I never heard of Lou Holtz before he was hired as the head football coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks in 1976. He replaced the legendary coach Frank Broyles who had decided to retire after successfully coaching the Hogs for 19 years. Loyal Hog fans did not believe there was a coach who could even begin to match the coaching genius of Coach Broyles, much less exceed the records he had set.
Coach Holtz inherited a team of excellent players whom Broyles had recruited, and they proceeded to win 11 games in his first year. Their only loss was to the #1 ranked Texas Longhorns who had All-American halfback Earl Campbell, and the score was only 13-9. For the first time the Razorbacks were invited to play in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Day against the Oklahoma Sooners who were ranked #2 in the nation. Although Arkansas was ranked #6, it was a foregone conclusion they were greatly over-matched by a team which included several All-Americans including running back Billy Sims who won a Heisman Trophy the following year. The excitement among Hog fans was palpable until the weekend before the team was to leave for Miami when the unthinkable happened.
Two of the Hog’s best players, running back Ben Cowins and receiver Donny Bobo along with an additional player Michael Forrest were involved in a dormitory incident involving a girl. Coach Holtz made a thorough investigation and decided to suspend all three players, not allowing them to travel with the team to Miami. His explanation to the players and the public for the suspensions were they had broken the “Do-Right Rule.” When asked to further explain the rule Coach Holtz simply stated, “If you want to stay out of trouble, you must obey the “Do Right Rule” which states, “Always do the right thing.” Initially many believed he had given too harsh a punishment to these players. What little chance we might have had against the mighty Sooners was seemingly erased by this verdict against our 2 best players. Many appeals were made to the coach to change his mind, but he was unmoved in his resolve and in his final decision.
Cathy and I had decided to spend the latter part of our Christmas holidays with her family in Fort Lauderdale, and this would give our son John Aaron and me the opportunity to attend the Orange Bowl game along with Cathy’s brother George. During the week before Christmas, we made reservations to fly out of Monroe, Louisiana to Fort Lauderdale on Delta. During the second half of our flight itinerary from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale I had an encounter with Rabbi Norman Goldburg which I described in the account, Sharing Jesus With Rabbi Norman; Aug. 2014.
I remember the thrill John and I had travelling to the game with George. He knew his way to the Orange Bowl Stadium, so John and I could simply enjoy the journey and speculate on the final outcome of the game and all the statistics. All three of us had worn red and white outfits not remembering those were also the colors of the Sooners. We didn’t have any Razorback insignia, but quickly realized upon arrival at the stadium, we were in the minority. Several fans asked what part of Oklahoma we were from, and when we told them we were from Arkansas they were astonished saying, “Why would you even come such a distance for this slaughter?” John and I just meekly said, “We’re going to try our best.” George had brought an air horn which he normally used as a safety device on his boat, and he gave it to John for his use at the game as needed! 🙂
From the opening series of the game in which the Sooners fumbled and we quickly scored, it became obvious in this game on this night we were the superior team. Our running back Roland Sales gained 205 yards rushing, and this remained an Orange Bowl record for about 20 years. Our defense played extremely well and held the Sooners to 6 points while we scored 31 points.
John Aaron had a “blast” with the air horn and seemingly blew it every time we made a first down. The couple sitting in front of us were obvious Sooner fans, and were so disgusted with the game and the constant air horn they left right after half time.
Prior to the game many of us Razorback fans were put off by Coach Holtz’s “Do Right Rule”, but deep down were pleased with his stress on personal discipline. Those of us who initially opposed the suspension of his star players were made to understand his wisdom in maintaining strict standards. The other players understood they must take up the slack by playing harder and with greater resolve. The results were obvious and stunning, especially for those Sooner fans who were incredulous in thinking people from Arkansas were crazy to travel so far to “witness a slaughter.” As for John and me, we would have travelled twice that distance to blow the air horn for our beloved Razorbacks!