HOOVER, Ala. — It sure would be fun to point toward John L. Smith as the first reason Missouri fans wont like Arkansas.
By KENT BABB
The Kansas City Star
Look at the cowboy boots the Razorbacks interim coach wore with his gray suit on Wednesday at Southeastern Conference Media Days. Listen to the strange things he says: Get your (urine) hot! is what he tells players when he needs to get them, as they say down here, all stirred up.
Smith is kind of a clown, and those can make for good villains. Bobby Bowden had Steve Spurrier in the 1990s. Nick Saban has Les Miles now. Theres a yin and yang quality to rival coaches, and with Gary Pinkel playing the straight man, Smith would be the comic goofball that Mizzou fans just cant stand.
Mizzou and Arkansas will be cross-division rivals beginning in 2013, and the makings are there for a contentious relationship. But what itll lack immediately is a good villain, because barring a surprise, Smith signed to a 10-month contract after Bobby Petrino was fired for crashing his motorcycle, among other things will be gone by the time the Tigers and Razorbacks play football as SEC contemporaries.
Now, Smith said, we can get the battle going.
Well, sort of. Smith is seen as only a placeholder, and hell most likely step aside after this season for someone like Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn, whos an innovative offensive mind but has nothing on Smith as someone who will poke Mizzou fans in the ribs.
Weve got to make it miserable, Smith said, for you guys to come from Missouri to come south.
People who have been around the SEC for years say a lot of the same things. One of those is that the rivalries are the best part of playing in this conference. You want your team to win, sure, but thats not always as sweet as your rival getting its tail kicked on a nice fall Saturday in its home stadium.
Mizzou fans remember having a rival, right? That team across the state line and a few miles west? Its all hazy now, but it seems there used to be a team that plays in Lawrence that Missouri just didnt like. The Tigers wanted to keep playing Kansas but also knew the feeling might not be mutual if Mizzou left for the SEC.
Thats why it wouldve been good to get to know Smith, begin compiling a list of his annoying little habits, and then try to take it out on the Razorbacks next year. But hes a lame duck before he even coaches his first game, and thats just flat boring.
But dont fret; there are other reasons why Mizzou wont like the Hogs. First, and youll have to hear it in person to fully appreciate this, theres probably no sound more nerve-grating than 72,000 people at Razorback Stadium calling for Sooie, an imaginary pig that, evidently, has gone missing. Youll hear this rallying cry Woooo, Pig! Sooooooooie! at stadiums and airports, at birthday parties and karaoke bars. Its their thing, and you will learn to detest it.
The other thing is that its just a natural instinct among football fans to dislike your neighbor. Arkansas doesnt have the history with Missouri that Kansas had from unrest dating to the Civil War, but there have been a few collisions in recent years. Arkansas stole Mizzous basketball coach, Mike Anderson, in 2011, and Pinkel outdueled Petrino to sign wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, the nations top-ranked recruit in this years class.
That wont be the last time they fight over the same players, and as long as Pinkel can keep winning those battles, hell win a few of them on Saturdays, too.
But for now, there wont be that thrill of counting down the days to the rivalry game. Not yet. Thatll be missing in Mizzous first season in the SEC, and thats a shame. But that was the cost of moving on to the big leagues. Maybe it wouldve been easier if Smiths longevity could be counted on, and he kept talking and playing the energetic jester, but thats just not reality. That leaves a vacancy of that person you love to hate and hate to love at least until basketball season.
Sorry, Mike Anderson. Looks like itll have to be you.
To reach Kent Babb, call 816-234-4386, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/kentbabb. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com