I hope you are enjoying some time with family and friends and remembering the many things that each of us have to be thankful. The Thanksgiving weekend is full of many traditions, whether it is eating Turkey and dressing, doing some early holiday shopping or watching some football, chances are you have your own customary activities.
For many Arkansas and LSU fans, that has included a year-end Southeastern Conference showdown on the football field. When Arkansas takes the field on Friday afternoon at Tiger Stadium, it will mark the 22nd-consecutive year, the Hogs and the Tigers have met on the football field on Thanksgiving weekend. It is a series that has produced some of the most exciting games in school history and consistently delivered the conference a signature game at the end of the regular season with league and national implications.
Yes, I know the Iron Bowl on Saturday, between Alabama and Auburn, will decide the SEC Western Division and influence the national championship picture this year. It is a long-standing in-state feud that is one of the fiercest in college football.
But consider this, since 2001, the annual Battle for the Golden Boot has produced the SEC Western Division representative in the conference title game more times (7) than the Iron Bowl which will send its sixth team to Atlanta this year. Few could have predicted that type of impact from a season-ending series formed by conference expansion cultivated by a television time slot and accented by a Golden Boot.
When Arkansas entered the SEC in time for the 1992 football season, the Razorbacks and Tigers had some football history and the seeming potential of a border type rivalry. After all, the legend goes that it was after a win over LSU in Memphis in 1909 when Arkansas football coach Hugo Bezdek called his team a "wild band of razorback hogs," changing the course of the program forever.
But at least in the modern era, it was the willingness of the two institutions to move the game to a day and time other league members refused to accommodate that really jump started the rivalry. Having a competitive game from the nation’s best league on in a key time slot proved beneficial to nearly everyone, even those you might not think about initially.
Often airing unopposed from other key games on the final weekend of the regular season, the Arkansas-LSU game provided much needed Thanksgiving hangover relief for college football fans full of turkey and fully satiated of awkward conversation with extended family members.&
As shoppers flooded the mall across the country on Black Friday, HD televisions popped with the Cardinal and Gold of an afternoon clash of two proud college football programs. There are no statistics to support how many televisions the series has sold over the years, but at the very least the electronics section provided a temporary respite to those involuntarily drafted into the chaos.&
But in the end it was the memorable moments on the field that turned this series into a Thanksgiving weekend staple. Miracle on Markham, Miracle on Markham 2, Darren McFapen’s dominating performance in a triple-overtime upset of No. 1 LSU in Baton Rouge, all have delivered indelible moments.
And while this weekend won’t mark the end of the series or the Battle for the Golden Boot, it was a bit surprising this past summer when news that the SEC was considering shuffling the conference schedule to hear some suggest that there was no tradition that would be impacted by the change. Arkansas and LSU around Thanksgiving wasn’t a tradition, it was just a game that happened to be on that weekend they espoused.
Similar misleading rhetoric is often used in politics, but that doesn’t make it true. The reality is that with conference expansion comes certain adjustments. Adjustments must be made to accommodate the new landscape and those decisions aren’t always easy. For the Razorbacks, Missouri will become the new year-end rival and I am confident it will soon become a rivalry in its own right.
But this weekend as we enjoy the last edition of what became a Thanksgiving weekend staple for Arkansas and LSU, let’s not diminish it by pretending it wasn’t a tradition. The more than two decade history of the series suggests otherwise. Instead, Arkansas, LSU and all SEC fans should take a moment to be thankful for what this series has done for this league and college football.
Razorback Road is a weekly column published on Thursdays by Associate Athletic Director for Public Relations Kevin Trainor. Trainor is a graduate of the University of Arkansas and has worked for Razorback Athletics for more than 20 years.