By: David Miller
My heart was pounding as I incessantly checked the TV at work for an update. I repeatedly glanced down at my phone as friends updated me with the score. I asked myself, “could this be the year?” “Are we going to back ourselves into a bowl game?” It was going to be tough; we needed to beat UNT on the road, and ULM needed to lose at home to ULL.
Having been born in 1982, the A-State 1-AA years are vague and mostly enjoyed when someone else tells the story to fill in my patchwork memories. With Larry Lacewell taking a job at Tennessee and administration pushing to join college football’s highest level, Arkansas State football was about to spiral into a dark abyss. Lacewell and others had argued that A-state was not ready for I-A football; we did not have the facilities or budget to compete at the primetime level. Despite these concerns, in 1992 A-state moved to “big time”college football. The move resulted in big time failure for the next decade. We spent most of the 90s trying to keep our head above water as a I-A independent. We had 2 stints in the Big West, which created great regional rivals and ample travel opportunities for fans…or the opposite. The losses piled, as did the head coaches. Al Kincaid came to Jonesboro and posted a salty 4-17-1 record. Ray Perkins was hired too much fanfare; he built a fence, won only two games, and promptly returned to the NFL. John Bobo was the first coach to produce a winning record by going 6-5. However, he was unable to sustain that success and was fired after the 1996 season. Arkansas State football was at an all-time low. I remember trying to defend the program to all my friends. It was tough being surrounded by Hog fans bashing the program with little success to point to in retaliation.
Then out of nowhere there was a buzz. We were going to hire Joe Hollis, an offensive coordinator from Ohio State! I was astonished that someone from a big time football program wanted to come to Jonesboro to coach my Indians. This was it! We were about to become relevant for the first time since joining the I-A ranks. Hollis was going to bring his Ohio State success to Jonesboro. Indeed, he did bring Ohio State replica uniforms. The wins, however, were left in Columbus. Losing had become a habit. Even when it looked as if the tribe was going to pull off an upset, we managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. This was evidenced by allowing NC State go 70 yards in 15 plays while converting four 4th downs in the 2000 season opener. Hollis also posted losses to I-AAs Richmond, Jacksonville St, and Nichols St. He posted a meager 13-43 record in Jonesboro. The University put the “there is no such thing as bad publicity” theory to the test. We made ESPN and other national news programs, but for all the wrong reasons when it was announced that Hollis was fired while he was on the sidelines during a Thanksgiving day game in front of about 800 people. Could things get any worse? Did we even deserve to have a football program? We were in shambles.
Then the transition to relevance started. My second year of college we hired a young coach from Northwestern St. named Steve Roberts. This man seemed more motivated than any coach I had previously seen at A-State. Although Roberts finished with an overall losing record, the program made tremendous strides. During the Roberts regime, the Tribe accomplished something that I thought might never happen. This takes me back to November 26, 2005. It is a day that I will never forget. My beloved Indians traveled to Denton, TX with a bowl bid and conference championship on the line. We needed the dominoes to fall into place and we all know that usually didn’t happen at Arkansas State. I had the “A-State Stomach Ache”* as my friends had dubbed it. I listened to our game on the radio, while the ULL/ULM game happened to be a local cable tv channel. As I paced my living room floor, Roberts made one decision that will always be ingrained in this fan’s memory. Antonio Warren’s dive right with 30 seconds left put the Tribe up 31-24. This play will go down as one of the best plays in stAte history. It propelled us to our first bowl as a member of the FBS. ULL went on to thump ULM, and just like that texts were flying, phone calls were being made, and a trip to a bowl was a reality. Arkansas State was going to the New Orleans Bowl, even if it was in Lafayette.
A lot of memories were made in Lafayette. My friends and I saw our lives flash before our eyes on the drive down there. A local establishment had a buy 1 get 1 drink special, at nights end about 500 ASU fans filled the bar singing the fight song every 10 minutes. We encountered wet pork rinds (a local Lafayette favorite.) Taco Bell ran outta of drinks, who knew this could happen. My brother slept in the bath tub. Four of my best friends in the world sharing memories of lifetime, something just a few short years earlier we thought were never going to happen. We still reminisce about this game, we remind each other of the antics and we share our stories with anyone who will listen. ASU’s first bowl experience was great, but little did I know it would become a tradition.
In my next blog I will discuss the years 2006 – Present.
** The nervous gut wrenching feeling when you know things are about to head south as an Arkansas State Fan → better known as the A-State Stomach Ache. **