State of the Hogs: Picture book a must-have for Arkansas fans

By: Clay Henry
Published: Friday, December 7, 2018
Arkansas coach John Barnhill and player Buddy Sutton watch from the sidelines during an undated game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock in 1949. The photo is the cover of the new collector's book "Footsteps Have Trod: 125 Seasons of Arkansas Football."
Photo by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette File
Arkansas coach John Barnhill and player Buddy Sutton watch from the sidelines during an undated game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock in 1949. The photo is the cover of the new collector's book "Footsteps Have Trod: 125 Seasons of Arkansas Football."

The byline is a powerful part of the newspaper business. I was told at an early age there were two things that generally drive someone to go into that business.

Obviously, one of the first is for pay. But my father, Orville Henry, told me that more wanted to become journalists to see their name in print than to be paid for what they write.

For that reason, it struck me as odd as I turned the pages of the newest, great collector's piece of Arkansas Razorback journalism, Footsteps Have Trod: 125 Seasons of Arkansas Football.

There is no byline. Matt Jones, the author, did a fine job of thanking almost two-dozen people for help in publishing the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette project, on sale now for $39.95 at 125seasons.pictorialbook.com. He didn't sign it.

There is even a thank you to his infant son, Jack, not yet conceived when the project was pitched by Matt to his bosses.

That leads me to my only suggestion for Matt when the second edition of this glorious picture book is printed, probably a sure thing because it's going to sell out: Sign the thank you page.

There are a bunch of side notes that need to be understood in the making of this book. First, Matt did it while completing his daily duties as online director for WholeHogSports.com and Hawgs Illustrated. In fact, the first deadline would come just days after the College World Series. Matt was working on the book during his off hours in Omaha while covering the Razorbacks in their 15-day stay in Omaha.

“I had a lot of fun at the College World Series, but I was stressed out because the content for the book was due the first week of July and my focus had been on the baseball team's run for weeks with the regionals and super regionals being in Fayetteville,” he said.

“I actually had to get a two-week extension for the content deadline. We drove back from Omaha the afternoon after Game 3 and I was up early the next morning working on the book. I worked about 12-18 hours each day on it for 17 consecutive days to make my deadline. I think I was more nervous about finishing the book on time than I was turning in my thesis on time in grad school. It felt similar.”

So while the rest of us were taking vacations last summer, Matt was diving deeper into his project – and changing diapers with his wife, Ashley.

I took Matt to lunch Thursday to offer a congratulatory handshake for a job well done. He handed me his first copy of the book so I could write a review.

Quickly, his favorite anecdotes came bubbling forth. One of the best concerns how an unidentified player on the cover with John Barnhill became ID'd.

“A lot of the older photos had little information,” Jones said. “I enlisted the help of a lot of people to help identify some players.

“Harold Horton was a great help. Even then there were some players that I couldn't identify. The cover is a picture of John Barnhill and a player I couldn't identify.

“After the promotional ads started running after we went to print, I got a call from a man who said he believed the player was his father, Buddy Sutton, a freshman in 1949 when the photo was taken. What I thought was a black eye turned out to be an identifiable birthmark.”

I've seen many of the photos. My job in high school was to file photos in the sports library at the Arkansas Gazette for my father. That was 50 years ago. I was aware of the volume that Matt had to work through to achieve the goals of this book, to publish many of the photos seldom seen through the years. Perhaps they'd been published in the newspaper once or twice, then filed away.

Matt told me what I already knew, that old Gazette photographers Gene Prescott, Pat Patterson and Larry Obsetnik, and Charles Bickford of the Springdale Morning News, were phenomenal. Of course, I knew all four personally. Prescott, Patterson and Obsetnik were like uncles to me and my brothers. We'd be with them in the back seat of the station wagon (or on chartered planes to Texas) for Razorback games.

These were the days when photographers did not have an auto-focus lens. They were shooting with negative film. Not only did they have to be good shooters, they had to be top notch in the dark room, too. These men were all of that.

I was glad to see some of my father's favorite photo techniques highlighted in the book. He always had one photographer in the press box to get the overhead wide shots for sequence panels of the big plays. That isn't done today, replaced by actual video on websites.

The shot from the press box of the Teddy Barnes catch in the back of the end zone in the 1975 victory over Texas A&M is a classic. There is a Barnes photo in the book The Razorbacks: The History of Arkansas Football that is identified on the back by my father as “The Immortal Teddy Barnes.”

There had to be great fun during the research. I have read the backs of these pictures and studied the notes written by my father and others. They are wonderful.

“It was fascinating to read some of the notes written onto the backs of the prints that were scanned for the book,” Matt said. “I imagine many were written by Orville or Jim Bailey, information about the people in the photo or directions on how to use it in the newspaper.”

There was an apology from Matt about what didn't make the book, just so many great photos that had to be cut.

That's what makes a good journalist, those decisions about how to craft a sentence, what quotes to use and what not to use. The best give you only the best and make great decisions on what not to waste time showing the reader. Matt handled that part of the job great.

“There are so many great players and games and stories about the Razorbacks that it is hard to fit it all into 160 pages,” Jones said. “In some ways the book feels inadequate. It certainly is not as comprehensive as the book by Orville Henry and Jim Bailey, but I think it is a suitable companion piece by offering images of many of the men and moments they wrote about.”

Indeed, it's that. It's a must have for the coffee table this winter, the perfect Christmas present for your Razorback fan.

There are celebratory shots that will give you chill bumps, like seeing the goal posts carried on Dickson Street after the 1999 victory over Tennessee. Then there is the streaker that startled everyone during the 2002 Ole Miss game.

I'll let Matt explain that one to Jack in a few years. The good news is that the book will be relevant whenever Jack is ready to understand the history of Arkansas football. His dad will do a fine job as they turn the pages.

Well, Matt already did, except he forgot to sign it.

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