By Rick Schaeffer
Are you new to Arkansas athletics? Do you wonder about the school’s traditions? What is Calling the Hogs all about? What is so special about football players running through an A? Why in the world do Razorback fans sing, “It’s Hard to Be Humble” after a football or basketball victory? If you don’t know the answers to those questions, this column is for you.
First and foremost among Razorback traditions is Calling the Hogs. It doesn’t sound like a farmer retrieving his hogs but it once did. Traditions often come from legends and there is no official documentation of the first Hog Call so we’ll have to go with the legend.
Word has been passed down that at an Arkansas game in the early 1920s, the Razorbacks were losing. No one seems to know who the opponent was but at some point a pig farmer in the crowd stood up and started imitating the way he would call his own hogs. Other fans picked it up. According to the legend, Arkansas came from behind for a victory and a tradition was born.
Obviously the call has evolved. It gained national attention in the 1960s when Arkansas became a national powerhouse, winning more games in the decade than anyone but Alabama and Texas. Fans began wearing Hog Hats, slender headgear shaped like a Razorback that extended several inches beyond the wearers’ faces. It was almost eerie to see and hear those Hog-hatted UA supporters extending a long, “Whoooooooo, Piiiiiiiiiiig, Sooooooooey” three ties, then shouting “Razorbacks.”
It is the most unique cheer in college athletics. Razorback fans don’t have to be at a game to Call the Hogs. They do it in the darnedest places like restaurants, street corners, foreign countries and American beaches. It’s like a handshake when someone from Arkansas meets another Arkansan outside of the state’s borders. The natural thing is to Call the Hogs. No doubt it has startled many observers who have no idea what is going on.
Then there is running through the A. Near the end of the pre-game festivities at every Fayetteville and Little Rock football game, the band marches in the direction opposite the Razorback dressing room, forms an A (for Arkansas), then reverses direction and marches toward the goalpost where the team will enter the field. It’s at the north end of both Reynolds Razorback Stadium and War Memorial Stadium.
The band stops and waits. Fans Call the Hogs, watch an introduction on the scoreboard’s big video screen, then explode when the Razorbacks enter the playing field by splitting into two groups and running through each block of the A. Players reunite in the middle of the field, then head for the sideline and get ready for kickoff. It’s an exhilarating moment.
Long before the Razorbacks run through the A, they have the Hog Walk from their busses to the dressing room. At Fayetteville it means entering the Broyles Athletic Center. At Little Rock the Razorbacks exit the busses on the east side of War Memorial Stadium and walk to the dressing room entrance on the west side.
Led by the cheerleaders and surrounded by fans, the players receive more than ample encouragement for the game they are about to play. Fans and players exchange high fives. It’s an excellent opportunity for Razorback supporters to get close to those they cheer for.
Perhaps the most fun is singing “It’s Hard to Be Humble” because it takes place only after a victory. Legendary pep band director Jim Robken introduced the song sometime in the late 1970s. Robken and then coach Eddie Sutton worked on a number of ways to turn Barnhill Arena (where Arkansas played basketball at the time) into the loudest atmosphere possible. There were many opportunities to sing the song since the Hogs won 90 percent of the games they played in Barnhill while Sutton was coach.
The gist of the song? It’s hard to be humble when you are an Arkansas Razorback fan. Robken has been gone for over two decades but the tradition has lived on. After a football victory, the Hogs gather where they can be nearest the largest number of fans and sing the school fight song. Then the band plays, “It’s Hard to Be Humble.” After that the students, players and other fans sing the song. It’s the launch of celebration after enjoying a win.
Now that you are familiar with the traditions of Arkansas football, it’s time to experience them in person. How about this weekend? It’s as good a time as any!