Just before the first series of the infamous 2010 matchup between No. 1 Alabama and No. 10 Arkansas, conversation on the CBS broadcast centered on Ryan Mallett.
“Envious” was the word color analyst Gary Danielson, a former quarterback himself, used when legendary announcer Verne Lundquist asked him for an adjective to describe his feelings about the Arkansas football star.
Moments later, Mallett completed a 31-yard pass to Jarius Wright after Danielson’s comment, then hit Ronnie Wingo on a wheel route for a 44-yard touchdown that still has to be the loudest moment in Reynolds Razorback Stadium history.
Longtime Arkansas media member Mike Irwin concurred Tuesday evening on his Twitter account.
Mallett tragically died Tuesday in the Gulf of Mexico near Destin, Fla., in Okaloosa County, sending shockwaves through Razorback Nation and across the country – from NFL hall of farmers to national media members who covered Mallett from his high school days all the way through his professional saga to the present.
Blame It On His Roots
At his most basic, Ryan Mallett was a country boy. He was born in Batesville, but grew up in Lincoln, a small town 20 miles west of Fayetteville on Highway 62, while his dad was coaching for the Wolves. His mom taught school at the elementary.
He loved fishing and playing sports and attending his dad’s practices. There is a legendary story of Mallett in fifth grade being at practice and launching footballs at varsity players’ heads at Lincoln. A few of them got so mad that they actually tied Mallett to the goal post and his dad had to untie him at the end of practice.
After Lincoln, Mallett’s father got a job coaching football in Hooks, Texas. If you don’t know Hooks, it’s west of Texarkana on Interstate 30 and its most famous alum is Billy Sims–the Heisman Trophy winning running back of Oklahoma and Detroit Lions fame.
Soon thereafter, his parents bought a house on the Arkansas side of Texarkana, but were coaching and teaching at Texas High. That’s where Mallett would go on to star for the Tigers.
As a freshman, Mallett was forced into duty in a playoff game at Texas Stadium against Highland Park, whose quarterback happened to be Matthew Stafford. THS lost the game, but Mallett performed well, and earned the job for the next three seasons.
Most Razorback fans know the rest of the story. Eric Bolin wrote an excellent piece yesterday in the moment.
Mallett was Misunderstood
Growing up in Northwest Arkansas, I happened to play both basketball and baseball against Mallett in competitive leagues with the AAU Arkansas Hawks and in USSSA baseball tournaments.
Mallett was bigger than most inside, but he could handle the ball well for a post, and in baseball he was intimidating as a pitcher because of his size. He probably could’ve been a college pitcher, but he got injured in a Dixie League game throwing and his dad shut it down. From then on, it was strictly football.
Then once he transferred to Arkansas in 2008 after leaving Michigan, I got to know him a little bit playing pickup basketball games in the HPER. If you knew Ryan, you knew that he had what I think of as a “hillbilly hood” accent.
I think some people took this the wrong way, and that’s how the infamous ‘Who got a Scantron for Ryan Mallett’ meme took off on social media. Anyone who’s anyone swears that they were in that class in the old Science & Engineering Auditorium when he allegedly said it.
We’ll never know now, but I do have a light-hearted Mallett story that is 100 percent true from my own personal experience.
In the fall of 2009, I took an intro to criminology class because I had always been interested in it from afar and needed the elective credit. This class was in Old Main, but I can’t remember if it was Monday-Wednesday-Friday or Tuesday-Thursday.
Ryan liked to come to class either right on time or would be late on occasion. He also liked to cut up in this class, and he had teammates – Jake Bequette and Joe Adams – in it with him. It also featured Delvon Johnson of the basketball team.
One day midway through the semester, Mallett was being excessively rambunctious. A girl who sat to my right (I never knew her name) turned to me and a classmate, Andre Sias, who was ex-military. She was like, “What is that guy’s deal?”
Andre and I looked at each other in disbelief. Andre asked her if she knew who he was and she said, “No, just a classmate of ours I guess?” He audibly laughed and proceeded to shout at Mallett like he’s in a barracks with him, “Hey Mallett! This chick over here doesn’t know who you are, bro!”
Mallett clearly heard Andre, but elected to ignore him. Andre was undeterred. “Yo, Mallett. This chick legit doesn’t know you dude!”
Finally, Mallett looked our way and Andre said, “Tell her who you are man.” Mallett looks at her, looks at Andre, then points at Joe Adams and says, “That’s Ryan Mallett, our school’s quarterback.” To which Adams replied, “Come on man, quit playing like that.”
The whole class erupted in laughter. She was probably the only one out of 35 people in that class who had no idea who he was.
Mallett liked to play other jokes in that class. He would hide people’s backpacks, or make noises when someone who was late or normally didn’t attend sat down.
He was a kid at heart. He always wanted to be the life of the party. I also remember playing him online in NCAA Football. He had a Facebook account and he shared his gamertag with me so we could play each other on PS3. I would play as Oklahoma and he would play as Arkansas and he usually beat me. The closest I ever got to him that I recall was like 20-17.
When I got my sports writing job in Texarkana out of college, I ended up learning a ton of secondhand stories about him and then I would share the ones I had from my background with him as a child and then in college.
Remembering Ryan Mallett
Even though he had many public issues that were humiliating – the arrests, the messy divorce, missing flights for football games, etc. – at the end of the day, these are things that people deal with on a daily basis.
Ryan Mallett had high expectations foisted upon him from Day 1. With his size and arm talent, he was an NFL scout’s dream. It’s unfortunate that we never really got to see what he could’ve been capable of in the right system/playbook with the right personnel.
I am glad that before his death, all reports I heard were that things were going well with him both personally and professionally and that he enjoyed coaching and teaching kids.
Based on the outpouring of love and support he and his family have been shown on social media in the last 24 hours, I go back to what Gary Danielson said about him on CBS that September day in 2010, when he made it clear to Lundquist that Mallett was worthy of all the hype and then some.
May we all have people be envious of us when we pass.
Watch highlights of Arkansas football legend Ryan Mallett here:
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