It was 2017, and we were approaching the Memphis bridge on I-40 to Arkansas. “This is the Mighty Mississippi,” I told my Lithuanian boyfriend, Giedrius, who had flown into Nashville on his inaugural trip to America and was headed to my hometown of Little Rock for a baptism by fire in the South.
Halfway across that bridge, a white sign with blue trim reads: Welcome to Arkansas. Now, my family has a tradition, created by my father, a diehard Razorback fan who, as my mother puts it, could not be blasted out of Arkansas with a cannon. My dad’s decree: When you cross the state border, you’re home. You roll down the windows to breathe in the superior Arkansas air, and you call the hogs. It does not matter who you are with or the circumstances of your return.
I am my father’s daughter. He and my grandfather—another model Razorback—taught me to call the hogs at the tender age of four. My mother says we were playing LSU; I just remember screaming for all I was worth. Giedrius and I reached the sign. Without warning, I rolled down the windows. “Woooooo, Pig, Sooie!” I howled with all the abandon of an Arkansan who had been living abroad. “Woooooo, Pig, Sooie! Woooooo, Pig, Sooie! Razorbacks!”
Giedrius looked like he might hightail it off the bridge and take his chances that the currents would take him back to Europe.
I hurriedly explained. “The pigs are our mascot.”
“A pig is the mascot of your…state?”
“Well, the mascot of the University of Arkansas is the Razorback.”
“You know, like a wild hog. With tusks. And a little ridge on its back. When farmers call the pigs in to eat, they yell, sooooooie! So when we play, all the fans call sooie, to summon the pig spirits to come help us win.”
“Does it work? Do you have a good team?”
Before the Razorbacks were the Razorbacks, we were the Cardinals. But after a 1909 win against LSU (huzzah!), then-coach Hugo Bezdek called our players “a wild band of razorback hogs.” A year later, the student body voted on the name change. As for calling the hogs, well, that was another spontaneous eruption of pig spirit in the 1920s. As the story goes, we were losing, and a farmer familiar with calling pigs started shouting “Sooie!” in desperation. We came back to win, and the tradition took hold.
Fast forward a century, and a week after our little initiation on the bridge, my family is taking Giedrius the Lithuanian to his first Razorback game in Fayetteville. We arrive early so we can buy Giedrius a hog shirt in the gift shop. He changes in the bathroom and emerges clad in red. Then comes the million-dollar question from my dad: “Son, do you know how to call the hogs?”
Giedrius looks at me, panic in his eyes. “That extremely weird thing you did in the car?” he whispers. It’s time for Giedrius’s first official lesson in hog calling etiquette (helpfully for those at home, the University of Arkansas has a diagram on its website).
Basically, I explain, if you are at a Razorback game and you feel the urge, it’s an appropriate time for a Hog Call. That could be because we are playing flat and need a boost, or because there’s a lull in the action, or because it’s a pressure point, or because we are about to win. You’ll just know. The love of team and state will bubble up, and you’ll let loose with an ethereal “woo” and—hopefully—the stadium will rise with you as one, fingers wiggling toward hog heaven.
That explanation didn’t help Giedrius much. Here’s the nitty gritty, I tell him, demonstrating for full effect. You have to be standing. Raise your arms as you “woo,” wiggle your fingers, hold the “woo,” bring your arms down on “pig,” then put your fist in the air for “sooie.” Repeat two more times, and finish with a zinging “Razorbacks!” on a final triumphant double punch.
My sister converted her Georgia-raised husband, too, though my dad still monitors Phil for any signs of Bulldog relapse. And I strongly suspect that when Phil asked for my dad’s blessing before proposing, one of the most pertinent questions was whether they would raise any children as Razorbacks.
Giedrius is still learning. Sometimes his “woo” isn’t on key, he fails to wiggle his fingers, or he shouts “Razorbacks!” after two Woo Pig Sooies instead of three. But we forgive these mishaps, as long as they aren’t in public. It’s the effort that counts. As Giedrius once said after a practice round, “When in Rome…call the hogs.”