Arkansas’ advice: Sooner Nation should brace for SEC pride… and pain

Arkansas’ advice: Sooner Nation should brace for SEC pride… and pain

Sounds like the Sooners need to build bigger, whether that’s the players themselves or the facilities in which they work. If OU fans had an inkling of that, and have generally accepted the reality of what they are about to encounter, Arkansas fans in downtown Tulsa on Saturday hammered it home.

Guerin Emig

By Guerin Emig

| Dec 12, 2023, 2:52pm CST

Guerin Emig

By Guerin Emig

Dec 12, 2023, 2:52pm CST

TULSA — Carl Birkner stood outside the BOK Center before the Arkansas-Oklahoma basketball game Saturday wearing Razorback red, but thinking Sooner crimson. 

He remembered what it was like for Arkansas to transition from the Southwest Conference into the SEC 31 years ago, when the Razorbacks traded toe-to-toe battles with Texas and 10-win football seasons for something he now calls “the gauntlet.” He related it to OU’s transition from the Big 12 into the SEC next fall. 

Asked if he regretted his Hogs making the move, Birkner said: “No. It’s just better competition. The money for the school is huge, the facilities we’ve been able to build… But really it’s the competition. You know when you go into an NCAA Tournament or College Football Playoff, you’re prepared to be there.”

Birkner’s advice for OU fans anticipating the Sooners’ move? Be proud. 

And be prepared.

“It’s not easy,” he said. 

That echoed around the BOK Center grounds as Arkansas fans amassed. 

You’ve gotta come prepared with your A game every weekend, and every week during basketball. And that’s in all sports,” Steve Martinez said while overlooking the BOK floor in an Arkansas hockey jersey. “It’s as close as you can come to the pros.”

It’s as close as you can come to delirium, apparently.

Carl and Linda Birkner are still trying to remove the cowbell ringing from their ears from their last trip to Mississippi State. They believe OU fans will enjoy Mississippians’ hospitality, it’s just that they might pack earplugs for the game. 

Alabama and Auburn folks also rated high on Arkansas fans’ friendliness scale Saturday. That sounds encouraging for Sooner followers. 

LSU fans?

“We’re from Magnolia, Arkansas, near the Louisiana border. LSU is pretty intense,” Razorback rooter Drew Baker said. “I don’t know how many times I got called ‘Tiger bait’ from my vehicle to the stadium. But it was in a fun way. If it’s Bama or somebody like that, it’s not fun. It’s more threatening. It gets pretty serious. 

“It’s a religion almost, SEC football.”

You can’t say that about the Big 12, or couldn’t about the Big Eight. OU always took football Bible-verse seriously, as did old ally Nebraska, but they were in the minority among conference members whose passions spread between basketball, barbecue and Busch Light.

In that sense, Sooner fans will feel right at home next year. 

Razorback fans, indoctrinated since leaving the SWC at the turn of the 90s, are ready to welcome them home. 

“OU will add a lot of flavor to the SEC as superconferences form,” said John Forehand, who wore a red blazer adorned with Razorback logos to Saturday’s game. “I think OU will do fine.”

“We want someone to beat Alabama. I absolutely hate Alabama,” said Kevin McLelland, an Arkansas fan from Alva. “OU can come help us.”

There can be brotherhood in whatever conference a team calls home. 

There is some brotherhood across the SEC, McLelland’s Bama feelings aside. That “S!E!C!” chant OU fans have already started to unleash? They’d better be prepared for more where that came from. 

“Even the teams you hate, you still root for them to win over other conferences,” Baker said, his nemesis LSU Tigers included. “I want the SEC to have a better record. It helps the whole brand. Lifts us all up.”

Grant Long and Chase Doss from Fayetteville sat outside the BOK Center talking Razorback basketball and Crimson Tide football.

You fellas will root for Alabama in the Playoff?

“Oh yeah,” Doss said. “One hundred percent.”

“If they wouldn’t have made it in,” Long said, “we wouldn’t be watching.”

SEC pride is as real as SEC pain. OU fans should probably brace themselves for both. 

“They need to know they’re not gonna win every week,” Carl Birkner warned. 

“Even the teams that win get beat up along the way,” Linda Birkner said. “You have to have a lot of luck because you’re gonna get players hurt. It’s just tough. 

“When you walk into an SEC stadium and see those players, they’re just different. We walked onto some fields and thought ‘Oh my gosh. Our players look little.’ And ours are big.”

It ain’t gonna do nothin’ but make you stronger,” Martinez advised. 

And wealthier.

Fayetteville is a non-stop construction site,” Baker said. “I don’t know about Oklahoma. If it’s not, it’s fixing to be I’m sure. You’ve got to keep up the standard. I’ve never been to any of their facilities, but I would assume they’re probably top notch. If they’re not, they’re gonna be to keep up with everybody else.”

Sounds like the Sooners need to build bigger, whether that’s the players themselves or the facilities in which they work. If OU fans had an inkling of that, and have generally accepted the reality of what they are about to encounter, Arkansas fans in downtown Tulsa Saturday hammered it home. 

The SEC slogan is ‘It Just Means More,’” Martinez said. “And it does. It means more.”

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Guerin Emig is a columnist for the Sellout Crowd network. Read his work at selloutcrowd.com and guerinemig.com. Reach out with feedback and/or ideas at [email protected] or (918) 629-6229. Follow him on Twitter at @GuerinEmig and Instagram at @guerin.emig. .

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