Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
'Whole damn thing': Call reinforces expectation that has been in place a long time
Arkansas NCAA college baseball coach Dave Van Horn, right, follows team practice at TD Ameritrade Park, as Casey Martin throws in Omaha, Neb., Friday, June 14, 2019. Arkansas opens College World Series play Saturday night against Florida State, which will be trying to win retiring coach and NCAA all-time wins leader Mike Martin's first national championship in his 17 visits to Omaha. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
OMAHA, Neb. Sitting at Village Inn while eating breakfast with his father on Monday, Arkansas radio man Phil Elson wrote down some thoughts about what he would say if the Razorbacks won Game 3 of their super regional against Ole Miss that afternoon.
Elson scripted 54 words in all, mostly thoughts on Arkansas fans coming to Omaha en masse again.
But there were three words that stuck with Elson's listeners most: whole damn thing.
More accurately, Elson told his audience, "This time we're coming for the whole damn thing."
Elson's call has become somewhat of a rallying cry as Arkansas returns to TD Ameritrade Park 50 weeks after its most gut-wrenching defeat on the same field. It has become a hashtag on Twitter and has even been made into a T-shirt.
"I didn't realize it would catch fire and almost become a theme to the trip to Omaha for a lot of people," Elson said. "I'm glad it has, but now I almost feel like I've put the team on the spot.
"They do have what it takes to win the whole damn thing, but I feel like I've put them on the spot to where now it's almost like they're expected to."
In reality, coming back and winning a championship in Omaha has been on the minds of the Razorbacks since before the last time they left.
Following Arkansas' 5-0 loss to Oregon State in last year's national championship game, coach Dave Van Horn predicted his team would return and win a championship at some point in the future.
"Whenever you play for a national championship … you only have one more step, and that’s to win it, and I think that we will one day,” Van Horn said. “I think we’ll be back soon. That’s our goal and that’s what we’re trying to do every day we walk in the door, the ballpark, working to get back here to play for a championship.”
As Van Horn delivered that message in the postgame press conference room, Arkansas players and assistant coaches were hugging in an emotional locker room not far away. For those who were due back at Arkansas in 2019, the message was consistent: Let's get back here next year.
"I remember all the sad faces in the locker room. The coaches were crying, and we were all crying," Arkansas pitcher Isaiah Campbell said. "I kind of knew at that point that I was coming back to school, so I remember that like it was yesterday. Like I've been saying all year, we've been using that as fire to get back to Omaha, and now we're back."
As Van Horn was leaving TD Ameritrade Park for the final time in 2018, he shook the hands of a couple of older men who had served as the Razorbacks' host all week. The men congratulated Van Horn on a great season and told him how happy they had been to become acquainted with him and his program.
Confidently, Van Horn told the men, “We’ll see you again," then walked out the stadium with his family toward the team bus.
Reminded of that series of events this week, Van Horn said his confidence is rooted in the standards he has set for his program.
"I'm confident that we can get the right players in here and they'll develop and they want to get back and compete for a championship," Van Horn said. "That's what we talk about when we're recruiting kids, and even throw out, 'Hey, if that's not what you're looking for then this probably wouldn't be the spot for you' in a lot of cases.
"I didn't know we'd get back this year, but I feel like every time we go we're going to compete to win one and one day we'll get it."
That's a confidence that extends all the way from the field to the radio booth. Elson said he likes Arkansas' chances this week, especially in its four-team bracket that includes Texas Tech, Florida State and Michigan.
Arkansas is the second-highest-seeded team in this year's College World Series field, behind Vanderbilt.
"If there's pressure on them, I don't think they feel it," Elson said. "They're loose.
"They want to be here and they want to produce and they want to play well, and they want to win the whole damn thing."
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