This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of Hawgs Illustrated.
This time last year there were questions for new Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman about how he’d react to certain situations as a head coach.
They were fair questions. He’d never been a Division I head coach.
One thing that wasn’t asked: How would he react after a victory?
We found out when video was shared from the locker room in Starkville, Miss., on the night of Oct. 3, 2020.
“Turn that damn jukebox on,” Pittman shouted to his team.
A portable boom box — not a jukebox — began to blare. The Razorbacks roared and immediately broke into a celebratory dance after they had ended a 20-game SEC losing streak with a 21-14 victory over Mississippi State.
Back in Little Rock, lawyer Judy Henry’s fertile mind was racing for a way to capture that celebratory phrase with a unique birthday present for her client. Henry, a partner at Wright Lindsey Jennings, is Pittman’s agent.
“I knew that was going to be a catchphrase,” Henry said. “And, I also saw the look on the faces of the players. I knew that probably none of them knew what a jukebox was. I knew I had to do something.”
Henry set out to find and restore the proper jukebox as a Nov. 28 birthday present for Pittman.
Frustrated because precautions over covid19 kept her from attending the great victory, Henry was especially motivated to get started on her mission.
“Our family was supposed to go,” said Henry, referring to her husband, UA letterman Cliff Henry. “We wanted to watch the team and, of course, Joseph.”
Their son Joseph is a former UA tight end and a quality control offensive assistant coach for Pittman.
“We regretted not going for that game, but it was the right decision,” she said. “That was the height of covid worries.
“We watched every second of the game on TV. I don’t do that well. I detest the commercials because I want to see everything.”
The idea to find Pittman a jukebox hit almost as soon as she heard the coach’s exclamatory comments.
“I wanted it to commemorate his first SEC victory and my goal was to find it by his birthday,” she said. “I stayed up that night doing online research.”
Almost immediately, Henry settled on the premium Rock-ola brand of jukebox. It reminded her of what she’d seen as a child in diners on summer vacations with her family.
“I have to tell you, my parents had no alcohol in our home and we didn’t go any place in town that had a jukebox because they probably served alcohol, too,” she said. “But when we traveled, we might end up some place for dinner that had a jukebox.”
The routine would be one quarter for three plays on the jukebox.
“There were three children and each of us got one play,” she said. “Those are great memories.”
The process of finding an old Rock-ola was launched in secret. She did not tell Cliff.
“The Rock-ola seemed like the right brand, the premium of the line,” she said. “And, I saw several that were red.
“Initially, it was going to be put in the locker room, but later it seemed — because of the electronics and delicate moving parts — that Sam’s office was the right location. It would hold up better there.”
Henry’s online search — and phone calls — covered the entire country. A restored Rock-ola was eventually found in the Southeast, but the restoration company suggested she keep looking for someone local. They are not easy to ship.
“I eventually got the number for someone in North Little Rock with a warehouse of amusement games like Pinball machines,” she said. “He said he might have something.
“That’s the point I finally shared my secret with Cliff. I told him my idea was that our law firm would buy it, but if that wasn’t possible could we do it? He said yes.
“He knew that when I set my mind to something, I make it happen.”
When she went to the warehouse, she was led to a corner with a jukebox under cover. It turned out to be a red Rock-ola, exactly what she’d seen online that first night.
“When we saw it, Cliff thought it was an amazing idea,” Henry said. “If the partners thought it was appropriate, great, but we were going to do it.”
The old Rock-ola needed a few parts, but the repair could be done at that shop.
“We negotiated a price for the jukebox and the restoration,” Henry said. “He told us it would take a few weeks to get some of the parts. We purchased it on the spot.”
Everything went smooth the rest of the way. Her partners were all-in on the project.
“I was going to them to ask for forgiveness instead of permission,” she joked. “They thought it was amazing. I was quickly told that I win the prize for the best client award.”
The next task was to deliver it in secret. After Jamie Pittman provided a few of Sam’s favorite tunes and artists, the Rock-ola was loaded with compact discs.
There was everything you’d suspect: George Strait, Luke Combs, Chicago, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Aerosmith. Yes, Tupac is there, too.
“To borrow a phrase from the crime world, the delivery was an inside job,” Henry said. “Joseph got us a key and entry over Coach Sam’s birthday weekend.
“We set it up and it played beautifully. He came in Monday morning and said he knew immediately where it came from.”
Of course, there is a plaque on the front that says it’s from his friends at the law firm.
“We all thought it was the perfect present for his 59th birthday,” Henry said. “My partners think Coach Sam is so important for our state. He’s renewed faith in our program — let it shine.
“Our firm is thrilled to work with Coach Sam. Most of us are U of A graduates and he means a lot to us.”