NEW ORLEANS LA - JANUARY 04: the Arkansas Razorbacks huddle before taking on the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on January 4 2011 in New Orleans Louisiana. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Apologies if this final blurt about the Sugar Bowl feels painfully past its window of opportunity. But, I haven't yet been able to shake that game, and figured that since we've been following this team together all season I might as well subject you to my therapy session. On a related note, HUGE thanks to all of you who read and (especially) comment on this site...you made this season enormously fun for me and the rest of the team here at Expats, Inc..
As you might have heard, the Hogs added a new showpiece to their historic pantheon of brutal defeats last week, losing to Ohio State in one of the most scarring ways imaginable (Clay Travis called Ryan Mallett's game-ending interception "the story of Arkansas football in a single play"). But, the loss was close and hard-fought, and afterward some Razorback fans were inclined to feel good about it, reasoning that it was impressive just to come so close.
For the record, I'm definitely not one of those people. That's defeatist, "just happy to be here" thinking. Yes, it was a still a great season, but the Hogs had a golden opportunity to make a *major* leap forward and they didn't get it done. Althoughundoubtedly has the program on the right track, Sugar Bowls don't come around every year and the goal is to win them. Due to repeated foot shootings (and, to be fair, Ohio State's largely excellent play), Arkansas didn't and that sucks beyond my writerly abilities to convey.
Maybe the most painful aspect of it for me was that, after seeming blinded by the spotlight and getting their asses utterly kicked in the first half, the Razorbacks made a truly heroic comeback, showing enormous character, toughness and heart in the process, but because of the loss that effort will truly never be appreciated.
Sure, years down the road it'll still be remembered now and then by the die-hards (note: if you're reading this, that means you), but it'll be forgotten by most. Had the Hogs not fallen just short, though, there were plays that would have lived on as some of the greatest in Razorback history.
If the Razorbacks had scored a TD at the end like we all *absolutely* knew they were going to, then moments like Tramain Thomas stripping the ball from Dan Herron on 4th & 1, D.J. Williams going mano-a-mano against a bigger defender and willing the ball across the goal line, and of course Colton Miles-Nash making what almost was one of the all-time legendary punt blocks would have been celebrated for many, many years. Think of of Dylan Breeding and Zack Hocker's repeated kicking excellence, or Knile Davis' punishing running, or the swarming safety by about half the defense. The sheer number of amazing moments that will never be properly honored is a little staggering.
Originally I was going to write a much more wide-ranging post about why things happened the way they did, but now it seems unnecessary. In the end, it's the incredible heart of this team, and the pain of seeing their effort fall short, that I'll always remember about the 2011 Sugar Bowl.