There are a few Saturdays in the Fall when Fayetteville, and the University of Arkansas are, well, different. It has often been said that football in the South is not a game, but a way of life. Maybe that’s a stretch, but it’s hard to argue against on those select Saturdays when the Hogs have a home stand.
Unless you’re somebody special, you probably have to park a mile or so away from the stadium. You can barely see it from there, the very peak of it rising up over the what is magnanimously called a skyline. The great constructs that comprise the university campus, Baum Stadium, Bud Walton Arena, all precursors in the long walk to Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
And the people. Innumerable amounts of people, a veritable sea of red crashing through the streets of Fayetteville, invading the campus like some great army. The conversations are all the same, a fevered pitch of anticipation that only increases the closer you get to the stadium.
The perpetual sizzle of the grills is inescapable to the ear, and the sounds of tailgating, too complicated, too chaotic to discern echo endlessly through the streets. Televisions playing games, fans roaring, songs blasting through speakers, and somewhere lost in the background, the gentle laughter of children. Games are set up, themed of course. Footballs whiz through the air. It’s a father and son, or maybe a pair of brothers, or maybe just a few friends, but they’re everywhere.
Somehow there is a kinship, unspoken but palpable, that permeates through the atmosphere. And then in the stadium, one becomes all, and all becomes one. The sea is situated, restless and ready. The band gushes from the tunnel, and fight songs blare through the stadium, echoed back and forth and shouted along with by the sea. Their performance on the field, expected yet always welcomed charges the sea even more. Then, through the great “A” runs the Razorbacks. They take the field, music filling the stadium, drowned out by even more thunderous applause.
The coin is tossed. The players aligned. Leather hits leather as the ball is launched into the air. The sea rages. Football season is here.