as published in the Blytheville Courier News on Thursday, September 17, 2015
By TOM HENRY
There is nothing sadder than having to look far back into the past for “glory days” because the current is so pitiful. For a number of years, stAte fans have pointed back to the mid 1980s, or even further back to the 1968-1970 seasons to console their souls. stAte fans have a proud heritage, but at times it has been very difficult to raise our heads and admit where our hearts lie. Thank God, those days are over! Gone are the days of Fort Perkins and the days of Al Kincaid, Joe Hollis and the Big West Conference. Gone are the days of being proud to just win as many as we lose each year (if we were lucky).
Built upon the backs of Coaches Steve Roberts, Hugh Freeze, and Gus Malzahn (okay maybe a little by Bryan Harsin), we now see the emergence of a real “monster” program. Now, in the Blake Anderson era, we are ready to really howl.
I was fortunate enough to attend the Red Wolves game Saturday evening against #21 Missouri at Centennial Bank Stadium. I have attended games at other big time schools and believe me when I tell you, it was electric and just as “big time”. It was the most enjoyable game I have ever witnessed in Jonesboro and I have seen many of them. Yes, it was even better than all the championship seasons under Coach Larry Lacewell. There is simply no comparison between Saturday’s environment and anything from the past.
One proof is the quality of the opponent that came to Jonesboro. Another proof is the quality of the facilities. Though A-state didn’t get the win, they did play harder and better (for most of the game) than the #21 ranked team in the nation. I assure you, the two time defending SEC East Champion Missouri Tigers got all they wanted from ASU and felt lucky to lick their wounds and slink out of Jonesboro without a loss.
I was also extremely privileged to enjoy the inaugural game of the new $25.9 million, state of the art, 40,000 square foot Johnny Allison Tower Press box. Not only does the new tower provide new suites, lodge box seating, club seating, improved concessions, restrooms and even scoreboard and video board rooms, it also now contains some of the most impressive press seating, television and radio booths as well.
The “working press room” from which I watched the game, held approximately fifty media personnel from all around the country, including SEC media. Everyone I talked with or overheard was impressed with the improved facilities, the networking capabilities and the sports information staff. In fact, the only complaint that I heard all day was that the hog dog buns arrived after the initial hot dogs were long eaten.
I remember every sad level of the old “press box” and I almost hesitate to use that term to describe it after seeing what a first class press box looks like. But enough about aesthetics and creature comforts. None of that matters if the team on the field stinks! I am here to tell you that the Arkansas State Red Wolves, at least Saturday evening, looked like it belonged on the field with the #21 team in the nation, SEC East Missouri.
Also, the announced crowd of 29,243 was number eight on the list of all time largest crowds at Centennial Bank Stadium. Exactly 2,000 less than the largest crowed ever of 31,243 on December 1, 2012 against Middle Tennessee. A record 10,000 plus season tickets have been sold this year and before anyone wonders, the crowd Saturday night was almost completely red. There were some black and gold fans from Missouri, but not enough to explain the large crowd.
The large, loud, excited, aggressive, involved, enthusiastic crowd was almost entirely Arkansas State faithful. The game was not decided until the last two minutes or so of the game. I honestly did not see more than five cars leave before the end of the game. That crowd stayed and stayed involved until the end.
I encourage you to pick up at least one game this season and see the changes. Coach Blake Anderson is really doing a terrific job and so is the ASU administration for investing into “building a monster”.