Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a voter for the Heisman Trophy, has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame, and has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Razorbacks still have something to play for Friday
Arkansas interim head coach Barry Lunney Jr. looks on, Saturday, November 23, 2019 during the third quarter of a football game at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. Visit nwadg.com/photos to see more photographs from the game.
FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks must hope Friday’s game at War Memorial Stadium doesn’t trigger a next phase of the Great Stadium Debate.
As the Hogs wallow 0-18 in the SEC since their last three 2017 league games, Little Rock may demand they play all their football home games in Fayetteville while Fayetteville may demand the Razorbacks play all their football in Little Rock.
Gallows humor hyperbole, that. For nothing unites the State of Arkansas like the Razorbacks. They unite Arkansas especially when they win. But though putting increasingly less fans in the stands at Reynolds Razorback Stadium on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville as this 2-9, 0-7 in the SEC season wanes and challenged to draw at War Memorial with a rainy Friday forecast for Little Rock closing the campaign against the 5-6, 2-5 in the SEC Missouri Tigers, the state still unites in spirit wishing better for their Hogs.
It would boost all spirits, says Barry Lunney Jr., the interim coach replacing Nov. 10 fired coach Chad Morris who started 2018 replacing fired coach Bret Bielema, if fans do brave the rain and ignore the records and turn out for Friday’s finale.
Not that Bielema and Morris, for whom Lunney toiled as tight ends coach, didn’t care about Arkansas. But as outsiders still identified by their origins, they couldn’t care like Lunney cares.
The former Fort Smith Southside quarterback dreamed of being the Razorbacks’ quarterback, a dream he fulfilled from 1992-95.
He knows what even struggling Razorbacks teams mean to the State of Arkansas that Arkansas’ effort was appreciated even overwhelmed, 56-20 last Saturday by the vastly more talented nationally No. 1 LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge, La.
Though with no guarantee he’ll be included on Arkansas’ next staff, Lunney always will care about Arkansas’ future. He knows from experience that future starts Friday.
As a true freshman on a struggling 3-7-1 Razorbacks team with head coach Jack Crowe fired after the season opener, Lunney most famously debut started quarterbacking a 25-24 upset over nationally No. 4 and previously undefeated Tennessee in Knoxville.
Less famous but more applicable to Friday, after three losses and a tie post Tennessee, Lunney and the Razorbacks closed the season rallying for interim coach Joe Kines’ last game to rout LSU, 30-6.
Ending 1992 victorious started Arkansas’ 5-5-1 1993 improvement.
Though not then on Arkansas’ staff, Lunney as a Razorback certainly knows Bobby Petrino’s 2008 Razorbacks closing a 5-7 season with the second Miracle on Markham 31-30 thriller over LSU began the 8-5 2009 Liberty Bowl champion Razorbacks resurgence.
For Arkansas’ suffering seniors, Friday marks the last chance leaving a fresh start legacy for the teammates they leave behind minus 19 consecutive SEC sorrows.
“We’ve lost 18 straight SEC games,” Lunney said. “We’ve got a chance the last game of this tough season to break that streak. To me that sounds like a whole lot to play for.”
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