With the Arkansas Razorbacks playing out of town Saturday, what better time for a curious football fan to discover one of the state's genuine treasures.
Nothing quite compares with Henderson State vs. Ouachita Baptist. The visiting team walks across U.S. Highway 67 in this intracity matchup, in this case Henderson for a 1 p.m. kickoff at Cliff Harris Stadium, named after one of OBU's greatest players. For the next three hours or so, the Reddies and Tigers will play the 94th version of a football Armageddon.
It's for more than just bragging rights in Arkadelphia and Clark County, a rivalry so keen that it divides families and friendships. It is not unusual for Henderson and Ouachita graduates to share the same household. If one feels compelled to wear maroon and gray clothing and the other purple and gold, so be it -- as the Beatles might say, nothing to get hung about.
How close are they? Ouachita leads the series 44-43-6 with a touchdown or less deciding 43 of the 93 games. With the teams not playing in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they've had two years to kick around the last Battle of the Ravine.
Some of my earliest football memories come from Henderson-Ouachita games played on Thanksgiving. Before certain Razorback fans developed an elitist attitude, this Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference battle carried enormous clout statewide. Not just because my mom attended Henderson, I grew up a Reddie fan, learning over the years to respect OBU if not to cheer for the Tigers.
Now, as a Harding graduate, I find myself pulling for Ouachita on Saturday. The Bisons and the Reddies each have one Great American Conference defeat, Harding having swept the Arkadelphia teams; I don't remember Harding beating either in four years in Searcy. Two-loss OBU needs a victory and a Harding loss to Arkansas Tech to share the GAC title.
That Harding or Ouachita, both church-sponsored schools, would dominate the former AIC teams seemed unthinkable in the 1970s. Ouachita has done it thanks partly to an outstanding coach, Todd Knight, who annually plucks some of the state's finest talent. Knight has kept Ouachita on the same high plane that the late Buddy Bob Benson placed the Tigers.
The same can be said for Henderson coach Scott Maxfield, whose team plays home games in a stadium named for two ex-Reddie coaching greats, Ralph "Sporty" Carpenter and Jimmy Haygood. The campus basketball arena bears the same of another, John "Duke" Wells.
With my parents able to buy season tickets, I grew up watching the Razorbacks. I was privileged to sit in section M of old Razorback Stadium when Texas beat Arkansas 15-14 on Dec. 6, 1969, with President Richard Nixon among the interested onlookers.
Topping it all may have been the 2013 Henderson-Ouachita in 2013 at A.U. Williams Field. Before apparently all of Clark County, Henderson pulled out a 60-52 victory in a game that left both sides limp. I remember walking down the OBU stands with Laurie Benson, daughter of the former OBU coach and mother of that day's Tiger quarterback, Benson Jordan. I thanked God for covering the game and living in a state that produced two schools of such high quality.
Gone, thankfully, are the days when excessive vandalism forced a 12-year series hiatus. And common sense prevails after a time that the schools were in different conferences and didn't play.
I think of Garry Crowder, the former Jessieville basketball coach, who played baseball for Henderson and coached basketball at Ouachita. And so many others whose loyalties will be divided Saturday.
You can have the Iron Bowl and the Red River Rivalry. Give me the Battle of the Ravine any day. But if you need a Razorback fix, it should be over long before Arkansas and LSU play for the Golden Boot.