"Whenever people think about the 1978 Orange Bowl, they'll think about the three players who didn't get to play and why."

The man speaking was running back Michael Forrest, who with running back Ben Cowins and receiver Donny Bobo, was suspended by Arkansas Coach Lou Holtz for the Orange Bowl game.

Holtz acted against the three black players because of a dormitory incident involving a white woman. The Washington Post later revealed that Holtz suspended the players in return for the woman not filing charges.

School spirit here is at its highest level ever following the football team's 31-6 Orange Bowl upset of Oklahoma and the success of the basketball team.

Still, some skepticism, tension and anxieties remain, particularly among the three players involved in the incident and their friends.

The players, represented by Little Rock civil rights attorney John Walker, sued the school in December in an effort to be reinstated to the team for the bowl game.

After a four-day hearing in Federal Distict Court in Little Rock, the three dropped their case.

Forrest, interviewed last month, said he was not bitter, but he still believes he was treated unfairly and the mental scars that resulted from the incident will never heal.

"There are things in the back of my mind that I won't forget and things that I'd rather not say," he said. "But basically, at least outwardly, things are cool. The stigma is still there, though.

"I have mixed feelings. I came back because I want to play and I want to graduate. I didn't want to go through the hassle of transferring schools and all of that.

"Staying at Arkansas is what's best for me. Coach Holtz assured me things would be like they were before if I stayed. I want to believe him.

"I don't want to elaborate on it much, but things just aren't the same. There are some things we just don't know about.

"I don't have any idea of how the coaches will treat us once we do get back on the field and I don't know what they are really thinking. I'll just have to wait and see.

"This whole thing has made me wiser," Forrest said. "I learned that there are some things you just can't kid about and I learned that you can trust some people and you can't trust some others and that black and white has nothing to do with that."

Bobo said Holtz told the three he wanted them if they wanted to come back.

"Coming back was the best thing for us to do," Bobo said. "I'll say everything is all right, but you never know. Nothing is ever as bad as it seems and nothing is as good as it seems.

"I plan to work all that much harder, but I don't feel I have to prove anything. I believe Coach Holtz will play the people who deserve to play and I will be one of them.

"I want to play pro ball, so that is the only way I can think. There are things we won't know about until we get out there, though," he added. "It'll be interesting."

In addition to legally seeking the reinstatement of the players for the Orange Bowl, Walker also filed a six-page lawsuit accusing the Arkansas athletic department of racial discrimnation against black athletes as a group.

That suit is still pending.

Cowins, Forrest and Bobo had sought a temporary injunction that would have allowed them to play in the Orange Bowl.

The players charged when they sought the injunction allowing them to play in the Orange Bowl that Holtz, in his first year at Arkansas, has suspended them because of "a personal whim . . . which may be based on racial consideration."

No criminal charges were filed against the three by the woman in question, but the woman has said she was molested. Cowins testified in court that it was only "a playful act and the situation was under control."

"As far as I'm concerned the matter is closed," said the school's athletic director, Frank Broyles. "The issue is buried."

But it is not.

Serious questions have been raised, and only time will tell what effect all this will have on the Arkansas program.

"Overall, in the long run, I think it will hurt the school," Walker said. "I hop not, but I think so. People will be looking awfully hard at Arkansas now and passing judgment on it."

As recently as eight years ago there were no black athletes at Arkansas. Now there are 52 blacks among those getting 188 athletic scholarships in football, basketball, baseball track, swimming, golf and tennis. There are 33 in football, six in basketball, eight in track and five in baseball.

Approximately 1,900 black students are included in the school's enrollment of 13,500. In short, about 15 percent of the student body is black, while 28 percent of athletes are black.

"Arkansas is no different from most other universities," Walker said. "No better, no worse. We just wnat to do some things to ensure that black athletes here are treated fairly and given all of the right opportunities."