This is the latest in a series of features on the 2009 University of Arkansas Sports Hall of Honor inductees.
It has been more than 30 years since Ron Calcagni led Arkansas to a 31-6 victory over Oklahoma in the 1978 Orange Bowl, which was one of the biggest wins in school history. Today, his name remains in the record books as a measure of success he brought to Fayetteville. Originally from Youngstown, Ohio, Calcagni was a highly-regarded player at Chaney High School. He produced more than 2,000 yards of total offense in his senior year and was recruited by both of the head coaches he would ultimately play for collegiately. As an assistant coach under Lou Holtz, Bo Rein had been recruiting Calcagni to North Carolina State. However, Rein was hired as an assistantby Arkansas and that influenced Calcagni to sign with the Razorbacks. As a freshman, Calcagni was a backup to Scott Bull and the Razorbacks finished 10-2 and defeated Georgia in the Cotton Bowl. Following the season, Rein returned to N.C. State as the head coach. In 1976, Calcagni became the second sophomore ever to earn the starting job for Frank Broyles. Arkansas got off to a 5-1-1 start and had not lost a Southwestern Conference game before Calcagni suffered a season-ending injury against Texas A&M and the Razorbacks lost the last four games of the year. After 19 years as a head coach, Broyles resigned following the 1976 season and Holtz was named as his replacement. Immediately, Holtz met with the players and he challenged Calcagni’s toughness. During the spring, Calcagni injured both his thumbs and had casts on each. Regardless, he decided to play in the spring game and went on to earn the starting job. The Razorbacks opened 4-0 in 1977 before being narrowly defeated by Texas, 13-9. Calcagni, who was named a first-team All-SWC honoree and the Razorbacks continued to win though and accepted an Orange Bowl bid after a win over SMU in Fayetteville. The Orange Bowl appearance was the first in school history and Oklahoma was heavily favored. Arkansas lost All-America guard Leotis Harris to injury and Holtz suspended three offensive players for the game. Holtz and the coaching staff developed a strong game plan and the Razorback’s gained the momentum with an early fumble recovery and Roland Sales scoring two plays later. Arkansas never looked back and went on to run for 315 yards against the No. 2 team in the nation. The win over the Sooners capped an 11-1 season. The 1978 season opened with high hopes for the Razorbacks. Calcagni, Holtz and Ben Cowins graced the cover of the Sports Illustrated college football preview and the publication ranked UA preseason No. 1. The Razorbacks suffered losses to Texas and Houston, but finished with a 9-2-1 record and an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl. As a senior, Calcagni completed 62-of-103 pass attempts for 807 yards and four touchdowns. He also carried the ball 153 times for 448 yards and led the squad with 11 touchdowns. Calcagni lettered four years for the Razorbacks from 1975-78 and was a three-year starter at quarterback. He completed his career as the winningest quarterback in Arkansas history with a 25-4-2 record (20-3-1 over his junior and senior seasons). Following his collegiate career, Calcagni went on to play three years in the Canadian Football League for Ottawa and Edmonton. After his playing career was complete, Calcagni began his coaching career that has included stops at Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Tulsa, Houston and in the Canadian league as an offensive coordinator with Winnipeg. He instructed 15 All-Americans, including Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware and Davey O’Brien Award winner David Klinger.
UA Sports Hall of Honor members are selected by a vote of former letterwinners in conjunction with the “A” Club. The official induction is Friday, Sept. 18, at the Holiday Inn in Springdale. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased from the Razorback Foundation. For more information, call the Razorback Foundation at 479-443-9000.