View from New York: In an Arkansas state of mind...

“I, being top of the queue, was approached by a topless lady (mid-40s maybe) with a camera and a drawn-on handle-bar moustache”

Members of the University of Arkansas marching band.
Members of the University of Arkansas marching band.
Image: AP Photo/Danny Johnston

I’VE BEEN SLACK of late and there should be no excuses. But I can’t avoid pleading insanity due to heat exhaustion.

It’s become something of cliché around these parts to moan about the weather but this is my first prolonged (and I do choose consciously to type ‘prolonged’ ) New York summer and if everyone who is supposed to be used to it is whining about it, then I’m not going to shirk my responsibilities.

Zach Braff recounted such a good yarn the other day that I’m not one bit ashamed to quote Zach Braff.

The actor/director/writer had passed an old black lady during the heatwave’s most extreme hours. As he walked by, she fanned herself in desperation. “Oh my,” she sighed for anyone that would listen. “If hell is this hot, I’mma have to change my ways.”

So yeah, me too. I need to change my ways.

There have been a couple of high-profile stories around the city of naked high-jinxery (most recently on Wall St) but I never saw it with my own eyes until, with time to kill after Jurgen Klinsmann’s press conference in Midtown on Monday, I decided to chance my arm for a standby ticket at the Colbert Report.

As several of us baked in the mid-afternoon sun, I, being top of the queue, was approached by a topless lady (mid-40s maybe) with a camera and a drawn-on handle-bar moustache. It was thin, in the manner of a turn-of-the-century dandy, and contrasted sharply with her large mop of blond hair.

The minute she started to cross the street, I settled on my tactics immediately. Like approaching a spot kick: right, low, don’t deviate.

I normal-ed her. I met her eyes, answered her question (“yeah, this is the standby line”) and her follow-up question (“yeah, that queue is for tickets only”) and then went back to what I was doing.

“What was the deal with her?” asked the big guy next to me in a southern accent once she had gone a safe distance along 54th St, causing heads to turn as she ambled along.

“I’m not from around here,” he added self-deprecatingly. “I don’t often see that sort of thing.”

Yeah, nor do I buddy.

Later, having got my name on the list (alas, to no avail), I went to a nearby bar to get some work done over a pint and under some air conditioning. During one of my many bouts of day-dreaming, I spotted him again. He was standing around on the opposite side of 10th Avenue, drying the never-ending beads of sweat with a towel and looking a little lonely. So I hollered over and invited him for a drink.

Jason was from Arkansas and as luck would have it, he had a spent a couple of years on the practice squad at the University of Arkansas football program as an offensive lineman. In other words he was a reserve player who never saw action but donned his team’s kit every Saturday afternoon during the latter months of 1998 and 1999, running out in front of over 50,000 passionate fans. Arkansas born and raised, he was living the watered-down version of his dream but it was his dream nonetheless.

“I was the star in highschool but then I got to college and it was a different world,” he told me, the sweat continuing to drip down his huge frame. “These other guys were born to play football. They were so much bigger than me, I never got close.”

He studied mechanical engineering but dropped out after “too much partying”. He recently re-enrolled and now goes to every Razorbacks game as a season-ticket holder along with his father.

I found out a lot during my 90 minutes with Jason. That every time golfer John Daly tweets “Woooooo! Pig! Soooey!”, he’s “calling out the hog”, the Arkansas Razorbacks’ traditional war cry which, with the stadium now extended to well over 70,000, is an impressive/alarming sight when chanted in unison.

He also told me that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is a Razorback and that he, as a favour to his alma mater, handed UA a 10-year contract to play Texas A&M at Cowboys Stadium in a non-conference game once every season. Oh and that prior to the Jerry-tron, a former holder of biggest stadium screen was the University of Arkansas.

They play in the SEC West, college football’s most brutal division, sharing it with current champions Auburn and previous winners Alabama. The SEC as a whole has won the last five national titles.

The last time Arkansas tasted national success, however, was in the mid-1960s. But that doesn’t stop its citizens living and breathing Razorbacks football. It’s a really big deal. Current coach Bobby Petrino controversially quit the Atlanta Falcons to take over at UA in 2007. Surrounded by all the big states of the deep south, they have too many rivals to choose from.

What are they
really like?

Rare insights on sport's biggest names from the writers who know them best. Listen to Behind the Lines podcast.

Become a Member

Due south

It’s easy to dismiss Jason and everyone who lives and dies for the SEC as a redneck. Especially when a ritual like “calling out the hog” is a Saturday staple everywhere from Fayetteville and Little Rock to alumni bars in New York city and Dallas.

But here he was in the dreaded northeast, visiting his fashion journalist sister and trying to catch one of America’s greatest satirists.

“You hear a lot about New Yorkers,” he said as we left the bar and headed back towards Colbert’s production venue. “But this is my fourth time here and everyone’s really friendly.”

You hear a lot about the south too, I replied. He smiled, insisting a lot of it is true. But there’s nothing like an Arkansas welcome. “We’ve got our good points too.”

After being told by a Colbert Report intern that we wouldn’t be getting in, we parted company at the corner of 54th and 10th. Hell’s Kitchen was still raging hot.

“Keep an eye out for my Razorbacks,” Jason smiled as he headed downtown.

Yeah, I surely will.

Read the rest of John Riordan’s columns for theScore here>

WATCH: Ron Artest’s duelling egos do stand-up gig>

About the author:

Read next: