Tailgaters happy for game in Little Rock

By: Rachel Herzog
Published: Saturday, November 30, 2019
Arkansas kicks off to Missouri as fans cheer on the Hogs during the third quarter of the Razorbacks' 24-14 loss to Missouri on Friday, Nov. 29, 2019, at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
Photo by Thomas Metthe
Arkansas kicks off to Missouri as fans cheer on the Hogs during the third quarter of the Razorbacks' 24-14 loss to Missouri on Friday, Nov. 29, 2019, at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

LITTLE ROCK — Whether they were smoking meat, dancing in the grass or toting dressed-up pups Friday, Arkansas Razorback football fans tailgating at War Memorial Park shared a common conviction.

They didn’t love how the team’s season went, but they loved having the game in Little Rock.

Arkansas’ 24-14 loss to the Missouri Tigers at War Memorial Stadium marked the end of a dismal football season for the Razorbacks, who finished 2-10 overall for a second consecutive season and 0-8 in Southeastern Conference play this season.

Many of the fans tailgating Friday morning had a feeling things wouldn’t go well for the Razorbacks.

“They’re gonna get murdered,” 39-year-old Greg Allen said Friday morning while barbecuing chicken with his cousin under a tent in the grass near Fair Park Boulevard.

Even with the home team’s struggles this season, 33,961 tickets were sold for Friday’s game, according to University of Arkansas officials.

Tents, cooking apparatuses and cornhole boards covered the yellowed grass. Music blared from various speakers and could be heard blocks away in the Hillcrest neighborhood. Driveways within walking distance of the stadium become more coveted than waterfront property, with homeowners selling parking privileges for $20 a vehicle. Children played in bouncy houses, and people lined up for food truck fare and to meet Arkansas’ mascot, the large-snouted Tusk V.

According to a contract between the University of Arkansas and War Memorial Stadium, the Razorbacks are scheduled to play games against the University of Missouri at the stadium in odd-numbered years through 2023. The contract also calls for the Hogs to play their annual spring game in Little Rock in 2020, 2022 and 2024, pending approval of an SEC waiver. The agreement includes benchmarks for ticket sales and revenue for the games against Missouri.

Changes to the park itself are on the table, and things could look considerably different by the time Missouri returns in 2021. Golf is no longer being played on the rolling hills of what was once War Memorial Golf Course. The city closed the course — along with Hindman Golf Course, another city-owned course — over the summer because of budget cuts, and a task force appointed by Mayor Frank Scott Jr. is considering ways to repurpose the area.

Fans from central and south Arkansas said Friday the trip to Little Rock is more convenient than travelling to Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, and the War Memorial Stadium grounds provide a unique pregame experience.

“The atmosphere is way better than Fayetteville,” said Trisha Davis of White Hall.

Davis, 59, said she and her friends make several trips each season to games in Northwest Arkansas, and they always make the Little Rock games. She sat under a canopy near the intersection of Fair Park and Markham on Friday holding Minnie Pearl, a 13-year-old black-and-brown chihuahua with a lolling pink tongue who sported a red-and-white knit cap with ear holes and a matching jacket.

The group renews its reservation of the same spot at War Memorial Stadium each year the Hogs play in Little Rock. Davis said she was sad about how the Razorbacks’ season had gone, but her group had “too much money invested” in attending the games and remained hopeful the team would turn a corner.

Others also expressed hope the Razorbacks would pull off a victory against Missouri.

Luke Davis, 37, of Conway said he was disappointed with how the season had gone the season but he believes the Razorbacks have potential.

“I really think they have a good foundation though, the freshmen and sophomores, if we can get the right guy to come and lead them in the right way,” he said.

Davis said his three favorite days are the Fourth of July, opening day of deer season and the days when the Razorbacks play in Little Rock. That’s where he was a little after 11 a.m. Friday, munching peanuts and guarding the tailgate tent while the rest of the group went to see the team arrive at the stadium.

Davis said his nephew is Bumper Pool, a sophomore linebacker for the Hogs. That’s an added incentive to watch, Davis said, although he’s been a Razorbacks fan since he was a kid. His game-day uniform — red coveralls stitched with his first name and the Razorback logo — is 12 years old. Davis and 14 friends made them. Now, he said, he’s one of only three who still fit in them.

Derrek Nichols, who was huddled around a meat smoker with two friends and their children, said the group felt it was important to buy tickets to show support for a Little Rock game, out of concern the contract would be reviewed if the crowd didn’t meet the attendance benchmark.

“Everyone enjoys the Little Rock game,” said Nichols, who arrived at the stadium around 7:45 a.m. after driving from Rison, which is in Cleveland County and about an hour’s drive from Little Rock. “You can’t tailgate like this in Fayetteville. It’s precious to the fans down south.”

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