BRUMMETT ONLINE: They didn’t let me down

By: John Brummett
Published: Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Frank Broyles coached Arkansas to a national championship in 1964.
Photo by Northwest Arkansas Times
Frank Broyles coached Arkansas to a national championship in 1964.

I grew up through the 1950s and 1960s in a poor working-class Arkansas family. I was a weird enough youngster to concern myself with my state’s declining population, unique among the states in the post-war boom.

I knew those things from lying in the floor and devouring a 1960 world atlas, which was about all I had to read.

Weird, as I said, then and now.

I also was aware of my state’s bad reputation, owing to a backroads economy and backwoods image that got exacerbated by the ugly racist spectacle from Little Rock Central High in 1957.

Thus, I was inflicted with a double-layered inferiority complex, one based both on my family’s situation within the state and the reputation of that state outside its borders.

When you’re young, you want to believe — or choose to believe, or perhaps truly believe — that a bad image of the sort I describe is wrong and unjust.

You look for champions to demonstrate what you think you know—that your state is better than others think, and is as good as any state, better ’n most.

I found such champions. The biggest during my formative years, the two most effective assailants of that inferiority complex, died in the last few days.

The passing of Frank Broyles and Glen Campbell signals, perhaps, the end of an Arkansas era of fighting an inferiority complex and the beginning of one in which the state will be less hung up. I guess that’s good.

I was 10 in October 1964 when, while visiting kinfolks in Howard County, I listened desperately through the static of a countertop radio to what little I could hear of the broadcast of the Arkansas-Texas football game from Austin. It seemed to me — as I reported with hope and excitement to my folks — that the Razorbacks had just won, 14-13, because Texas had failed on a two-point conversion at the end of the game.

But I couldn’t be sure, which meant I wouldn’t get much sleep that night.

The next morning, an uncle ventured out for an Arkansas Gazette, and there it was—14-13, Arkansas over Texas and into first place in the Southwest Conference.

In January 1965, radio station KAAY in Little Rock, the mighty 1090, with its 50,000 watts of power, broke into top-40 pop programming with a special news bulletin. I received the report through the transistor radio I’d been given for Christmas and that I held to my ear. (I couldn’t play the songs as loudly as I wanted because my dad couldn’t stand that racket, don’t you see?)

The news bulletin was that the Football Writers Association of America had just voted the Razorbacks national champions, based on their having finished that season 11-0 with a 10-7 victory over Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl.

It was only football, and football was only everything. We weren’t the worst, but the best, better than Texas, even.

Frank Broyles had done that. He was special, hiring the best assistants, recruiting the best players, making the right calls, explaining it all to Orville Henry in the paper and to Bud Campbell on Sunday afternoons on Channel 4 and later Channel 7.

Then, in 1968, when I was 14, I managed over my parents’ objections to come home from church every Sunday night and tune into the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, where the jokes could be a little controversial.

But, for that summer, the Smothers brothers were turning over the hour to a musical savant from Arkansas — from, in fact, a sharecropping family from Pike County, not far at all from the sharecropping sites of my own folks in Howard County.

Campbell got a permanent show out of it, the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. I rooted hard for him every Sunday night — as hard as if he were a wingback for the Hogs taking a pitch around end against Texas, which, to me, metaphorically, he kind of was.

I loved it, and took comfort, when he played and sang “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” because these were great songs, the biggest hits of the day, and Glen was flawless as a musical performer.

I winced when he performed in a sketch, for which he was unnatural. I winced when he introduced guests in that tenor voice so beautiful in song but so easily caricatured when applied excitedly outside of song. Those were Razorback fumbles, or at least Longhorn first downs.

And when Glen tried to act on the silver screen in True Grit, a novel written by an Arkansan named Charles Portis in whom I should have taken pride and would have with more sophistication … well, that was Texas 42, Arkansas 7, and time to turn away from the carnage and wait for next year.

Through it all, an impressionable young Arkansas kid was wrapping his sense of self in a football coach and a musical celebrity, and — occasional setbacks aside — they weren’t letting him down.

Meantime, Arkansas politics came during that same time to be dominated by men also trying to advance a better image for the state — Winthrop Rockefeller and Dale Bumpers, mainly, giving rise to David Pryor and Bill Clinton. They gave us an era of progressivism, racial moderation and economic modernization.

Campbell is gone now. Broyles, too. And the political era is passed. We’re into a new era, one I can’t describe, either by ethos or politics.

But some weird and bright-eyed kid out there riding on the cusp of it probably could. Maybe he’ll write about it in a half-century or so.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.


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