Search

Pitching Whoooo The love affair between the Hogs and their fans is a many-splendored thing indeed

April 20, 1994
April 20, 1994

Table of Contents
April 20, 1994

Pitching Whoooo The love affair between the Hogs and their fans is a many-splendored thing indeed

MAYBE YOU'RE of those Arkansas fans who were in the lobby of a
Charlotte motel at the Final Four when two pigs, one named Bill and
the other Hillary, were wheeled in and cheered so loudly that Bill
bolted. Or maybe you know a 44- year-old man nicknamed Gumbo who can
do such a terrific impersonation of a hog in heat that he's an
automatic TV interview everywhere he goes. And surely you would only
shrug at the news that a Hot Springs Village, Ark., couple is so
crazy about the Razorbacks that they have a cast-iron pig atop their
house and another one by their front door that they light up every
night like a Christmas tree.
But you have to understand, Hog fans, that this sort of behavior
is considered strange to the rest of the country, where the only time
most people have a relationship with a pig is when they're eating
their breakfast bacon or holiday ham. These people think that Whoooo
Pig Sooey is an item from column A in a Chinese restaurant. They'll
just never understand the unique bond that ties Arkansas fans
together, wherever they are. As Paul Summers, an excavating
contractor from Berryville, Ark., says, ''If you stick your head out
of a cab in New York City and give a Hog call, you can bet that if
there's another Hog around, he'll call you back.''
Summers, 49, belongs to the legion of supporters who follow the
Razorbacks just about everywhere they go. On the afternoon of the
Hogs' semifinal game against Arizona, he and his good buddy Levi
Phillips, 45, attended the Arkansas pep rally held on a grassy knoll
outside Charlotte Coliseum. They each wore the Hoghead hats that they
had purchased in 1969. Both were a little battered but still
functional. (The same could be said of the hats.) ''Son, these hats
were there when President Nixon came to the Arkansas-Texas football
game in '69,'' said Summers. Summers and Phillips also had on some
pants with zebra-style red stripes.
''These are road pants,'' said Summers. ''Sometimes they get a
little stain on 'em when we don't do so good. They're not '69 models,
but we've had 'em a while. It's kind of like this: You get a good
hog, you just ride him as long as you can. The same with these
pants.''
That's something Gumbo would understand. Gumbo's real name is Phil
Madison. A 44-year-old real-estate agent, Gumbo is a resident of
Fayetteville, and he says he learned to do his pig-in-heat
impersonation from a master named Gene Bennett. Or, as Gumbo modestly
puts it, ''The guy who taught me is as good as I am.''
That's plenty good, indeed. Wherever the Razorbacks go, Gumbo is
willing to oblige any TV cameraman who needs a sound bite. When asked
how long it took him to get his act down pat -- there's a lot of
nose-quivering and lip- flapping involved -- Gumbo said, again
casting modesty to the wind, ''It was instant. I guess you could say
I was a natural.''
Chuck and Retus Zierke of Hot Springs Village, the folks with the
porcine roof and lawn decorations, are mainstays in the team's
traveling retinue too. , They say they have no idea how much they
spend every year to follow the Hogs, but it's probably well into five
figures. ''We spent over $1,000 last week ((at the Midwest Regional))
in Dallas,'' said Retus at the Final Four, ''but we sure enjoyed
it.''
That kind of spending is not exceptional among Arkansas fans. Just
ask SEC rivals like Mississippi State and Mississippi, both of which
are close enough to Fayetteville that Hog fans have been known to buy
season tickets to their games. Not only does that enable the
Razorback zanies to see their beloved Hogs when they play in
Starkville or Oxford, it also means they can buy additional SEC
tournament tickets because of their status as Bulldog or Rebel
season-ticket holders.
As for tickets to home games, forget about it. Every Arkansas home
game has been sold out since the 1976-77 season, and there's a
waiting list with at least 4,000 names on it for seats in the
palatial new 19,200-seat Bud Walton Arena. In its first season the
arena souvenir store sold more than 600 Hoghead hats and more than
18,000 sets of Arkansas basketball cards. On one Saturday the store
had total sales exceeding $350,000.
Other schools -- Kentucky, Indiana and North Carolina come to mind
-- may be able to match Arkansas in attendance and souvenir sales,
but nobody has fans who are more loyal, more colorful or more
outrageous. ''There's not a place on the college basketball scene
that has fans like Arkansas fans,'' says Nolan Richardson. ''They
don't just come; they yell their tails off.''
After the national title game every one of Richardson's players
thanked the fans, who, like the team, finally snorted and rooted
their way into the national consciousness. Even guard Davor Rimac of
Croatia said after the game, ''It was time for something good like
this to happen to Arkansas and its fans.''
Said Summers at the Final Four, ''I'm going broke on these things.
But it's been great. If you're here, it doesn't get any better than
this.''
Hooey? Phooey? No, just some typical Razorback sooey. As Arkansas
fans well know, the one thing that can't be questioned is Razorback
loyalty. Or, as Summers likes to say, ''Once a Hog, always a Hog.''

This is an article from the April 20, 1994 issue