Things are tense these days in the Wallace household.
College mementos that used to represent a friendly, virtually untested rivalry — my University of Arkansas diploma hanging next to Sean’s Kansas State University one, a red Razorback pillow adjacent to a purple Wildcat cushion, Arkansas basketball tickets held to the refrigerator with a Powercat magnet — are now reminders that an innocent little competition is about to turn serious.
Here’s the deal. I’m a diehard Arkansas Razorback, and Sean (my husband) is an equally committed K-State Wildcat. We thought a matchup of our alma maters might never happen, but the No. 6 Razorbacks and No. 8 Wildcats have been pitted against each other in Friday’s Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas. This will be only the fifth time in history — and the first time since 1967 — that the schools have ever met on the football field.
Not surprisingly. Kansas and Arkansas aren’t far away on the map, but they haven’t had much reason to interact in the football world, with Arkansas in the Southeastern Conference and K-State in the Big 12. And while I know (thanks to Sean) all about K-Staters’ “Wabash Cannonball,” Willie’s push-ups and the school mascot’s transition from the Aggie to the Wildcat, it’s probably safe to say that most other Arkansas fans don’t. Likewise, many Wildcats don’t have much reason to be familiar with the traditions of the UA.
So for those of you who aren’t married to a loyal Arkansas fan like Sean is (lucky him!), here are two best-of-the-best Arkansas traditions that you’ll be in store for at this year’s Cotton Bowl:
The SEC has some well-known mascots — LSU’s Mike the Tiger, Georgia’s Uga the Bulldog — but Arkansas likes to think of itself as having one of the most unique, fierce and exciting of them all: the Razorback.
“You get the occasional comment — ‘Oooh, bacon’ or ‘Oooh, barbecue’ — but when you really start pressing (the opposing team’s fans) and they start really talking to you, they’ll admit to you, ‘That’s pretty cool,’ ” said Keith Stokes, who with his family has cared for the university’s live mascot for the past several years. “Even Alabama, with their great tradition, with their 13 national championships, one thing they are jealous of is our mascot.”
It wasn’t always that way. The original UA mascot was the Cardinal, until in 1909 Arkansas football coach Hugo Bezdek stood at the train station in downtown Fayetteville, Ark., and proclaimed that his team had just fought “like a wild band of razorback hogs” against Louisiana State University (now a major rival of the university). UA students wanted the Razorback as the official mascot. One year later, they got it.
“That’s one thing that we have,” Stokes said. “Our mascot is so unique. It’s part of our state; it’s part of the culture we were brought up in.”
Unlike LSU’s Mike the Tiger, who lives at a habitat on the university’s campus, Tusk IV, the Russian boar who currently serves as the university’s mascot, resides on the Stokes’ farm in Dardanelle, Ark. That’s about 120 miles from the university in Fayetteville and about 80 miles from the UA’s second “home” football stadium in Little Rock. Stokes said it’s better that way, so more folks around the state get to meet Tusk while he’s en route to games.
“We have gas station pep rallies, and we put our schedule out so people will be waiting for us at fuel stops,” he said. “The truck has a full sound system, and whenever we make stops, we kick on the fight song and draw crowds.”
Stokes said he and his family take Tusk to functions around the state, every football game in Fayetteville and Little Rock, some basketball and baseball games, and all events in Dallas. That includes this year’s Cotton Bowl.
“Oh, yeah — we’ll be there,” he said. “There is a huge amount of alumni and Razorback fans in Dallas. It’s kind of our home away from home.”
Calling the Hogs
For almost as long as there has been the Razorback, Arkansas fans have been calling the Hogs to cheer on their football team. If you don’t already know what that means, let’s start by saying that it’s the most celebrated tradition at the university — and possibly in the entire state.
“I had to do a double-take the first time they started calling the Hogs in Razorback Stadium,” said Danny Pugh, vice provost of student affairs and dean of students at the UA. “The noise generated in the stadium was deafening. I’d certainly heard it before at various events, but when 75,000-plus fans are screaming ‘Woo Pig Sooie!’ it just sounds cool.”
As the story goes, the practice started back in the 1920s, when a group of farmers at a football game started issuing calls to encourage the lagging team to pick up their game. The fans caught on, and before you knew it, they were calling the Hogs at every sporting event. And hotel. And place of business. And just about anywhere else they could think to.
“You could be at an airport in Bangkok, and if you said, ‘Woo Pig Sooie!’ and another fan is there, they’re going to say, ‘Go Hogs!’” Stokes said. “It’s like our secret handshake in Arkansas.”
A proper Hog call, according to Arkansas Athletics, is pretty precise. It consists of a series of three shouts of “Woo Pig Sooie!” with the last call immediately followed by “Razorbacks!” Fans hold each “woo” for about eight seconds as they raise their arms above their heads, wiggling their fingers. “Pig” is yelled as they bring both arms down with their fists clenched, and “sooie” is accompanied by a fist pump.
So, basically, it goes like this:
Woo… Pig Sooie!
Woo… Pig Sooie!
Woo… Pig Sooie! Razorbacks!
If that seems a little boring to you — well, you just haven’t heard it in person.
“I was a freshman when I first called the Hogs,” said Michael Dodd, the UA Associated Student Government president and a Kansas native. “It is very different from many Big 12 cheers, and it is literally used all the time — pre-game, kickoffs, celebrations, tailgates.”
Indeed, Arkansas fans can find any reason to call the Hogs. They do it when the team is winning, when the team is losing, to taunt the opposing team’s fans, to pep up other Arkansas fans. And everyone takes part. Parents show children who can barely talk how to call the Hogs. Some fans even teach their dogs to do it (or maybe that’s just my dad).
“The Razorback fans are the most loyal and vocal I have ever seen,” writes ESPN sportscaster and former Arkansas football coach Lou Holtz in his autobiography “Wins, Losses and Lessons.” “They are knowledgeable football fans, and they raise their sons and daughters to be Razorbacks. The first words their children are taught are ‘Woo Pig Sooie,’ the Razorback rally cry.”
In sum, calling the Hogs is just so intrinsically tied to the university and the state that it’s difficult to imagine the UA without it.
“I love the Hog call,” Stokes said. “I’m 47 years old, and I’m still just like a little kid at Christmas when I hear it right before kickoff. It’s one of the most wonderful traditions there is.”
So there you have it, K-Staters: two of the sports traditions most loved by Arkansas fans everywhere. Of course, there are many, many, many more — singing a special Razorback version of “Oh, Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble” after a win, doing the dance to “William Tell Overture,” fans roaring and cameras flashing as the team runs through the band’s formation of a giant “A” on the football field — but there’s probably only so much Hog talk you can take, so we’ll leave it at that.
I hope you enjoy watching what Stokes and some others are calling the best non-championship matchup this post-season. And while you’re doing that, Sean and I will be trying our best to just be civil to each other.
Wish us luck … and go Hogs.
Kimber Wallace is a former Mercury staff writer and Arkansas graduate.