I have a friend, who I met only a few years ago, who attended Arkansas State in the late 90s and early OOs. He’s a good guy. I really enjoy his company. But every year, when the leaves are dropping from the trees, he asks me (with genuine and innocent interest) “are the Red Wolves any good this year?”
This is a troubling question on two fronts: 1) have you ever heard of “Google?” and 2) as an alum, why don’t you know?
Before I befriended this guy, A-State alums like him bugged the hell out of me. In my view, these were poor ambassadors of the university, and one poor ambassador inflicts ten times the damage one good ambassador can counter. When you besmirch the university with indifference, you lessen the value of my degree and the worth of my collegiate experience.
At least, that was my thinking.
The older I get, the more mellow I become. I put myself in my friend’s sneakers and attempted to gain a glimpse of his perspective. Let me paint the picture: My pal attended Arkansas State from 1998 until 2001. In that time, Arkansas State football went 4-8, 4-7, 1-10 and 2-9. Arguably, this is the darkest age of Arkansas State football, helmed by the sub-mortal head coach Joe Hollis. At the time, A-State hopscotched from Independence, to the Big West, to the Sun Belt, which likely left fans’ heads spinning. From 1998 to 2001, Arkansas State students enjoyed zero success on the gridiron and relished few real rivalries.
Of course, football isn’t everything, and to be fair to Arkansas State, the program fielded its first and only NCAA Tournament basketball team during that period (1998-99). In fact, it was basketball that carried me through my own gridiron dark age (1992-1995, 11 total wins). But for whatever reason, hoops wasn’t enough to make my Hollis Era friend a fan.
Yes, “Dark Age A-State Alums” deserve a pass on their fandom.
It can be argued (by the most cynical of arguers) that the university did a poor job of providing these students a memorable product – though it should be noted that the Hollis Era did feature future NFL starting QB Cleo Lemon. But let’s be real. Receiving only 11 occasions to celebrate during four football seasons is a tough sell, especially from a program that is systematically ignored by nearly every media outlet in the state.
My experience is eerily similar (as we already mentioned). Admittedly, my own fandom waxed and waned as the football program struggled to find its footing. Many of my friends who attended A-State with me in the early and mid 1990s are fans of other programs. Most grew up in Arkansas where one program enjoyed a monopoly of coverage. While my classmates appreciate the degree, their sports-loyalty always belonged to a privileged childhood sweetheart. Breaking up that relationship is difficult.
So we can give these people a break, right?
“Dark Age A-State Alums” certainly do not deserve a pass on their fandom.
The university you choose is a bit like a marriage: you’re with it through the good times and the bad. Abandoning it for a wealthy program that never gave you anything is a little slimy.
Frank Broyles, the famous head football coach and later athletic director for the University of Arkansas, claimed that “you can be a fan of all Arkansas universities” (so long as they never play one another). Even Terry Mohajir, the former Arkansas Sate football player and current A-State athletic director, once asked that Arkansas fans make A-State their “plus one.” But the fact is, you can appreciate an infinite number of college athletic programs. But you can truly be a fan of only one, and it should be the one playing on the campus that molded you into the person you are today.
Because our DNA is arranged in infinite patterns, people will react to their college experience in different ways. I endured Fort Perkins and the Bobo Years and eventually emerged a lifelong fan. Others faced the same hardships and dismissed their alma mater the moment the ink dried on the degree. I accept it. I don’t like it. But I accept it.
One day, I hope to make my Hollis Era friend a fan.