There are few Razorbacks who’ve meant as much to Arkansas fans as Ryan Mallett has.
Most fans didn’t have the pleasure of knowing him personally, and by all accounts it seems that would have been a joy. It’s easy to rattle off his football accomplishments and records, but that’s just scratching the surface as to why fans connected with him and the impact he had on the fans of Arkansas football.
Mallett came to Arkansas as a former 5-star prospect who could have gone just about anywhere in the country out of high school and likely could have gone anywhere when he transferred from Michigan. He decided to be a Razorback. Despite all the drama surrounding the program in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, despite all the embarrassing stories and early departures from other similarly-prized recruits, he became a Razorback. For fans, there was a validation in that. There was a unity that had been long gone from the program for several years by that point.
As much fun as it was to celebrate Darren McFadden and Felix Jones ripping off highlight runs that Hog fans continue to watch on YouTube, argue McFadden’s Heisman case (and continue doing so for nearly 20 years and counting), and watch the Razorbacks come as close as they have before or since to winning an SEC championship, it’s easy to forget that following the Hogs in those seasons was hard.
The epic drama of Houston Nutt, Gus Malzahn and the Springdale recruits shadowed over the program. Literally. The shadow of planes carrying banners asking for Nutt’s firing circled over Arkansas games even when the best player in program history was rewriting the record books.
Ryan Mallett’s Impact
With McFadden and Jones gone to the NFL after the 2007 season and Arkansas looking for a new coach, things seemed really bad in Fayetteville. There were early reports of Arkansas hiring a coach or two before those arrangements seemed to fall through, leading to plenty of exasperation among fans. When Bobby Petrino was eventually hired, it sent a jolt of excitement through the fanbase, but it also led to Arkansas fans largely defending Petrino in the heated aftermath of his departure from the Atlanta Falcons. It wasn’t until Mallett committed to Arkansas and Petrino in the weeks afterward that it really started to seem like the Hogs’ post-McFadden struggles would be short-lived.
Back then, transfers were usually forced to sit out a season, so even though Arkansas largely struggled through 2008, fans knew the former 5-star quarterback was on the sideline preparing for his opportunity the next year. Fans waited about a year-and-a-half to see Mallett take the field. More than any other player, Mallett represented that hope for things to come in the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
The Arkansas football fan civil war that seemed to go on for Nutt’s last three seasons was officially over, and when Mallett torched Georgia early in his first SEC game in Fayetteville, all seemed right in the world (even though Georgia eventually won that game). The promise was there. There may have been more anticipation for the 2010 season than any other in Hog football this century, and Mallett was the centerpiece of it.
Results don’t often meet expectations, but Mallett did so in 2010. Arkansas’ offense was nearly unstoppable at times, with highlights including the “Childs Please!” game-winner against Georgia in Athens, the oft-discussed wheel route to Ronnie Wingo against Alabama that sent Arkansas fans into euphoria, and many of the touchdown passes against LSU, including the miracle halftime pass to Cobi Hamilton and the fourth-down pass to Joe Adams that iced the game and clinched a spot in the 2011 Sugar Bowl, the only time Arkansas would make an appearance in a BCS bowl.
How Arkansas Football Should Honor Him
Given what Mallett has meant to Arkansas fans since the day he committed, how should he be honored? There’s not really a bad answer, though some are more feasible than others.
In a sport with 85 scholarship players on a roster in potentially any season, retiring numbers isn’t very realistic. Arkansas has retired #12 for Clyde Scott and #77 for Brandon Burlsworth, so it’s not impossible, but it’s something that can only be done so many times, and several other players have worn #15 over the years since Mallett’s last game.
That being said, it does seem like Arkansas could do more to honor the great players who became legends on The Hill. The UA does a good job of displaying memorable players and bowl games within Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, but they’re typically within the stadium where TV cameras don’t get to them. A way to display the history of the program more visibly would be a good move, and a good way to honor players like Mallett.
Some sort of acknowledgement on the team uniforms could also work well. When Mallett played, the team used mallet-shaped helmet stickers to acknowledge big plays made by players over the course of a season. Using those again could be nice, or simply put a single mallet sticker on all Hog helmets similar to a uniform patch.
I do like the idea of painting a red “15” on the 15-yard lines. People have proposed new scholarships or new awards in his honor. Those all seem like fine ideas. It would be cool if the UA could sell Mallett jerseys or t-shirts with a portion of the revenue going to the Mallett family or to a charity of their choice.
College sports fans don’t get to enjoy their favorite players for very long. Only a few years, tops. That’s part of the deal, but it’s all the more reason why schools should do what they can to honor the great players that come through. It helps fans maintain that connection to the program. Mallett was a hero to those who were Hog fans from 2008-2010. No matter what he did elsewhere or what anyone else thought about him, he was one of the most beloved Razorbacks ever, who should not just be remembered – but celebrated – for a long time to come.
How do you think the Arkansas football program should honor Ryan Mallett? Let us know in the comments section below!
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