It was a wonderful event, well-run and festive, except that the hosts booed a guest.
They even booed the band. Yes, they booed tuba players and a bass drummer, even before they’d played a note.
They booed merely because these band members — these youths, these students — hailed from the University of Texas in Austin. Their only sin had been to dare to walk into Alltel Arena in North Little Rock toward their assigned seats. They were marked men, or marked children, only because they wore their shirts of that identifying burnt orange.
These hosts booed the Texas basketball players, who seemed unfazed and certainly undeterred. They proceeded to win both their games and advance to what’s called the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA college basketball tournament, which is also called March Madness.
But the madness is supposed to be about the frenetic student competition on the field of play, not the psychological pathology of the adults in the stands.
They really booed — resoundingly so — the Texas coach, a fellow named Rick Barnes. It was mainly because he’d held a teleconference with the press earlier in the week when he was plainly joking, just joshing, playing.
He said those people in Arkansas had better be nice to his players when they came to Alltel for these opening games of this tournament. He noted that the University of Texas had signed a contract for couple of forthcoming basketball games with the University of Arkansas. He said Texas had a lot of money and could always buy itself out of the deal.
All he was doing was riffing with one of the press people, who egged him on.
It’s called banter. It can be a form of healthy human interaction.
Even if you think he showed poor judgment, the better part of valor would have been to shrug it off.
But Arkansas has such a thin skin against which it rests that ubiquitous and oversized chip on the shoulder.
These were Arkansas people doing the booing, and, in so doing, revealing and disparaging only themselves.
They were altogether boorish and classless. They revealed insecurity and inferiority complexes. They extended special respect, actually, to those booed.
One guy wore a Razorback red T-shirt strained over his midriff. It announced: “Certified Hornhater.”
What kind of a thing is that to be? What kind of an identifier is that to advertise? What did Texas ever do to him, except George W. Bush, which wasn’t at all personal, but global, even cosmic?
Here’s the thing about this Arkansas obsession with Texas: Texas doesn’t give a rip and never did.
Even when we were in the same collegiate sports conference as Texas, the Longhorns invested more emotion in Oklahoma and Texas A&M. We were their Tulsa, maybe their TCU.
Now these 19-year-old kids from this big university in Austin, these horn players and chaps-wearing cheerleaders and basketball players, are surely clueless to whatever it is about them that so bugs these oddly hostile people in Arkansas. These kids were hardly born the last time Arkansas and Texas competed in the same conference.
Furthermore, it was bad form for those thousands in the stands to call the hogs when the Miami Hurricanes mounted that late comeback Sunday afternoon against these Texas Longhorns.
This was a big moment for these teams and their fans. And all their hosts could do was some eerie sooie sound by which, in their provincial self-absorption, they tried to make the moment about the spectators rather than the participants.
The team for which they were calling was in the process of losing by 40 or 50 points a few hundred miles away.
And for the record: The host school for this event was the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, which has no porcine mascot or eerie swine call. They’re Trojans, which is an entirely different kind of misfortune.
This NCAA subregional wasn’t about us. It was merely our honor to stage and behold the event.
We were up to it logistically and organizationally, save a little problem with concessions on Friday.
But we simply weren’t quite up to it in the area of being personally secure and humanly gracious.