Not long ago, the Arkansas State Red Wolves were the Arkansas State Indians.
In those days, the ASU mascot was Running Joe – a caricature that loosely approximated the resemblance of a human being. He was obviously a first-cousin to the Cleveland Indian. For example, Joe’s nose was larger than his feet. His teeth rivaled the size of Jimmy Carter’s teeth. Earlier incarnations of Running Joe featured him grasping a tomahawk in one fist and a scalp in the other.
with healthy teeth and gums.
Later, yielding to a more sensitive community, Running Joe lost the scalp. Eventually, Running Joe was simply lost completely, and in his place arrived a noble Native American chieftain who presided over football games stoically and with his powerful arms crossed. No tomahawk. No peace pipe. No scalps. Sometimes, a fully dressed, blank-eyed Native American woman accompanied him at his side.
The changes were too-little too-late to appease the NCAA Jedi Council, who decided that the Florida St. Seminole and University of Illinois’ “Chief Illiniwek” were nobler Native American mascots than the one provided by Arkansas State. It then became necessary to devise a new mascot. The process proved cumbersome and lengthy. There were some politics involved. A consulting group was imported to deliver a list of appropriate replacements. My brother and I had our own list.
Personally, I championed The Gorillas, which briefly served as ASU’s mascot in the 1950s. Who isn’t frightened by a gorilla? We’d exchange the highly derivative Tomahawk Chop for the far more unnerving Gorilla Chest Beat. If necessary, we could become the Scarlet Gorillas so the school wouldn’t have to invent a revised color scheme. Who would complain then? Jane Goodall?
My brother advocated The Mustard Gas. “We float into your city,” said he, “and attack your central nervous system!” I kind of liked The Mustard Gas because it was different and it implied a terrible, horrible death. The logo could be a dented canister with gas seeping out of the top. Dry ice machines could deliver a sinister smoke that would prove essential to any half-time performance. The dance team would wear gas masks. Our cheer would be the sound of escaping gas: Psssssssssssssssss.
Arkansas State’s expensive consulting group had other ideas. Among them: The Ridge Runners. The Diamond Cutters. The Red Wolves. Seriously, the Ridge Runners? How about The Incest? Why not The Meth Heads?
Somehow, the Red Wolves emerged as the winner from what was a pretty damn lame list of choices. Arkansas State is located in North East Arkansas, and there are about as many wolves in the area as there are hippos. But damnitt, we’re the Red Wolves now. Let’s live with it.
To my surprise, the school more than lived with it. They embraced it. Quite truthfully, A-State fans always felt like pale facsimiles of Florida St. when we executed the Tomahawk Chop or when our mascot planted a spear into the end zone. The Red Wolf gave us new cheering opportunities. Now we had a big, puffy red dog thing riding around on a motorcycle to open up home games. The crowd howled with every first down. I’ve threatened to buy a werewolf mask and wear it to games. I just haven’t done it yet, but I will.
Still, I arrived with my brother and Dad to Arkansas State’s first home game of the year expecting the same old crap – a disinterested student section and way too many people wearing Arkansas Razerback gear.
You have to understand how aggravating it is to attend an Arkansas State game and to see people wearing Razerback crap. Would one attend an University of Oklahoma game wearing Oklahoma State Cowboy attire? Would you wear a Hawkeye jersey to an Iowa State game? Of course not. Yet Arkansans believe it’s just as appropriate to wear a Hog hat to an A-State game as it is to engage in sexual congress with your sister.
“I’m taking my camera phone,” I announced pompously, “and snapping pictures of all the fools wearing Razerback crap to the A-State game!”
Except, I had no subjects to snap. The stadium was packed tightly, and everyone was wearing Red Wolves attire. The image of the Red Wolf himself, unimaginably named Howl, was bared on the chests and backs of nearly everyone in attendance! I struggled to find a single Hog. I came up empty. Empty! Finally, ASU pride had seeped to the top of what was once a cesspool of apathy, chagrin, and denial. Arkansas State Red Wolves! Arooooooooo!
We’re still new to this loyalty thing. We’re not completely sophisticated. For example, one popular shirt featured the penetrating eyes of the Red Wolf and this puzzling inscription, “These Eyes See No Fear.” It sounds cool until you begin to ponder its meaning. Those eyes don’t see fear because we don’t scare anyone? Maybe it was supposed to be, “You don’t see fear in these eyes,” but the t-shirt printer was in too big a hurry to proof read. Regardless, it’s a dumb t-shirt.
Still, it was nice to hear all the enthusiastic howling as the game kicked off. It’s a meaty and threatening cheer, unlike the farmer’s call they do in Fayeteville. (“Wooo Pig Sooey?” How about “Heeeere, piggy piggy?”) Everybody was caught up in authentic Red Wolf excitement, in a packed stadium no less, even though the Lozerbacks were getting their bacon smoked by Alabama on national TV. At last, ASU had a true fan base, and all we had to do was trade in an old tired Indian for a red wolf.
The delicate facade began to crack about three minutes before halftime.
The game started at 3:30. As the game clock ticked close to halftime, I caught this comment from a woman seated behind me: “Well, I’m not even hungry yet! I hope I get hungry!” My first thought was, Well Christ, Lady! It’s ten minutes to four! Nobody is hungry. And then it occurred to me, the terrible, horrible truth. This was Jonesboro, Arkansas, dude. Five o’clock is dinner time.
Immediately, I envisioned The Cracker Barrel parking lot rapidly populating with SUVs and pick-up trucks. No, ASU, no! Don’t fail me now! Not at halftime, when the game is so close! Surely you can forgo one lousy dinner to howl your Red Wolves to victory! For God’s sake, would a Hogs fan leave at halftime to take advantage of the Early Bird Special at Lubby’s Cafeteria? Jesus, no!
Jesus, yes. When halftime was over, many of the Red Wolf “faithful,” including the Not Hungry Yet Lady, had vanished. Poof! My team had become cuckold’s to the blooming onion at Outback Steakhouse.
“Where did everyone go?” asked Angry Dad, puzzled.
It only got worse as the game progressed. The football game itself was amazing. The lead changed several times. There were heroic plays on both sides, and still the grandstands evaporated. The visiting team’s band, sensing their foe’s inexplicable betrayal by their own fans, pumped out their taunting tunes with more venom and vigor. Desperately, the ASU cheerleaders worked to coax a howl out of the crowd, but it was too late. Denny’s was serving breakfast all day long.
The final score was 30-27. The victor was Troy State. The Red Wolves fell in the last moments thanks to a botched punt return. Those who stayed, those who ignored their stomach’s demands, left disappointed but enriched with the knowledge that they had stayed to the brutal end, giving all they had to a team that must have wondered what the hell happened at halftime that made so many of their fans abandon them when there was so much football left to be played.
The next morning, me, my brother and Angry Dad decided on Cracker Barrel for breakfast. Parked in the lot was an SUV with a message soaped on the rear window: TROY OWNS YOU. Indeed. Indeed.
We entered the Cracker Barrel the same way one enters any Cracker Barrel, and that’s through the cheesy gift shop. What greeted us immediately was a colossal kick to the pills.
“You gotta be kidding me!” gasped my brother, figuratively massaging his nuts.
Displayed before us, like some kind of grisly shrine, was a mammoth display of University of Arkansas Razorback’s merchandise, available for sale right there in the Jonesboro Cracker Barrel, supposedly home to the Arkansas State Red Wolves.
My brother pointed to a ceramic dinner plate that featured a Hog in the center. “I want to buy one of those just so I can break it in front of the cashier,” he sneered. He didn’t do it, of course. Like me, he’s an Arkansas State fan, and we’re all talk.