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Tradition-laden A&M game crucial to future

By: Wally Hall
Published: Thursday, September 21, 2017
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema is shown on the large video screen as teams warm up before an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema is shown on the large video screen as teams warm up before an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)

Everyone knows this is a huge game for Arkansas and Texas A&M.

University of Arkansas, Fayetteville Coach Bret Bielema and Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin are being criticized, or at least questioned, on a fairly regular basis.

The Razorbacks have been outscored 70-0 in the second halves of their past three games against FBS opponents, and one of those was against Missouri.

Sumlin's Aggies started last season 6-0 but lost five of their next seven. The season before, they started 5-0 but then lost five of their final eight. Then there's the 34-point meltdown to open this season against UCLA.

Both coaches have big buyouts: Texas A&M has the money to pay Sumlin $11 million; Arkansas can't afford -- and probably wouldn't want to if it could -- to shell out $15 million to make Bielema go away.

Yet, that's not all this game is about. Not even close.

The Razorbacks and Aggies have a long, rich history steeped in tradition.

This will be the 74th meeting dating back to 1903, and in 1915 both became charter members of the old Southwest Conference. Arkansas left the SWC and began playing in the SEC in 1992, and A&M left the Big 12 for the SEC in 2012, although the two had resumed playing in 2009 in what is known as the Southwest Classic.

A lot of younger Razorback fans may not truly understand the historical significance of the old Southwest Conference, which consisted of eight Texas teams and Arkansas.

Texas was the Alabama of the league, dominating conference championships as a national power, but right behind the Longhorns were the Razorbacks, who had a winning record against every SWC member but Texas. Compare that with the SEC, and the Hogs have an overall winning record against five of the 13, and one of those is the Aggies. The others are Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

Before it was torn down along with the Broyles Complex, there was a small but glorious museum celebrating some of the great teams -- such as the 1964 national champions and the 1976 team that beat Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, and that's just two.

Some of the great players were pictured and many -- such as Billy Ray Smith Jr., Chuck Dicus and Bruce James, to name a few -- came from out of the state to be Razorbacks.

Arkansas has had 51 players named All-American, and 33 of those were before the Razorbacks joined the SEC.

The Hogs won 13 Southwest Conference championships.

Those years in the SWC were the foundation for Arkansas football, and that's why so many will swallow the expense and make the trip to Arlington this weekend. They cherish the memories of decades gone by.

Arkansas also has had 15 former players and coaches inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, and only former coach Hugo Bezdek (1908-1912) was not in the SWC.

Although the Broyles Complex is being rebuilt, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame -- which can be reserved for small parties -- houses some Hogs' memorabilia and history. Many dinner guests have said they came away feeling a stronger connection to the Razorbacks and the men who labored to make Arkansas the best program they could.

Hopefully the new Broyles Complex will have an even bigger museum to celebrate the past.

So yes, two coaches will be going at it this Saturday on a neutral site at AT&T Stadium to relieve a little heat off their seat.

But even more so, two schools that have loved, laughed and fought like wild animals on the field will be sharing another moment.

Sports on 09/21/2017

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