

Discussion

Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.