I wouldn’t call myself an evangelist when it comes to the power of positive thinking, but I’m an optimist by nature. I believe things will get better, even as evidence mounts to the contrary. I believe good outcomes can result from bad events. I typically expect things to work out for the best.
But I’ll be the first to admit that it’s been tough to maintain that kind of mindset when it comes to Arkansas football. The Chad Morris era almost broke me. I began to believe the program was beyond repair, that the landscape of college football was shifting in a way that would put our best days irretrievably in the past.
Outside of sports, I tend to be pretty level-headed. I self-consciously try to apply cold reason and logic and don’t buy into much in the way of charms and talismans of good fortune.
But ball games are well known to make many of us behave in peculiar ways, and in an effort to elicit the favor of the football gods, I’ve dipped into superstition and sorcery, trying everything from lucky articles of clothing to abstaining from pork on game days.
The impulse seems innate. My 8-year-old daughter can barely be bothered to watch a game but when she does, she’s diligent about managing who wears our molded plastic Hog hat. One bad outcome and your turn is done.
Of course, none of it produces the desired effect for long, but it’s a fun way to engage.
I’m trying out a new superstition this year — actually, it’s more like a doctrine — and I’m recommending it here.
Hogs by 90, every time, no matter what.
On a late night back in March 2015, University of Arkansas student Kyle Ebert tweeted out “Hogs by 90,” co-opting a phrase used by fans of other schools, and tagging a few friends in the post.
Mike Anderson’s men’s basketball team had just knocked off Wofford in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but Ebert wasn’t reporting the final score. He was calling out the margin of victory for the next one — a second round date with North Carolina.
It didn’t matter that the Tar Heels were favored by most pundits; when one predicts a score so absurdly lopsided, audacity is the point.
It was a bold statement of exaggerated belief and unflagging allegiance made without regard for the caliber of the opponent. Also, it’s kind of just fun to say.
That 2015 tweet is the first utterance I can find on the internet, and even though the Hogs fell in that game to North Carolina, it’s gained significant steam since. These days, you’ll see “Hogs by 90” on handmade signs, bootleg T-shirts and all over Twitter any time an Arkansas team takes the field.
The actual outcome is almost (almost) beside the point.
It’s the kind of sentiment that could only originate with the neophytes of the fan base — the young and newly initiated, those without the mental scars and wounded psyches wrought by a lifetime of Razorback-related close calls and heartbreaks.
It also strikes me as an utterly foreign and wonderful mentality when it comes to watching Arkansas sports. And I think it’s exactly what a once-beleaguered fanbase needs as it re-learns to cope with football success.
For so many of us, we watch games vigilant for the first sign of trouble, the first telling omen that portends a sure-to-follow muffed punt inside the 10-yard line, or a quarterback tripping over a lineman and fumbling away the winning possession, or a championship-clinching foul ball finding grass instead of leather — just to name a few examples that I conjured out of thin air and are definitely not seared forever deep into my memory.
Take a look at your social media feeds or preferred message board during Arkansas games and you’re sure to find a buffet of poorly aged laments, gripes and complaints any time a pass gets dropped, a tackle gets missed or a fourth-down attempt falls short of the line to gain.
And that’s completely understandable, maybe even biologically predetermined.
There’s a concept recognized in the study of human psychology known as negativity bias, which basically says that bad things have a greater impact on us than good things of objectively similar value.
It’s a defense mechanism hard-wired into our brain chemistry.
And Hogs by 90 defies all that. It’s the all-natural mood stabilizer of fan ideologies.
It tells us to suffer no negative energy. To expect good things, as unnatural as it might feel.
There’s a time and place to check our optimism, to yield to stolid expectations based on a spectrum of weighted probabilities. To be realistic.
That time, Hogs by 90 proposes, is not Game Day.
Speaking of which, the ESPN Saturday morning bonanza that goes by the same name will be in Athens this weekend when the eighth-ranked Hogs arrive to face the second-ranked Bulldogs.
If you haven’t seen the University of Georgia play football this season, I’ll summarize: imagine Texas A&M but with a good quarterback, superior linebackers and an unblockable behemoth at nose guard. Needless to say, it’ll be Arkansas’ stiffest test to date, taken in front of a crowd of 85,000 or so rabid and very loud Bulldogs.
If you believe the oddsmakers, the analysts and pretty much anybody else putting their name to a prediction, it doesn’t look good for the Hogs. The magic will run out, they say, or at least face temporary derailment in the face of superior talent. They speculate we’ll finally see an offense capable of moving consistently against the Arkansas defense and an opposing defense with the ability to harness the Hogs’ big passing plays and stable of talented backs.
Honestly, I understand where that assessment is coming from. Georgia looks very good and is deserving of their lofty status.
I get it, but I also don’t care.
This Arkansas team is offering us something to believe in, and I’m taking them up on it. So come Saturday, that’s where I’ll be: sitting under the noon sun in Sanford Stadium, fully aware of the odds piled up against us and recklessly expecting great things.
Hogs by 90. Every single time. No matter what.
Arkansas native Brent Holloway is a freelance writer living in Gainesville, Ga. His “4th and 25” appears every other Friday at ARMoneyandPolitics.com.