Clay Henry's Top 10 Keys: Grace and suffering

By: Clay Henry
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2018
Rick Schaeffer is shown calling a baseball game between Arkansas and Miami (Ohio) on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Rick Schaeffer is shown calling a baseball game between Arkansas and Miami (Ohio) on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017, in Fayetteville.

Stick with me for a bit, but the keys to victory today will center on grace of suffering.

Yes, I know the Arkansas football team is on a six-game losing streak. That might mean that many Arkansas fans are suffering, but that’s not where I am going today. How you choose to loop this commentary into football is up to you. That’s not the goal.

First, understand that both Rick Schaeffer and myself had to miss Arkansas football games this month. It was the first time that Schaeffer had ever missed a Razorback game because of health issues; the second for me in 46 years of covering college football.

I stayed home for the Alabama game two weeks ago after undergoing surgery to remove an infected mass in my back. Surgeon Jay Mullis decided to put me under to take out an area the size and shape of an egg, leaving a hole in my back. The healing will start at the base of the wound, then close over the course of one or two months.

Mullis did a great job and the healing is going well. But it’s not a normal process, or at least normal to what I’ve known. There are no stitches.

My wound has to be packed and unpacked three times per day. It’s great fun for my wife. I’m only partly joking. I think she loves to inflict a little pain for all of the times I’ve left her to follow the Razorbacks.

I really am joking and there has been humor in the process. First, no one has a better spouse. Our 40th anniversary arrives at the end of December and we are just as much in love as the day we met 42 years ago. This has in no way tested that. We’ve laughed and encouraged each other, even when it’s been painful or included an order that I didn’t want to hear.

For example, Jean Ann decided it best that I cover the Alabama game from my living room. I’ve known of other writers who covered games from home and it’s not so bad. There are things you miss from not being there, but it’s a great view. I understand when fans say they’d rather stay home than fight the crowds.

The crowds were the reason I stayed home. I couldn’t risk bumping into someone in the tight quarters of the press box. A bump meant sure pain.

I was excited to be back in the press box last weekend in Little Rock. That excitement quickly faded when I realized that Schaeffer, a colleague the last 38 years, had been rushed from the radio booth to UAMS with a heart attack.

Sometime after halftime it was learned that Rick was fine, after a stent was inserted to relieve an artery that was 100 percent blocked.

Rick is still weak, but beginning to pick out parts of his three jobs that can be attempted. Fans know him best for his work on DriveTime Sports, a Little Rock-based radio show. He also does the pre-game show before the Arkansas football game. By day, Rick serves as the information director for Springdale Public Schools.

From 1976-2000 he was the sports information director for the Razorbacks. He previously has been a color analyst for Arkansas’ football, basketball and baseball broadcasts with Paul Eells, Mike Nail, Chuck Barrett and Phil Elson.

Discussing the past week, Rick provided some clarity on how he made it through Saturday. He said Lee Francis, the broadcast’s engineer, saved his life.

“I’ve probably had a few near misses in my life,” Schaeffer said. “I nearly got hit by a train. And, there was another car accident in which I ended up off the road in a ditch.

“This time was a lot different because I had time to think about it all.”

Schaeffer had his heart attack alone in his car in the parking lot outside War Memorial Stadium. The 16th green was almost a memorial spot.

“I sat in my car for 35 minutes before I went to the press box, and that was stupid,” he said. “My chest hurt. I couldn’t breathe. So for the first time in my 67 years I was thinking about Heaven. I’ve always heard it changes the way you look at life and I was having that feeling.”

Schaeffer slowly worked his way to the radio booth in the press box, then slumped into a corner. Immediately, Francis asked if he was OK and soon had medical help in the press box.

“I told him no,” Schaeffer said. “He acted so quickly. From that moment until I was in the hospital at UAMS was only 15 minutes. He did save my life.”

Schaeffer pushed football aside for a few hours Saturday night. He was oblivious of what was happening a couple of blocks away as doctors were inserting his stent.

But there came a time after being moved to a private room that it hit him that the game might still be in progress. He had to follow along, but it was nearly impossible. UAMS does not have SEC Network and there was no radio.

"I had my phone and could watch online, but it was nearly dead and I had no way to charge it," he said. "I needed to be able to communicate with my wife as she drove from Fayetteville. I did not want to drain the battery. I finally put the broadcast on my phone for the final few minutes."

That was exactly the time in which Ole Miss mounted a comeback victory.

The purpose to this is to point to Schaeffer as a man who knows how to touch all of us in a special way. He did it again this week as he thanked and encouraged others during his time of suffering. He’s always been a man of encouragement, with faith shining through at all times.

It hit me head on because I’ve been dealing with my rehab issues, but in a different way. I’ve moaned and complained about pain instead of handling the suffering in a classy way. Of course, that’s not what Rick would do. His immediate reaction Saturday night was not to release information on his heart attack. His explanation is solid.

“I really didn’t know what it was at first,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if it was a stroke or a heart attack and all my family still hadn’t been told.”

Schaeffer explained all of this during his only time on Drivetime this week, the Wednesday night edition. If you missed it, there will probably be another chance to hear it in the pre-game radio Saturday. Surely, what Rick told me Thursday is part of it.

“I just want to thank all of the people who have reached out to myself and my wife in the last week,” Schaeffer said. “I didn’t know so many people cared. It has been absolutely amazing.

“I do know that one of the greatest gifts you can have is the people who know you. It’s obvious to me today that there are a lot who know and love me.

“What I want to emphasize is that it’s a comfort to know Jesus when you are going through something like this.”

That hit me, too. Of course, I’ve always known that’s the case, but poor health is when those thoughts carry more weight.

I’ve been public about my health issue on our forums at WholeHogSports.com. It’s my extended family, so I thought they should know why I’ve disappeared a little the last three weeks. The infection hit before the Texas A&M game, along with it lots of pain. It wasn’t until the day before the Alabama game that Dr. Mullis extracted the mass.

There is a side story there. On the way into the operating room just before they put me out, I could hear loud music playing. I asked if I could control the songs. Dr. Mullis asked what I wanted. How about “Amarillo by Morning” by George Strait? Boom, there was my favorite cowboy song, followed by several more Strait hits.

So that led me to write David Cottrell, a UA grad from Texarkana who lives next to Strait in Boerne, Texas. Cottrell is a best-selling motivational author. He coaches CEOs all across the country. Among his top books is “Monday Morning Leadership.”

David is good about sending notes at key times, mostly as encouragement. After reading about my condition, David asked if he could send one of his latest books, his personal story, “Grace Upon Grace.” He wanted me to read the chapters on suffering.

There is a key point near the end of the book that details how he lost his wife to cancer, all the while dealing with quadruple bypass surgery. As is every chapter in the book, it centers around grace.

“The Grace of Suffering” chapter is incredible. Cottrell’s insight hit me hard. I would never have bought into that concept without reading the entire book. But he’s right, you can find grace in “our most vulnerable and challenging moments.”

It’s what gives us hope in tough times. And, without hope, there is nothing. David writes, “When I have hope, I can move forward. Without hope, there is no reason to keep moving.”

Cottrell trudged forward in his most trying time, producing his top seller in two days. His struggling business soared. There is no way for him to explain it other than to call it a blessing from Jesus.

Cottrell and I will meet the Friday before the LSU game to talk about all of this, or just to have lunch at our favorite chicken house. There is some hope there, that the “over the coals” will be as good as always. There is more hope, the Hogs will still be finding ways to improve.

That’s what has happened the last two weeks in many ways. I have hope that Rick and I will be in the press box to discuss some of the inner workings of our grace this weekend.

Forgive me if we don’t dive into the other keys so heavily. Rick honored me Thursday by telling me that he looks forward to “my keys” on Saturday morning. He’ll have to wade through this first.


Adversity

Football mirrors life in many instances. How many times have you heard coaches say that the lessons learned in football serve players well later in life?

The Razorbacks and Golden Hurricane both have had their share of suffering this season, enough to carry them the rest of their lives. I’m only kidding a little bit.

Tulsa enters at 1-5, but has shown promise in several close calls. Texas and South Florida dodged upset bids against TU.

Tulsa’s first three games are of particular interest. The Hurricane beat Central Arkansas 38-27 to open the season. It pushed Texas before losing 28-21 in its second game, then lost at home to Arkansas State, 29-20.

Tulsa Quarterback Play

Inconsistency at quarterback has plagued both teams. Tulsa lost its starter to injury and has gone with Seth Boomer of late. Boomer’s numbers are underwhelming. He’s completed just 19 of 52 passes.

The old defensive adage applies here: Blitz the quarterbacks who struggle in the passing game. The Hogs will probably try to get after Boomer.

Ty Storey’s Health

Injuries at QB can put a team into shambles. Ty Storey couldn’t finish the Ole Miss game after taking a series of hits in the open field. Whether or not he will play this week was not clear.

Then, the question becomes: Who is next? Some suggest that it will be time to see what freshman Connor Noland can do with a start. Or, perhaps that the experience of Cole Kelley is most important. It might be that both play.

Rakeem Boyd’s Health

It’s clear that Boyd is the best back on the team. He’s rushed for a team-high 403 yards. He suffered a bruised tailbone against Ole Miss, but is expected to play this week.

The Hogs won’t have Devwah Whaley, out with ankle surgery. They may get back T. J. Hammonds back, who was out with an ankle injury last week.

Storey and Boyd are the best playmakers on the team. Arkansas is a favorite, but only because most think those two are going to play. The odds started at Arkansas minus-3, then quickly went to 7. If Storey and Boyd can’t play, that may be way too many points to cover.

History

The Hogs lead the series, 54-15-3, but the Hurricane have won only three times since 1959. I vividly recall the 1971 game when Arkansas led 20-0 after three quarters, but Tulsa won 21-20. It’s a mirror of many of the blown-lead games that have haunted the Hogs of late.

What I can tell you about the history of the series is that Tulsa has always brought its best effort. There is a great dislike for the trip to Fayetteville. Tulsa fans (and players) spend much time blasting the Hogs for not returning the game. It’s a given that the Hurricane will play hard in this game, no matter how much adversity the team has faced this season. That’s a historical given.

Tackling

How this Arkansas defense tackles is probably one of the keys to the game. It’s been a roller coaster of bad tackling in the UA secondary for several years. Safety Santos Ramirez followed one of his best games, Texas A&M, with two poor performances against Alabama and Ole Miss.

It’s hard for a defense to play well with a free safety who does not play at a peak. Can Ramirez find that Texas A&M mindset for the Golden Hurricane?

Youth

Given the poor play of Ramirez, perhaps this is the week where some younger players get some playing time, both in the secondary and at linebacker.

Defensive coordinator John Chavis admitted Monday – before any questions were asked about it – that he’s probably played linebackers De’Jon Harris and Dre Greenlaw too many snaps. Expect to see Bumper Pool, Grant Morgan and Dee Walker for more snaps at linebacker.

In the secondary, perhaps there will be more time given to safety Joseph Foucha and cornerback Montaric Brown. In the defensive line, perhaps Isaiah Nichols and Dorian Gerald get a few more plays.

Stopping the Run

Tulsa has been able to run the ball against most everybody, including Texas and South Florida. That’s been the case despite spotty play by the quarterbacks. It’s a given that defenses have played the run.

Tulsa averages 209 yards per game on the ground; the Arkansas defense allows just 147. No doubt, Chavis will load the box to try to slow the running game. That leaves a secondary open to big plays when a runner pops.

This puts the pressure on the safeties to tackle well. That references Ramirez again. He’s a senior captain, but can he play like one of the team’s best players, not just the best leader?

Turnovers

Both teams are near the bottom in national stats in turnover margin, with Tulsa slightly lower than Arkansas. When teams struggle with turnovers, it’s generally because of lackluster play in the offensive line. It means pass protection is lacking and there are too many balls thrown under pressure.

So, with an eye toward the turnovers, this one will probably come down to the team that wins the battle up front. You’d normally think that would be the SEC team, especially this late in the season.

The Lead

Neither team has played well with a lead. Obviously, they both blew leads last week in tough losses.

So no matter who gets the lead this week, expect that the other team still has hope of a comeback. How could they not have hope with the way the other team has played? And, how could either have much confidence since they’ve combined to win two games, both against teams of lower classification.

But as we discussed in the lead of this commentary, all you need is hope and some encouragement. If either team provides that glimmer of hope, watch out for a comeback. No lead should be safe.

I know that’s among the things I’ll visit with Rick Schaeffer about in the press box - hope and encouragement. It will be fun to talk about that, instead of comparing notes about surgery rooms.

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