Pig Roast: Arkansas’ 10 most heartbreaking football games

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In light of the Razorbacks’ current season, which began with great expectations but has been derailed yet again by a grueling SEC schedule, it seems appropriate to reflect on past seasons when the flicker of championship glory was brutally extinguished.

There’s a lot of heartbreak in this list. Better grab some tissues.

10. 1998 — The Stoernover

After five years with Danny Ford at the helm, Arkansas severed ties with its head coach and brought in Houston Nutt. An Arkansas native and former Razorback, Nutt was handed a veteran squad, and the season couldn’t have started any better.

The Hogs roared out of the gate to an 8-0 start, rolling No. 22 Alabama in the SEC opener and winning three straight road games. No. 11 Arkansas then breezed past Ole Miss to set up a monumental showdown against No. 1 Tennessee in Knoxville.

Now ranked No. 10, Arkansas jumped on the Vols early, leading 21-3 in the first half. But Tennessee clawed back to pull within two — 24-22 — with about three minutes remaining. The Hogs tried to run out the clock, but disaster struck when quarterback Clint Stoerner tripped over his lineman’s foot and fumbled the ball. Tennessee recovered and scored the winning touchdown five plays later.

Still, Arkansas wasn’t out of the national title hunt. The Hogs actually moved up in the rankings after losing to Tennessee, improving to No. 9. But a week later the shell shocked Razorbacks were upended 22-21 by Mississippi State on a dubious field goal.

Tennessee, meanwhile, went on to win the first BCS National Championship.

9. 1979 — New Year’s Day Debacle

The Razorbacks were in a peculiar position at the end of the ’79 season. Although the Hogs lost their bowl game to the eventual national champion, it’s plausible that had Arkansas prevailed, it still wouldn’t have finished No. 1.

The season in a nutshell: Despite beating Texas for the first time in eight years and reaching as high as No. 4 in the polls, Arkansas’ title hopes were derailed by No. 6 Houston. Later in the season Texas knocked off Houston, but both the Cougars and Hogs finished 7-1 to share the SWC title.

No. 6 Arkansas was invited to the Sugar Bowl while Houston went to the Cotton Bowl. The Hogs were paired with No. 2 Alabama. The Crimson Tide, SEC champions and undefeated at 11-0, steamrolled Arkansas 24-9 to win their seventh and final championship under legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.

Although Houston won the 1980 Cotton Bowl, the Cougars had dropped a few spots — to No. 8 — entering the bowl game. Already ahead in the polls, Arkansas further benefited when No. 1 Ohio State lost in the Rose Bowl.

But that victory came thanks to No. 2 Southern California. Meanwhile, No. 5 Oklahoma topped No. 4 Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

So, it’s safe to assume even if the Hogs managed to upset Alabama, the best they could hope for was a top 5 finish in the polls.

Plus, even if Alabama lost, the Tide probably would just claim the 1979 title anyway.

8. 1988 — Help Wanted

By the late 1980s, the SWC was still recovering from SMU’s pay-for-play scandal that destroyed the Mustangs’ football program. Arkansas, although 10-0 with wins over Ole Miss, Texas and Houston — the latter two victories coming on the road — was ranked No. 8 heading into the season finale against No. 3 Miami.

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CBS laid out a convoluted path to the national championship for Arkansas.

As noted by Arkansas Fight, the SWC’s sordid reputation and a distaste for smashmouth football among the national media possibly contributed to the Hogs’ low ranking:

“[Sports Illustrated] paints a dismal picture of the ’88 Hogs, focusing on their performance in the Arkansas-Texas A&M game that … ‘was about as pretty to look at as the snarling wild pig emblem that decorates gas stations and convenience stores all across Arkansas'”

Heading into the game with Miami, Arkansas also was looking to avenge its 51-7 shellacking from the Hurricanes the year before in Little Rock. But to win the national title, Arkansas would need loads of help from other teams and the media, as CBS pointed out in its pre-game show.

Down in the Orange Bowl for the ’88 contest, the two teams traded blows until late in the second half, when Arkansas safety Steve Atwater came within a hair of making a game-clinching interception.

Miami settled for a field goal, but that was enough to edge the Hogs 18-15. While a win over Miami wouldn’t have guaranteed Arkansas a national title, it would’ve tipped the scales in the Razorbacks’ favor. But losing to Troy Aikman and No. 9 UCLA in the Cotton Bowl didn’t help, either.

7. 1977 — “The national championship is up for grabs!”

In some people’s eyes, the 1977 Arkansas Razorbacks were national champions.

For most of Arkansas’ tenure in the SWC, the Razorbacks’ biggest hurdle each year was Texas. The 1977 season wouldn’t be any different.

After a perplexing 5-5-1 finish in ’76, Arkansas rebounded in ’77 with a stellar cast that included future NFL Hall of Fame inductee Dan Hampton. The Hogs were 4-0 and ranked No. 8 when No. 2 Texas rolled into Fayetteville.

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Arkansas’ Roland Sales (21) rushed for a then-record 205 yards in the Orange Bowl.

A match-up of two undefeated teams, the game was a defensive slugfest. Early scores hinged on field goals, which included a then-record 67-yard make from Arkansas’ Steve Little.

But Texas’ backbreaking, 80-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter sealed a 13-9 Longhorns victory.

Arkansas won the rest of its games and finished second in the SWC, earning an invite to the Orange Bowl. Texas, meanwhile, won the SWC and earned a trip to the Cotton Bowl.

Down in Miami, Arkansas blasted No. 2 Oklahoma 31-6. Earlier, in Dallas, the Longhorns were whipped 38-10 by Joe Montana and No. 5 Notre Dame. If the Sooners won, they could have a shot at a national title.

But thanks to an upset in the Rose Bowl and a lopsided win by Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, there wouldn’t be a clear national champion. Despite division within the AP and UPI polls, Notre Dame received a majority of No. 1 votes. Today, the Fighting Irish are widely recognized as the national champions of 1977.

Still, it’s worth noting that Alabama and Arkansas also received a share of No. 1 votes — with the Hogs tallying 5 1/2 votes in the AP poll and two votes in the UPI poll.

6. 1982 — “Damn Texas refs”

Under six-year head coach Lou Holtz, the Hogs were ranked No. 13 in the 1982 preseason and climbed to No. 5 after a 7-0 start. Arkansas was upset Nov. 6 by Baylor, but crept back into the top 10 after drubbing Texas A&M 35-0 in Little Rock.

Up next for the No. 9 Hogs was a trip to Dallas to face No. 2 SMU. The Mustangs were undefeated and had a chance to win the SWC that afternoon in Texas Stadium.

Led by Billy Ray Smith, Jr., Arkansas’ defense slowed the vaunted “Pony Express,” and the Hogs were nursing a 17-10 lead late in the fourth quarter.

With just over four minutes remaining, SMU faced a third-and-long. Short on time, Mustangs quarterback Lance McIlhenny dropped back and hurled a prayer downfield to receiver Jackie Wilson.

The rest is sordid history — to Hogs fans, at least.

Nathan Jones, Arkansas’ sophomore defensive back, was whistled for pass interference despite the ball being overthrown and Wilson climbing up Jones’ back.

The penalty awarded the Mustangs a 40-yard gain, putting SMU in the red zone.

SMU scored a few plays later on McIlhenny’s scramble, held Arkansas on defense, and missed a kick in the final seconds to preserve the tie.

The 17-17 stalemate clinched the SWC for SMU and secured the Mustangs a Cotton Bowl berth, where they beat Dan Marino and No. 6 Pittsburgh.

Now ranked No. 6, Arkansas followed the loss to SMU with a 33-7 whipping from No. 12 Texas. The Hogs limped to the Bluebonnet Bowl just weeks removed from being in the hunt for a national title.

But Razorbacks fans got some pretty cool bumper stickers out of the fiasco.

5. 2006 — “The lost year”

Houston Nutt’s most successful season also was his most tumultuous.

The season seemed like a lost cause from the outset, when star running back Darren McFadden injured his toe in a drunken night club brawl in Little Rock.

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Houston Nutt was hired as Arkansas’ head coach in 1998. Over the next eight years, he moonlighted as the offensive coordinator.

Meanwhile, Gus Malzahn had been hired as offensive coordinator. A legend in the Arkansas high school ranks, Malzahn brought with him a handful of his elite players, including former Springdale quarterback Mitch Mustain, the 2005 Gatorade National Player of the Year.

Malzahn’s offensive scheme — described as a “before-its-time, no-huddle spread offense” — immediately clashed with Nutt’s conservative philosophy.

The rift deepened thanks to a brewing quarterback controversy between Mustain and starter Casey Dick, and Nutt’s reluctance to give up play-calling duties — something he oversaw during his previous eight years at Arkansas.

Oh, and then there was Nutt’s alleged extra-marital affair with a local TV anchor. Can’t forget Mustain’s overbearing mother, either.

Anyways, Arkansas got smoked in the season opener against No. 6 USC, but reeled off 10 straight wins. McFadden emerged as a Heisman candidate, and his two teammates in the backfield — Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis — became stars in their own right.

The Hogs were ranked No. 5 and had already clinched the SEC West when No. 9 LSU came to War Memorial Stadium for first top 10 matchup in the history of the rivalry.

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Despite a record-setting career at Springdale High School, quarterback Mitch Mustain and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn couldn’t replicate their success at Arkansas.

LSU won 31-26 thanks to a flurry of big plays and questionable offensive play-calling from Arkansas.

From there, the Hogs went to Atlanta to play No. 4 Florida in the SEC Championship Game, where they blew a four-point lead late in the third quarter. The back-breaker came when Arkansas receiver Reggie Fish tried to field a punt near the Hogs’ goal line, muffed the ball, and Florida recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown.

The Hogs capped the season with a heartbreaking loss to No. 6 Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl.

4. 1970 — “Shootout fizzles”

The 1970 Razorbacks got off to an auspicious start. Arkansas was one of several schools to take advantage of a new NCAA rule allowing teams to schedule an 11th game. Other high-profile regular season matchups that year included LSU-Notre Dame, USC-Alabama and UCLA-Texas.

Arkansas vs. Texas, 1970

Arkansas’ powerful running game was smothered by a stingy Texas defense.

But as the New York Times noted, “the national spotlight will be at Little Rock, where Arkansas opposes Stanford” on national TV.

No. 10 Stanford jumped on the Hogs early, taking a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. Arkansas, ranked No. 4, rallied but fell short in the second half, as Stanford won 34-28.

Still, Arkansas returned a talented, senior-laden roster. The Razorbacks followed the loss by dismantling Oklahoma State and Tulsa, then ran roughshod through the SWC. After thumping No. 19 Texas Tech in Lubbock, the Hogs were back in the top 5 and heading to Austin for a showdown against No. 1 Texas.

It was the Big Shootout all over again: The winner of the 1970 contest would clinch the SWC and possibly a share of the national title. The Waco Tribune-Herald succinctly captured Arkansas’ pre-game misery:

“Last year’s tears, suffered on that cold, dismal day in Fayetteville have lingered for an entire season.”

But Arkansas wouldn’t exact revenge for ’69. And there was no dramatic finish — or much excitement at all — as the Longhorns skewered the Hogs 42-7.

3. 2011 — Bayou Beatdown

Despite being thumped by Alabama earlier in the year, the Hogs were within arms reach of the title game at the end of the 2011 season.

Thanks to a bevy of upsets and the Razorbacks’ “thrashing” of Mississippi State, the Battle for the Golden Boot became a top 5 match-up with massive postseason implications. Arkansas had jumped in the polls from No. 6 to No. 3 — the Hogs’ highest ranking since 1978 — while LSU and Alabama held the top two spots, respectively.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas-LSU rivalry had emerged on the national stage. Six of the previous seven games were decided by an average of 3.5 points.

After a scoreless first quarter in Death Valley, Arkansas appeared in control, bolting to a 14-0 lead. But the Tigers responded with a 77-yard scoring drive, held the Hogs on defense, and then returned the punt 92 yards for a touchdown.

The rout was on from there. LSU rolled to a 41-17 win, outscoring Arkansas 41-3 down the stretch.

2. 1969 — Game of the Century

What wasn’t at stake on Dec. 6, 1969?

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Arkansas’ defense — best in the SWC in terms of points allowed — forced six Texas turnovers.

For Arkansas and Texas, it was the final regular-season game of the 100th anniversary of college football. The winner would claim the SWC title, a berth in the Cotton Bowl — a potential national championship game.

Despite dreary conditions, Razorback Stadium was filled to capacity, while 58 million watched on TV.

The annual match-up between the Longhorns and Razorbacks functioned as a one-game referendum on a budding rivalry, a fact that was overlooked amidst all the chaos surrounding the game.

Texas was Arkansas’ most hated opponent, but the feeling wasn’t mutual. Still, Arkansas and Texas shared or won the SWC eight times in the 1960s. The average margin of victory between the two teams in their previous nine meetings was a paltry seven points.

By ’69, outsiders had taken notice. What was later coined The Big Shootout originated from the foresight of TV executives, who lobbied Arkansas and Texas to move their usual October meeting to December for the final game of the season.

The gamble paid off: the Longhorns and Hogs entered the game undefeated — ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively — and ABC had the ratings bonanza it hoped for.

Even the weather played along with the melodrama:

“[T]he day took on an eerie feeling. The night before, a steady, cold rain fell in Fayetteville and an icy fog hovered over the stadium as the crowd awaited the arrival of President Richard Nixon, who would award a plaque symbolic of the National Championship to the winner.”

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Texas quarterback James Street’s 42-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was a seminal moment in The Big Shootout.

Arkansas fans know well the heartbreak of the game. The Hogs looked unstoppable early, but blew a 14-0 lead and lost 15-14 to the hated Longhorns. Texas celebrated in the locker room with Nixon, who presented a plaque to the Longhorns and declared them national champions.

Texas went on to defeat Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl to finish 11-0. Alongside, Ohio State and Nebraska, the Longhorns were named national champions by the National Football Foundation and UPI. The Hogs went to the Sugar Bowl, but were upset by Archie Manning and Ole Miss.

While the loss caused acute pain for Razorbacks fans, the long-term ramifications wouldn’t be fully realized until the 1980s.

Before Frank Broyles arrived, Arkansas was second-fiddle not only to Texas, but most of the SWC. That all changed in the 1960s. By the end of the decade, Arkansas had established a program to rival Texas. Losing the Big Shootout loomed over the program for the next few seasons, while Texas prospered.

The Longhorns opened the 1970s by winning four straight conference titles and dominated Arkansas as the rivalry reverted to a one-sided affair. Arkansas beat Texas just twice in the decade (’71 and ’79), losing eight times by an average of 25 points.

1. 1965 — “It had to end sometime”

The last time Arkansas was on the cusp of a national title, the Hogs were riding a 22-game win streak, ranked No. 2 in the country and facing an over-matched LSU team in the Cotton Bowl.

LSU’s 14-7 upset over No. 2 Arkansas in the 1966 Cotton Bowl kept the Hogs from winning consecutive national titles.

LSU’s 14-7 upset over No. 2 Arkansas in the 1966 Cotton Bowl kept the Hogs from winning consecutive national titles.

But the Razorbacks were undone by their own hubris and a feisty Tigers squad.

As Sports Illustrated noted before the game, Broyles knew his team souldn’t overlook LSU:

“A lady whose intention undoubtedly was kind wove through the balloons and paper hats at the Cotton Bowl New Year’s Eve party and clutched the arm of Arkansas Coach Frank Broyles. ‘Frank,’ she said, ‘you have nothing to worry about tomorrow,’ meaning the Razorbacks were certain to beat Louisiana State for their 23rd straight win. ‘Lady,’ said Broyles, ‘that is exactly what worries me.'”

Arkansas went up 7-0 in the opening quarter, the only score of the period. But the Hogs couldn’t contain LSU’s bruising running back, Joe Labruzzo. He scored both of the Tigers’ touchdowns and captured MVP honors.

Neither team scored in the second half and Arkansas’ last-second rally was extinguished when the clock ran out.

Thanks to losses by No. 1 Michigan State and No. 2 Nebraska, LSU’s victory inadvertently vaulted No. 4 Alabama to the national title. Arkansas finished at No. 3.

Had Arkansas won, the Razorbacks would’ve not only had a strong case for being known as “the team of the ’60s,” but the ’64 and ’65 squads would be regarded as two of the all-time best.

Honorable Mention

A total of six points kept Arkansas from an undefeated regular season in 1985.

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After a strong finish in ’77, Sports Illustrated ranked Arkansas as the No. 1 team heading into the 1978 season.

The Razorbacks opened the season 5-0 and were ranked No. 4 when an underachieving Texas squad came to Fayetteville on Oct. 19. Arkansas scored first and kept the Longhorns out of the end zone — but succumbed 15-13 thanks to five Texas field goals.

Roughly three weeks later, the SWC title was up for grabs when No. 9 Arkansas traveled to College Station. Texas A&M pulled the upset, 10-6.

Arkansas rebounded with a thrilling victory in the Holiday Bowl.

Just seven years earlier, Arkansas graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as the magazine’s No. 1 team entering the 1978 season. The Hogs also were blessed with a No. 2 ranking from the Associated Press.

The Hogs picked up where they left off from ’77, but consecutive losses to No. 8 Texas and No. 11 Houston spoiled Arkansas’ championship aspirations.

Stidham murder case still a mystery

Editor’s note — This story originally was published in March 2015 by The Weekly Vista. It has been reprinted here with the author’s permission.

Dana Stidham-2 (The Weekly Vista)(1)Dana Stidham would’ve turned 44 on March 8.

Instead she died at age 18, the victim of an unsolved murder that continues to haunt detectives more than two decades later.

“I still think about it all the time. I just run it around in my head,” said Mike Sydoriak, a retired captain with the Benton County Sheriff’s Office who was a detective in Bella Vista when Dana’s murder happened. “I keep thinking, we talked to all these different people, why didn’t somebody see something?”

Stidham was last seen alive leaving Phillips Food Center (now Harps in Town Center) on July 25, 1989. Two months later, her remains were discovered in a creek bed in far eastern Bella Vista, near the Arkansas-Missouri border.

Sydoriak partnered with Bella Vista detective Danny Varner to investigate Stidham’s murder. They worked the case for nearly 20 years. For every lead uncovered, the detectives always found themselves lacking sufficient evidence to make an arrest.

In 1998, Sydoriak and then-Benton County Sheriff Andy Lee told reporters that they believed they knew who killed Stidham. They just didn’t have enough evidence for an arrest. The evidence “pointed to one man,” they said, a former high school classmate of Stidham’s.

“He never dated her. He always tried but never could,” Sydoriak says now. “She didn’t want nothing to do with him.”

Failed polygraphs, dubious alibis and other oddities further implicated the man. But it was all circumstantial evidence, Sydoriak said.

“We even had the FBI try and come up with something. They would make profiles, kind of like what you see on TV,” Sydoriak said. “They send out a questionnaire, we fill it out and send it back. They reached the same conclusion as we did.”

“I remember that night (she disappeared),” Sydoriak added. “Everyone was saying that she’d run off. But her mom knew right away that something was wrong.”

In August 2013, Benton County Sheriff Kelley Cradduck announced that he wanted to take a “fresh look” at the Stidham case.

He told reporters that his office was combing through old files and that they planned to digitize the items box-by-box.

“There’s new technology that exists that might help us uncover some clues that maybe were missed before,” Cradduck said. “We are going to keep looking and sooner or later, I do believe we will find a way to solve that case.”

Sgt. Hunter Petray is currently overseeing Stidham’s case for the Criminal Investigation Division of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office.

“This case is certainly not forgotten, but it’s kind of on the back burner because of other cases we’re working on right now,” Petray said in January. “That’s not to say that this case is any less important, but we’re going to go back and start from the beginning.”

Tips can be reported anonymously to CID at 479-271-1009 or sent to the Vista at weeklyvista@nwadg.com or calling 479-855-3724.

A life cut short

dana2Dana was preparing to embark on the next stage of her life when she disappeared. She graduated from Gravette High School in June, and had moved to an apartment in Centerton with her brother, Larry, and a few friends.

“She had the world open to her,” said her mother, Georgia Stidham. “She just had to decide what she wanted to start out with.”

A well-known, popular girl, Dana was relatively petite. At 5-foot-2, she weighed just over 100 pounds. She had a dark complexion, with shoulder-length brown hair. Sydoriak remembers seeing her often at local dances.

“They used to have weekend dances at the Civic Center in Gravette,” Sydoriak said. “They’d hire me to stand inside as the chaperone. Dana was always there. All the kids knew her and a lot of kids liked her.”

Georgia remembers a teen who loved “babies and old people.” Dana often babysat for young couples and was heavily involved with her family. She and her brother, Larry, were close, so much so that they often covered for each other at school.

“Dana was a freshman when Larry was a senior,” Georgia said. “I remember I got a call from Larry worried that he had missed too many days of school. I said, ‘but I have to sign a note when you’re absent,’ and then Dana said, ‘Well … I signed a few of those notes, Mom.’”

Home in Hiwasse

Dana was thinking about enrolling at the University of Arkansas. That was one reason she was back in Hiwasse on July 25, Georgia said. Dana needed to do a load of laundry and was contemplating moving back home to save money for school.

“She was looking into courses,” Georgia said. “She was very artistic. She could draw and paint — she could do anything.”

Dana’s father, Lawrence, was home while she did her laundry that day in 1989. Feeling ill, he asked Dana to fetch some medicine for him. She agreed to the errand, departing in the late afternoon for Phillips Food Store in Bella Vista. She was wearing white shorts, a white top with red lettering and red socks with white tennis shoes.

After stopping for gas, Dana arrived at the store. She purchased Alka-Seltzer, dish-washing soap and sugar. A receipt found later by investigators listed her checkout time as 3:17 p.m.

Sydoriak said that at first he was perplexed that Dana didn’t just stop at the convenience store in Hiwasse, which was only a few blocks from Georgia and Larry’s home. He later discovered why Dana avoided it.

“(The suspect) sat at the store a lot, because his parents owned it,” Sydoriak said. “He was there all the time.” They sold the store years ago.

When Sydoriak asked Georgia about avoiding the nearby Hiwasse Dairy Freeze — what residents called the “Hiwasse Hilton” — Georgia told him “Dana didn’t want to deal with (the suspect). He was always around.”

Dana had worked part-time at Phillips for about three years, and stopped to visit with a few friends inside the store. She also visited briefly with an older employee in the parking lot. Sydoriak said investigators interviewed a witness who was landscaping nearby. The witness said he saw Dana drive off, but wasn’t sure which way she went.

Which direction Dana traveled after leaving Phillips was critical to establishing a time line, Sydoriak said.

Later that evening, when Dana didn’t return home, her parents started to worry. They went out looking for her, and so did Larry when he got off work. Dana’s parents contacted Varner, a family friend who went to high school with Georgia, to tell him Dana was missing.

Varner worked at the the Bella Vista division of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office (which was the law enforcement agency for Bella Vista until Bella Vista became a city and formed the police department). Other officers joined the search as well. No one could find any trace of Dana. At about 9 p.m., a be-on-the-lookout was issued and broadcast by law enforcement agencies in the region.

The first clue

Dana Stidham-1 (Benton County Daily Record)(1)At 6:30 a.m. July 26, BVSO Sgt. Karen Myers was driving southbound down U.S. Highway 71 on her way to work. She was nearing Wellington Road, north of Town Center, when she noticed a vehicle on the side of the highway. After getting to Bella Vista and hearing the briefing about Dana’s disappearance, she decided to give the car another look.

It was still there when Myers returned. After running the plates, authorities found the car belonged to Dana. Her 1984 gray Dodge Omni had been abandoned and was sitting in the southbound shoulder opposite Wellington Road.

Investigators thoroughly examined the car, but it was only the first in a litany of frustrating clues.

The keys were still in the ignition, the driver-side window was halfway down and the rear tire was slightly deflated, but still driveable. There was no sign of a struggle. Dana’s purse was missing. The driver’s seat also had been adjusted for a much taller person, indicating that Dana likely wasn’t the last person to operate the vehicle before it was abandoned.

“Nobody saw the car there and then all of a sudden it shows up the next morning,” Sydoriak said. State troopers were running radar in the area until close to midnight. “They didn’t see the car.”

Further complicating the matter was that Dana’s family had been scouring the area for her all evening, and they had a plan in place if she was in trouble.

“We were protective. We had a route to take if Dana got stranded or didn’t contact us,” Georgia said. “And when she didn’t come home that day, we went all up and down (U.S.) 71 and never saw the car. So to see it the next day seemed strange.”

A primary suspect

Not long after investigators found Dana’s car, they found some of her laundry scattered near Eling Circle — 1,700 feet up Wellington from where the car was found. Authorities retained a private tracker and used a police-trained German shepherd to search the area.

It was about that time that Varner decided to interview Dana’s high school classmate.

“People had seen (the suspect) riding around that night at around 3 a.m.,” Sydoriak said.

When questioned by Varner, the suspect told police he was out driving his dad’s pickup truck. The suspect added that a girlfriend would provide an alibi for him. But, Sydoriak said that girlfriend denied knowing the suspect’s whereabouts. The suspect selected another girlfriend to back him up, but her story fell apart as well, Sydoriak said.

As July rolled into August, investigators were starting to think Dana’s disappearance pointed towards an abduction. She had a date waiting for her the night she disappeared. She also planned to pick up some boots from a friend in Missouri. But neither heard from her.

Meanwhile, her clothes and other personal belongings remained untouched at her Centerton apartment.

An unsettling theory

Dana Stidham-2 (Benton County Daily Record)(1)On Aug. 5, authorities got an important tip. A resident near Hanover Drive and Chaucer Drive alerted investigators after their dog brought a purse home after being let out to run. The purse turned out to be Dana’s denim purse. Investigators swarmed the area, finding Dana’s checkbook, driver’s license and photos strewn in the weeds. Because the items were discovered along the roadside, investigators suspected that they were thrown from a moving car.

That area is little more than a mile north of where Dana’s car was parked.

Sheriff Lee gave reporters a grim prognosis.

“(The) new evidence … has given us a bit of a scare,” Lee said at the time. “We know when she left the car, she took her purse with her. But we don’t believe she would be throwing personal items out.”

Investigators began scouring Bella Vista for more evidence. They searched a former gravel pit in Missouri that is just north of Hanover Drive, Lake Norwood (which is directly behind the grocery store where Dana worked) and a remote party spot near Newburn Drive. By mid-August, authorities were offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to Dana’s whereabouts.

Meanwhile, Dana’s parents told reporters that they thought she was alive and well nearby. The grieving parents waited by the phone day and night, hoping for good news, refusing to believe Dana had run away.

“After we found some of her stuff that was thrown out, we had volunteers on horses … to search the woods,” Sydoriak said. “The search was slow as we worked our way through the woods. But we didn’t go far enough.”

The tragic breakthrough

Summer turned to fall; the investigation languished. Authorities had little evidence to move forward.

Then, in mid-September, a local hunter discovered Dana’s remains in a seasonal creek bed about 100 feet from Beal Lane, a cul-de-sac off Newburn Drive.

The remains were skeletal, but approximately 90 percent complete. Her skull was found intact, along with most of the jaw. Her bones were scattered about 50 feet along the creek. Investigators discovered a T-shirt with duct tape on it and pieces of jewelry. They found the clothes she was wearing the day she disappeared buried nearby.

“(The case) has taken on a new appearance,” Lee said a few days later. “Before we were working on a missing-person’s case with a suspicious nature and now we’ve got a homicide.”

A cause of death

Dana Stidham-1 (The Weekly Vista)(1)There was evidence of a nick on Dana’s left shoulder blade, but any conclusive determination of death hinged on her missing sternum.

“We couldn’t find it. The most important bone we never could find,” Sydoriak said. “Without that, that little notch could’ve been taken out by an animal.”

Dana’s parents were distraught when they heard the news.

“They took my baby. It’s like someone took my whole reason for being alive,” Georgia said at the time. “The hardest thing is to wake up in the morning and face this all again. It would be a blessing not to wake up. But that would be giving in to (Dana’s killers).”

The pain of finding Dana dead was amplified by their belief that she was still alive somewhere nearby.

“I wasn’t looking for a body,” Lawrence said in a newspaper account. “I was looking for Dana.”

A new lead

Despite little progress, Dana’s case remained open during the early 1990s. Still believing Dana’s murder to be solvable, Sydoriak and Varner in 1996 tracked down the truck the primary suspect was driving the night Dana vanished.

They sent the vehicle to a lab in Texas for testing. From there the results were forwarded to the Arkansas Crime Laboratory in Little Rock. Reports indicate both labs found the hair samples closely matched Dana’s.

Sydoriak and Varner followed the revelation by organizing an interview with the suspect. He denied any wrongdoing and submitted to a polygraph test, but issued a cryptic statement: “sometimes I think I did kill Dana, but I know I didn’t.”

The detectives sought more evidence as the year wound down, asking the suspect for additional hair samples in September 1996.

His attorney, Brad Karren — now a circuit judge in Benton County — objected on the grounds that there was lack of probable cause and that the detectives were out of their jurisdiction. Karren added that no evidence linked his client to the crime.

Thanks to a court order signed by Terry Crabtree, then-Benton County chancery judge, Sydoriak and Varner were able to obtain more samples from the suspect.

Despite the samples and other circumstantial evidence, then-Benton County Prosecutor Brad Butler declined to move forward.

“The hair didn’t have the follicle at the end, and it wasn’t a 100-percent match,” Sydoriak said. “Nobody saw them together that night.”

“No one could really say he was with her,” Sydoriak added. “When (Dana) left the grocery store, that was it.”

That was the last major breakthrough in Dana’s case. Still, investigators who stuck with the case over the last two decades believe they’ve got the right suspect.

Keeping hope alive

Dana Stidham-1 (KNWA)When Sydoriak and Lee met with the reporters in 1998, they divulged more oddities about the primary suspect, including that he kept a photo of Dana in his wallet years after her murder, stole the grave marker from her headstone after she was buried and that a former girlfriend said he visited the cemetery at midnight and wept.

He joined the Navy soon after Dana disappeared. That also was peculiar, Sydoriak said, because investigators knew he’d been thwarting pressure from recruiters all year.

Georgia, who has given several interviews in the decades since her daughter’s murder, says she remains hopeful that her daughter’s killer will brought to justice. Her husband, Lawrence, passed away in 1999.

“I say a prayer each night that this will be the last day for me not to know what happened to Dana,” Georgia said in 2003.

On what would’ve been her 44th birthday, Georgia and Larry took balloons to her grave at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery.

“We just spent some time with her,” Georgia said.

While Cradduck vowed to pursue the case, the year and a half that’s since passed has made Georgia doubtful of getting a resolution from Benton County’s criminal investigators.

“I want them to wake up, to show interest,” she said. “I want them to act like they care.”

Georgia, who said she sometimes feels like a failure because she wasn’t able to keep Dana safe, hopes to see an arrest before she dies.

“But I want them to arrest the right person, I don’t want them to go out there and (make an arrest) just to get us off their back,” she said.

“An arrest will never bring closure,” she added. “I’ll never get her back. But I’d like to see her killer caught so it wouldn’t feel like I just let my daughter die and I walked away.”

Arkansas’ 10 worst losses at War Memorial Stadium

wms2(arbiz)

Toledo’s upset of No. 18 Arkansas isn’t the Razorbacks’ only soul-crushing defeat at War Memorial Stadium. There’s plenty of heartache to go around.

Where does the Rockets’ victory rank all-time? Read on to find out.

10) Oct. 18, 2014: No. 10 Georgia def. Arkansas, 45-32

Billed as the last significant Southeastern Conference game to be played at War Memorial Stadium, Arkansas’ plans for an upset were extinguished in the second quarter.

The Hogs started strong on offense, using a two-headed rushing attack to march 75 yards in about eight minutes for a score. But Georgia’s passing attack answered with a devastating counter-punch. The Bulldogs advanced 74 yards in just 88 seconds to tie the game.

Then Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney hit the panic button.

The Razorbacks abandoned the running game and imploded on defense, as Georgia outscored Arkansas 38-0 in the second quarter. Arkansas rallied with four second-half touchdowns but couldn’t overcome its early blunders.

9) Oct. 17, 1959: No. 3 Texas def. No. 12 Arkansas, 13-12

When Arkansas and Texas quarreled in 1959 in Little Rock, it was only the second time in series history that both teams were ranked for their annual showdown.

The game was a slug fest, played mostly on the ground. Arkansas scored first, when Steve Butler caught a 5-yard pass from quarterback Jim Monroe (one of only 10 completions Monroe had all year). The extra-point failed and Arkansas ended the quarter up 6-0.

Early in the second quarter Texas answered after a 14-play drive when Bobby Lackey punched it in from the goal line. The Longhorns booted in the extra point to take a 7-6 lead. Neither team scored again before half time.

Late in the third quarter, Arkansas scored after a 13-play, 89-yard drive. The Hogs tried a two-point conversion, but failed. Arkansas’ 12-7 lead was brief, as Texas scored six seconds into the fourth quarter. The Longhorns attempt at two points also failed, but Texas held on for the 1-point victory.

Arkansas overcame the heart-breaking loss, though, and finished as co-champions of the Southwest Conference alongside Texas and TCU.

Interesting side note: Despite reports of near-perfect weather, Arkansas and Texas combined for 14 fumbles.

8) Nov. 24, 2006: No. 9 LSU def. No. 5 Arkansas, 31-26

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/RICK MCFARLAND--1123//07-- Arkansas Darren McFadden runs from LSU defenders at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge Friday, Nov. 23, 2007.

After a tumultuous season that saw indecision at quarterback and friction between Arkansas coach Houston Nutt and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, fans were primed for a top 10 Battle for the Golden Boot with national championship implications.

The Razorbacks entered the game 10-1, their last loss coming against No. 6 Southern California in the season opener. But questionable play-calling against LSU plagued the Hogs from the opening snap. Quarterback Casey dick was called on to pass 17 times, and he completed just three attempts.

Trailing 24-12 in the fourth quarter, Arkansas narrowed the gap thanks to a spectacular 80-yard touchdown run from Darren McFadden, in which the Heisman candidate barreled straight through the heart of LSU’s defense. But the Tigers countered with a 92-yard kickoff return from Trindon Holliday that put LSU on top 31-19.

The Hogs scored once more to make it 31-26, then forced the Tigers to punt. But four straight incompletions gave the ball back to LSU.

7) Oct. 22, 1960: No. 2 Ole Miss def. No. 14 Arkansas, 10-7

The Arkansas-Mississippi game, played regularly from 1913-1960, was often more contentious than the annual Arkansas-Texas game.

Both fan bases were rowdy and passionate; so much so that the in 1960, a riot reportedly erupted after the Rebels escaped with a 10-7 victory.

With the game tied in the waning seconds, Ole Miss booted a 39-yard field goal to go up by three. There was just one problem: referee Tommy Bell had called time out due to excessive crowd noise. The field goal was waved off and the Rebels were given a another chance. But the second kick hooked left — allegedly — sailing wide of the goal posts.

Still, Bell signaled that the kick was good. Fights broke out in the stands immediately. After the game, Hogs coach Frank Broyles chided officials and threatened never to play the Rebels again. When the series’ contract expired the following year, Broyles made good on his promise. Although the two schools met in the Sugar Bowl in 1963 and 1970, Arkansas didn’t renew its series with Ole Miss until 1981.

6) Oct. 17, 1981: Houston def. Arkansas, 20-17

Arkansas won its first three games in 1981, which included a road victory over Ole Miss. But a puzzling loss the following Saturday to TCU in Fort Worth bumped the Hogs out of the top 25.

A showdown in Fayetteville against No. 1 Texas was looming, and Arkansas regrouped to thump Texas Tech before throttling the Longhorns 42-11. It was the Razorbacks’ second-largest victory over their hated rival. Before the game was over, fans stormed the field trying to tear down the goal posts.

Then came the let down.

The following Saturday, the Hogs fell to a .500 Houston team in Little Rock. The three-point loss pushed Arkansas out of contention for the Southwest Conference and stymied a promising season.

5) Oct. 30, 1971: Texas A&M def. No. 8 Arkansas, 17-9

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Despite an inexcusable loss to Tulsa early in the season, Arkansas was pumping on all cylinders in the fall of 1971 as it inched towards bowl season. The Hogs were undefeated in conference play and had dominant victories over California and No. 10 Texas, the latter of which came on a rainy afternoon in Little Rock when quarterback Joe Ferguson scored four touchdowns.

After walloping North Texas in Fayetteville, the Hogs traveled to back to Little Rock for a matchup with a sub-.500 Texas A&M squad. The Aggies got the jump on the Hogs, though, beating Arkansas by nine points.

The upset lingered, essentially derailing the season. The following week, Arkansas tied with the lowly Rice Owls. The Hogs rebounded to win their final two SWC games, but still finished second in the conference standings behind Texas.

4) Sept. 12, 2015: Toledo def. No. 18 Arkansas, 18-12

With coach Bret Bielema entering his third year at Arkansas and looking to build on the momentum from last season, the Arkansas-Toledo game was supposed to be one of three tune-ups before the Hogs started their Southeastern Conference schedule.

The hype train left the station long before kickoff though, as prognosticators predicted a blowout victory for the Razorbacks on their way to — at the very least — competing for the SEC West.

Toledo’s pass-happy offense kept Arkansas off balance, and the Hogs’ sputtering running game didn’t do them any favors. Just one week removed from looking like world-beaters against Texas-El Paso, Arkansas resembled an SEC contender only on paper against Toledo.

3) Sept. 8, 2012: Louisiana Monroe def. No. 8 Arkansas, 34-31

Following a stellar 11-2 campaign in 2011, Arkansas fans were giddy with anticipation for 2012. That all changed when coach Bobby Petrino “wrecked” his motorcycle in the offseason — inadvertently revealing his extra-marital affair and illicit hiring practices — and the tone was set for a disastrous season.

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long hired former Hogs assistant and debt-laden John L. Smith to try and rally the team. After a blowout victory over Jacksonville State in the opener, the Razorbacks still looked like contenders.

But when quarterback Tyler Wilson exited with a concussion against Louisiana-Monroe in week 2, Arkansas’ 28-7 lead evaporated. The Warhawks surged from behind to tie the game with less than a minute left to play in regulation.

Despite starting on offense in overtime, the Hogs were held to a field goal. Louisiana-Monroe answered with a 16-yard touchdown run from quarterback Kolton Browning to seal the upset.

2) Sept. 26, 1987: No. 5 Miami (FL) def. No. 10 Arkansas, 51-7

On paper, this game had all the right ingredients for an instant classic. Both teams were undefeated and ranked in the top 10, had national title aspirations and a unique history between coaches. Arkansas’ Ken Hatfield and Miami’s Jimmy Johnson were former Razorbacks and proteges of Frank Broyles.

But instead of ending up as a perennial replay on ESPN Classic, the game was a route. The Hurricanes swept the Hogs off their own field not long after kickoff.

Miami tallied more than 350 yards of offense in the first half and scored five touchdowns in 12 minutes to take a 38-0 lead at half time. The 44-point drubbing was Arkansas’ worst defeat in Little Rock since losing to Tulsa, 63-7, in 1919.

Miami’s resounding victory jettisoned Arkansas from the top 25.

1) Oct. 17, 1987: Texas def. No. 15 Arkansas, 16-14

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For many Razorbacks fans, nothing tops beating Texas. As Bielema discovered, thumping the Longhorns can provide quite a tingling sensation.

The joy of watching Texas lose is matched only by the sorrow of falling victim to the Longhorns. And in 1987, Texas delivered a knockout punch that still lingers nearly three decades later.

Only two years removed from losing to Texas 15-13 in Fayetteville, No. 15 Arkansas welcomed the Longhorns into War Memorial Stadium with open arms. Despite allowing Texas a first quarter touchdown, Arkansas tallied 14 points in the second quarter to take a 14-7 lead at the half.

The Longhorns held Arkansas scoreless in the third quarter and managed a field goal to pull within four points. In possession of the ball during the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, Texas drove into Arkansas territory on the strength of an 11-play, 56-yard drive.

With four seconds left in regulation and Texas facing a 2nd and 15 from the Arkansas 18-yard line, quarterback Bret Stafford delivered a strike to receiver Toby Jones, who caught the ball in the end zone with no time left on the clock to seal the Longhorns victory.

Curtain Call: Historic Movie Theaters & Drive-Ins of Arkansas

For a state as small as Arkansas, its residents have been blessed over the years with an abundance of unique movie houses and drive-ins. This pictorial-essay highlights some of the more regal theaters that graced Arkansas’ down towns and roadsides from the roaring 1920s to the New Millennium.

100 Things I Hate About College Football

Stockfootball
Editor’s note — This article was originally written for Yahoo! Voices in September 2013. It has been reprinted here with the author’s permission.

Gene Wojciechowski’s ode to college football is a great read. The only problem is that it’s written as a love letter; he was (mis)guided by his emotions.

And don’t get me wrong, I love college football.

But let’s be realistic about this. While Wojciechowski does point out that college football has its shortcomings, simply giving them a passing mention isn’t enough.

As the Summer of Manziel has shown, it’s astonishing how college football has weathered so many scandals without serious blemish. The players and even the sport itself seem practically untouchable.

So why would someone who claims to be a fan find so many reasons to hate a sport they care so deeply about?

In hopes of fixing it, of course.

Wojciechowski got a lot of things right in his article. College football is an awesomely inspirational sport that’s uniquely American.

But it’s time to stop looking at it through rose-colored lenses.

Why? Here are 100 reasons.

1. I hate universities that make football a priority over education.

2. That in my home state of Arkansas, the football coach makes more than the medical school’s Chief of Surgery.

3. I hate the over-commercialization of the game.

4. Naming rights.

5. That places like TCF Bank Stadium and Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium exist.

6. Fields with corporate stains on them.

7. The sheer number of bowl games. We’re up to 35 and counting.

8. 6-6 teams qualifying for a bowl.

9. And that nearly all the bowl games have names that sound like advertising slogans.

10. I hate that winning the Heisman Trophy has become a beauty contest.

11. Tim Tebow finishing as a Heisman finalist in 2008, while Graham Harrell missed the cut.

12. The stigma toward defensive players. If Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh couldn’t win one, what hope is there?

13. The fact that there are 125 schools competing in the FBS this year and no player outside of the Power Six has a chance to win the Heisman.

14. Stadium expansion while the rest of campus crumbles.

15. And the belief that having a bigger stadium equates having a better team.

16. Houston Nutt. We put up with this guy for a decade. How?

17. I hate pay-for-play proponents.

18. Writers who claim the NCAA treats [football] players like slaves.

19. Senior seasons. And the stigma that comes with it. Because in today’s game it usually means the player has no football prospects after college. Either that, or he’s a reserve.

20. The players who don’t care about the tradition or the pageantry of college football.

21. Knowing that they wouldn’t stick around campus any longer than they already have to.

22. I hate the BCS. Even now that it’s gone. I hate, hate, hate it.

23. Remember in 2003, when Oklahoma lost in the Big 12 Championship Game but still got to play in the BCS Championship Game?

24. Or when the Sooners got in again the next year instead of Auburn, and got thrashed by USC?

25. An inept and out of touch NCAA.

26. That high-profile schools and players often escape harsh punishments.

27. Terrell Pryor, Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams, and Solomon Thomas playing in the 2011 Sugar Bowl.

28. Also, we are two years removed from the Nevin Shapiro scandal at Miami (Fla.). Remember that? I guess a handful of suspensions was enough to satisfy the NCAA.

29. People who feel sorry for Joe Paterno and Penn State.

30. That for a few months, the fate of Penn State’s football program and Joe Paterno’s legacy was more talked about than Jerry Sandusky’s victims.

31. I hate that the Southwest Conference, one of college football’s premier leagues for more than 80 years, collapsed.

32. And the domino effect of conference realignment that it started.

33. West Virginia being in the Big 12.

34. Syracuse moving to the ACC.

35. Missouri joining the SEC instead of Florida State or Clemson.

36. The idea of Connecticut, South Florida, and Tulsa all being in the same conference.

37. I hate that most teams schedule an absolute dog on homecoming.

38. The fact that Florida hasn’t played an out of conference opponent on the road in nearly 25 years.

39. Indiana being a football-member of the Big 10.

40. That schools have cut down on playing in neutral site locations across their state.

41. Alabama and Auburn moving the Iron Bowl out of Legion Field.

42. Ole Miss and Mississippi State moving the Egg Bowl away from Jackson, Miss.

43. I hate the kitschy announcers.

44. Gary Danielson and Verne Lundquist.

45. Pam Ward.

46. Brent Musberger.

47. Bob Griese.

48. This guy.

49. Can’t forget Mark May and Lou Holtz, either.

50. I hate that the Oklahoma-Texas game changed its name to the “Red River Rivalry.”

51. That Arkansas and Arkansas State won’t play each other.

52. The SEC crackdown on cowbells at Mississippi State games.

53. Boise State’s “Smurf Turf.”

54. Eastern Washington’s red turf.

55. The University of Central Arkansas’ alternating purple and gray turf.

56. I hate the ridiculous number of terrible uniform combinations.

The Maryland Terrapins have got to be the worst offenders.

57. People who think Bedlam is a premiere rivalry game. C’mon, Oklahoma holds an 75-17-7 all-time advantage. The Sooners only lost one game between 1967 and 1994.

58. AP writers who give No. 1 votes to undeserving teams.

59. The terrible officials that permeate every conference.

60. The terrible officiating that seems to haunt every big Arkansas game.

61. I hate how ESPN only gives intense coverage to the established programs.

62. The completely undeserved hype a high-profile program gets if it starts the season 2-0.

(Looking at you, 2009 Miami Hurricanes.)

63. And remember when good coaches used to stay at one school for an extended amount of time?

64. I hate that fans are dissuaded from storming the field.

65. That it happens too often now.

66. And that you might get arrested if you do it.

67. Oh, and the SEC will levy a serious fine against your school as well.

68. I hate that a pizza and a coke at Razorback stadium costs more than $20.

69. That Arkansas made student tickets harder to get.

70. Let’s not forget, they also stopped guaranteeing students seats.

71. And U of A’s eagerness to build a new practice facility while the campus runs out of space for its students.

72. I hate the “facilities arms races.”

73. Which happen while a majority of college students and athletes of less popular sports wallow in debt that will haunt them the rest of their lives. (Marble floors imported from Italy, are you kidding me?)

74. The people who believe football players “go pro” in something outside the world of football.

75. The people who believe a majority of college football players are “student athletes.”

76. And people who think the football players live in a dorm and eat in a cafeteria similar to anything like that of a normal student.

77. That students are forced to move their cars from student lots before game day and have to pay out of pocket to park it somewhere else. (Often far from their dorms.)

78. That Matt Leinart got to play one more season at USC because he took Ball Room Dancing as his only class.

79. Athletes who get free (expensive) textbooks and sell them back at a profit.

80. That Arkansas’ beautiful video replay board has most of its picture obscured by AT&T ads.

81. I hate how football players are treated differently than their fellow student athletes.

82. When authorities look the other way when a member of the football team is involved in a quagmire.

83. Case in point: Michael Dyer.

84. Coaches who get a slap on the wrist.

85. Jim Tressle at Ohio State.

86. And that Tressel actually believed Pryor’s promise that he would return for his senior season.

87. The rap sheet for Urban Meyer’s players.

88. And many (Leach), many others.

89. The depressing notion that steroids might have infiltrated the college game.

90. I hate that the Arkansas-Texas rivalry is dead.

91. And the Hogs will no longer play LSU at the end of the season.

92. Instead we’ll play Missouri. The Hogs have played the Tigers five times. Five. Now it replaces the LSU game. Yippee.

93. Even though I won’t miss LSU’s Les Miles mispronouncing Arkansas.

94. This pass interference call against Arkansas in the 2010 Florida game.

95. That Bobby Petrino will coach a major Division I team again.

96. The fact that the immortal Bear Bryant (an Arkansas native) potentially was taking a job in Fayetteville when World War II broke out.

97. Coaches who abandon their schools because of an oncoming scandal. (Looking at you, Pete Carroll and Chip Kelly).

98. Razorback fans who think winning a national title makes or breaks the season. (We’ve only appeared in three SEC Championship Games since leaving the SWC in 1991)

99. That tons of scholarships go to football, leaving the rest of the athletic programs to fight over the scraps.

100. And lastly, I hate that there are so many egregious problems with a sport I love so dearly.

The War At Home

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Criticism of the militarization of local police forces is commonplace in the post-9/11 world, but the issue has been amplified by the recent events in Ferguson, Mo.

In the wake of a controversial shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer, the small town of about  20,000 has been besieged by riots, looting and instances of police brutality. While neither the protestors or police can be exonerated for their behavior over the past month, one take away has been the perplexing amount of military equipment utilized by law enforcement.

As various media outlets reported, Ferguson police responded to the riots with snipers, combat vehicles and a general approach toward protestors — peaceful or not — as enemies of the state.

In Arkansas, a state vastly similar to Missouri regarding culture and race relations, would an similar police response occur? In light of the equipment that the authorities have at their disposal, it’s a chilling thought.

New York TimesThis website, which emanates from a frightening report by the New York Times about the proliferation of military-grade equipment in several police precincts across the country, allows users to research the various hardware used by law enforcement, and is sortable by state and county. Arkansas, a state with just over 2 million people, possesses a shocking array of firearms and vehicles that seem more appropriate on the battlefield.

For example, Pulaski County, home to the state’s largest and most metropolitan city, Little Rock, owns several weapons that seem excessive for urban crime. Amid the usual provisions like firearms, utility trucks, and flash lights, police have a grenade launcher, a mine-resistant vehicle and a combat/assault/tactical vehicle. According the website, the total value of those three items — designed specifically for modern warfare — are valued at just north of $1 million.

Even the rural counties aren’t immune. Randolph County has a cargo plane. Baxter, Faulkner, and Mississippi Counties each have an “observation helicopter.” Meanwhile, Benton County, which has 160,000 fewer people than Pulaski County, has two mine-resistant vehicles.

Police simply being in possession of this equipment doesn’t mean they’ll use it. But like John Oliver noted on Last Week Tonight, the dissemination of military-grade weapons, combined with untrained police units, make for a volatile situation.

Unexplained, Arkansas

Editor’s note — This is an excerpt from a piece originally written for THV11. Parts of it have been reprinted here with the author’s permission.

The Denver Post

Mike Huckabee made an unsuccessful bid for the White House in 2008.

Huckabee’s missing files

In January 2007, outgoing Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee made a peculiar request of his staff: destroy the office computers.

Huckabee’s staff obliged, wiping the memory of more than 100 computers before smashing their hard drives beyond repair.

The reason behind the frenzied housecleaning has never been fully explained. Huckabee briefly addressed the issue in 2007, saying the hard drives were destroyed to “protect the privacy” of his staff.

But one unearthed memo referred to potential backups of the destroyed drives. The memo also says the backups were supposed to be delivered to a Huckabee aide.

As of this writing, however, the story was last mentioned in 2011.

Clinton associate murdered execution style

A well known, quasi-political figure around Arkansas in the late 1980s and early 90s, Luther Gerald “Jerry” Parks, Jr. oversaw Bill Clinton’s security detail while Clinton was governor. Parks’ security firm was later contracted to guard Clinton’s presidential campaign headquarters in 1992.

But only nine months after Clinton won the White House, Parks was gunned down in West Little Rock. Parks was leaving El Chico when he was ambushed by two men in a white Chevrolet Caprice at the intersection of Chenal Parkway and Highway 10, where witnesses said the men shot Parks to death before speeding away. The only evidence left behind were 10 9-mm bullet casings scattered on the pavement.

Clinton’s far-right critics pounced on the murder. They said it had political overtones, pointing to the untimely suicide of Vincent Foster – a childhood friend of Clinton’s and one of his closest allies – only months earlier as evidence of a conspiracy.

Parks’ son, Gary, also tried to link Clinton to the murders. He claimed that his father had collected a file on Clinton’s salacious activities and that he was executed due to its contents. The Little Rock Police Department dismissed such claims as “unsubstantiated”.

Adding another twist in the case, Gary was recently charged with the murder of his mother’s new husband, David Millstein. Police in Baxter County think Gary had help, and they believe that the unnamed suspect might also have ties to Jerry’s murder.

Despite the passing of two decades, LRPD says its investigation into the elder Parks’ murder is ongoing.

Wikipedia

The West Memphis Three were freed in 2011 after spending nearly two decades in prison.

Does a killer still roam free in Arkansas?

Damien Echols was the lead suspect in the murders of three West Memphis boys in 1993. After serving 18 years in prison, Echols, along with the two other suspects, Jessie Miskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin – subsequently dubbed the West Memphis Three – were released per a controversial Alford Plea in 2011.

In one of Echols’ many interviews while in prison, he issued a sobering notion to filmmakers of the West of Memphis documentary: “The person who killed those three kids is still out there walking on the street.”

Investigators never found any physical evidence linking the WM3 to the crime scene. Moreover, witnesses who originally testified against the trio later said their confessions were coerced by law enforcement. And thanks to improving forensic science, investigators uncovered a strand of DNA from one of the shoelaces used to subdue the victims that didn’t match any of the WM3.

Further complicating the case was the mysterious “Mr. Bojangles.” On the evening of the murders, a “disoriented” African American man, covered in blood and mud, entered a Bojangles restaurant not far from where the bodies were found.

The suspect’s race was an important factor in the case, as the hair of black male was discovered in one of the sheets used to wrap the victims.

Police were summoned to the restaurant, but officers took the report via the drive-thru window and never entered the building to interview the suspect. Blood samples taken from the bathroom were later lost by WMPD investigators before the WM3 went to trial.

Other advocates of the WM3’s innocence point to one of the victim’s stepfather, Terry Hobbs, as the real killer. Hobbs had a history of child abuse and was reportedly the last person seen with three boys.

Sadly, after more than 20 years, it appears that the deaths of Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Chris Byers will forever remain unsolved.