In 1977, Lou Holtz was confident Arkansas was going to win big against Oklahoma, but he had to convince everybody else including his quarterback, Ron Calcagni.
Holtz even left legendary athletics director Frank Broyles speechless before the game.
“Holtz came into coach Broyles’ office a few weeks before and said, ‘Coach Broyles, if we beat Oklahoma by 30 do you think we have a chance to win the national championship?'” Calcagni said Monday morning to Tye Richardson, Tommy Craft and Clay Henry (The Morning Rush) on ESPN Arkansas.
Considering there were three key offensive starters kicked off the team and All-American guard Leotis Harris injured, Broyles might have wondered if this guy that rolled to a 10-1 regular season replacing him and slipped a little in the process.
Calcagni was the most experienced member of the backfield that was even making the trip to Miami and Holtz was going to put the ball in his hands early to settle things a little for the Razorbacks, who weren’t given a chance by many in the game.
“When we kicked off and they fumbled, we had a great plan that Holtz orchestrated,” Calcagni said. “We knew then we had an opportunity to do what coach Holtz thought we could do.”
Holtz, as he had a knack for doing, had figured something out looking at the Sooners’ vaunted defense.
“A little wrinkle in blocking scheme that messed with OU’s block scheme,” Calcagni said. “We had a whale of a coaching staff and a great plan. We orchestrated the plan. OU fell apart and the momentum carried us through.”
That win shot the No. 6 Hogs to third, but they didn’t have the strength at the polls to overtake Notre Dame (that beat Texas in the Cotton Bowl) or Alabama (who dominated Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl).
Arkansas had as good of a claim as the other two, but it was the midseason 13-9 loss to Texas that still nags at Calcagni.
“One play chaps my butt to this day,” Calcagni said. “We were inside the red zone, it was third down and I went option and it was clearly a face mask. The official looked at me and said no face mask. We could have been on the porch or went in for a score.
“An official was right on it and I couldn’t understand.”
Calcagni was jumping up and down like a shortstop that just won the World Series.
“I was so upset, Steve Hinds grabbed me, pulled me aside and pushed me back,” he said. “That still bothers me so badly.”
That team had one of the greatest coaching staffs in Razorback history. Pete Carroll was a graduate assistant on that team along with John Jenkins as an example of how deep the staff was.
“We were so blessed to have a great staff,” Calcagni said. “You always have to have a strong staff and you lean on that staff. Lou Holtz was a pretty tough guy to play for.”
Especially the guys running the offense because Holtz was a master at getting in their heads.
“He threw me off the field one time after I made a mistake,” Calcagni said. “I started walking to the north end zone back to the facility and he yells out, ‘Calcagni, where the hell are you going?’
“My senior year it was revolving quarterbacks (as Holtz rotated Kevin Scanlon heavily into the mix). He was real tough on you.”
Holtz even nitpicked with Calcagni about the Sports Illustrated cover in 1978 that they were on along with running back Ben Cowins.
“It hasn’t been too many Razorbacks on the cover of Sports Illustrated,” Calcagni said. “They made us No. 1 and I’ll never forget the day we took that photo. Coach Holtz wasn’t that excited. He pulled me into that office, ‘Calcagni, you ruined that picture … attention to detail … little things make people great.’
“A little string hanging from the V in the shirt. That string is erased when it’s photo-bombed these days.”
Calcagni’s record as a starter at Arkansas was 25-4-2, ranking him in the elite of wins for a Razorback quarterback.
But he still can’t shake that Texas game in 1977 when his helmet was nearly yanked off his head by a Longhorn and the official refused to throw a flag.
He’s not alone in that.