The heartbreaking loss to Texas A&M left Arkansas football fans with a pit in the bottom of their stomachs and their faces buried in their hands.
With no words capable of describing the feeling, all fans could do was wonder just how the Razorbacks dropped a 23-21 game against the Aggies inside AT&T Stadium on Saturday.
Those emotions attest to just how far Arkansas football has come over the last three years. The culture head coach Sam Pittman has built in Fayetteville is massive. It flows through the team, into the university, into the state and into the hearts of every Razorback fan in the nation. When the team hurts, every fan feels it.
This weekend’s loss to Texas A&M — the 10th in 11 years — was a tough one. Cam Little, the sure-footed sophomore, missed a 42-yard field goal to take the lead and potentially win the game with 1:30 remaining. Arkansas looked like the better team through most of four quarters, but could not overcome a few big mistakes.
Why This Arkansas Football Loss Hurt
It was a classic “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve” game that left fans feeling like their team could have won, probably should have won and, if one thing would have happened differently, it probably would have won.
This is the reason for that pit in your stomach. You replay that one play in your head over and over again, thinking of what could have been if things had happened just a little differently. Last year’s game at Ole Miss was also one of those “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve” losses — something Arkansas hasn’t had much of in recent years. Why is that? What separates this loss to Texas A&M from those 3, 4, 5 years ago?
Well, that’s when the Coach Who Should Not Be Named was in charge and a loss to Texas A&M felt emotionless, empty. There was no pit in your stomach after losing. For fans, the “pit” was 10 years ongoing — everyone had just become numb to it. For the last few years before Pittman, there was an underdog feeling going into every game, a feeling of, “It would be cool if we beat them,” but when the Razorbacks lost, it could be written off as, “that was close, but I expected to lose, maybe next year.”
Before the win in 2021, Texas A&M had beaten Arkansas nine years in a row. The annual loss to the Aggies got to start feeling inevitable. This year’s loss felt completely different. Arkansas went in not hoping to win, but expecting to win. Pittman has completely rebuilt and revived the culture in Fayetteville — a once “dead” program, brought to life by a humble, passionate, O-line coach.
Sam Pittman’s Turnaround at Arkansas
What Pittman has built at Arkansas in three years is incredible. Pittman has not just rejuvenated the team, but also the fans and the entire state of Arkansas’ belief in the program. How did he do it? Yes, he hired a good staff and brought in knowledge of SEC play, but even more than all of that, Pittman took it upon himself to represent the people and turn the team into something that resembles and embodies the mentality of its fans and the state of Arkansas.
Why did fans expect Arkansas to win this weekend? Why did a majority of national media pick Arkansas? It’s not because the Razorbacks have a top-five recruiting class, it’s not because they have the greatest set of athletes ever assembled, but rather because everyone has bought into the culture — a culture of winning, a culture of expecting to win because the team believes and thus you believe.
With fantastic culture, comes a symbiotic relationship. The fans feed off the team and the team feeds off the fans. What the team feels, the fans feel, and what the fans feel is what the team feels. When Cam Little missed the potential game-winning field goal, your heart dropped and that “pit” feeling came — the same feeling of every player and coach on the field. Watching the emotion of the players and fans is something that attests to the culture. When Little sat distraught on the bench and Ricky Stromberg sat on the sideline crying, it shows the commitment the players have to the team, the coach and the culture at Arkansas.
Razorbacks Moving Forward
It’s no doubt that Pittman will have the team ready to go next week when No. 2 Alabama visits. The players will be fighting for Pittman and the state of Arkansas, looking to rebound after a tough loss.
“I think we’ll bounce back, I really do,” Pittman said afterward. “I love our kids. They’re tough and resilient. They know Alabama’s got a really good team and the place will be sold out, rocking in there next Saturday night. A lot of people spent their hard-earned money to come and watch us play, and we’ll be ready to play. They’ll be fine. They’re hurting right now, but they’ll be fine.”
Couple the fantastic winning culture at Arkansas with it being a “could’ve, should’ve would’ve game, and fans are hurting.
That feeling — the sting of the loss, genuine anger, the “pit” — is unfamiliar for a lot of fans. For some, the numbness of the past years is gone and it’s been a very long time since they felt these emotions. This weekend provided a familiar loss but, for many, it came with unfamiliar feelings.
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