I’m the fourth in a row in my family to have my name. The first one, a native of a small town in Central Texas, was a Longhorn. His son, my grandfather, was a military man and an Aggie. My father was also a military man, also an Aggie. I skipped the military and went to Texas, following a family tradition of sorts.
So I was raised in an Aggie household. Both of my godfathers are Aggies. I went to 20+ Aggie games as a kid, including the Cotton Bowl against Notre Dame. I watched Kevin Murray, Greg Hill, Leeland McElroy, and Quentin Coryatt. I never could buy into the martial atmosphere, but Kyle Field is a hell of a place to watch a football game.
It was never really explained to me why, but my Dad and Grandfather both hated UT with a passion. I use the word “hated” here, but that’s not entirely accurate. Both fairly reasonable men, they acknowledged UT’s superiority in the humanities and softer sciences, while claiming A&M’s superiority in engineering and the hard sciences. Their feelings were never explained to me, but over time I figured them out. Their hatred was based really on two things: (1) football; and (2) Vietnam.
This is the Old A&M
The first of those bases is the easiest one to detail. When my Dad and Grandfather went to A&M it was an all-male military school. You were in the Corp. Then you went into the military. This culture was not conducive to attracting high-level football recruits. As the result, A&M was almost uniformly terrible in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. In fact, from 1945 through 1984, 39 years, A&M won only three Southwest Conference Titles. That’s right, 3 for 39, meaning there was a 1 out of 13 chance that A&M would win the conference each year. And this conference included Rice, Baylor, and UH. Their best record over that period was 10-2 in 1975. They were regularly trounced by Texas. This is the A&M my father attended, the one that my Grandfather watched play football on TV.
This is Why I'm Hot
Over this same 1945 – 1984 period, UT won 17 Southwest Conference titles. That means that UT won over 43% of the SWC titles over that period against A&M’s 7.6%. From a football standpoint, the Aggies – like my Dad and Grandfather -- hated UT with a passion. It’s easy to see why. UT had the big money from the PUF, the pretty girls, the better football teams, and the rich urban alumni. A&M had the military kids from small towns across the state, and not too much else other than pride.
Old Austin Hippies
The second driver of the UT hatred was cultural -- Vietnam, essentially. My Dad was at A&M in the late 60’s, when it was far more Muskogee than it was San Francisco. To him, the A&M/UT divide was the difference between hippies and military men, big town liberal sensibilities and small town patriotism, the idle class and the working class, urban and rural. For someone coming from small-town Texas, with no draft deferment on the horizon, Austin and its counter-culture were a terrifying other. There are plenty of exceptions to these generalizations and I mean no offense, but I think it’s important to understand how other folks perceive things. For my Dad and Grandfather, A&M was old, hard-working America and UT was hedonistic, good-timing, draft-dodging new America.
Jackie Sherrill and the Boys
For my Dad and Grandfather, the Jackie Sherrill-era Aggies changed everything. Finally, for the first time since the beginning of WWII, A&M had a football program with a national profile. Those teams, the vaunted “Wrecking Crews,” punched people in the mouth and ran down their throats. Meanwhile, UT was adrift in the wilderness, cycling through coaches and still paying some of the tab it ran up as one of the last major programs to embrace African-American athletes. To quote a wonderful line from “Sleep Enough to Dream, an old True Believers song, from the Aggies’ perspective, “the books were balanced, for a little awhile.”
"Sleep Enough to Dream" by the True Believers, featuring Jon Dee Graham and the Escovedo brothers
But of course Sherrill was cheating. And of course, he got caught. And UT finally got back on track, hiring a coach who completely resurrected the program and its image. A guy who figured out how to communicate with recruits and their parents. Mack Brown. A&M returned to the bottom of the conference.
When I decided to go to UT no one in my family was all that surprised. After all, I was a long-haired kid who played soccer and wrote for fun. But I started my first year in Austin with the serious belief, ingrained in me since birth, that UT and A&M were death-enemies, polar opposites, defined by their opposition to one another. What I found surprised me – from a UT perspective, the OU game was HUGE, while the A&M game was slightly less interesting than the Tech game, albeit with more history. Older Longhorn fans understood the roots of the rivalry, but people my age, in their mid-30s, really didn't.
The thing is, A&M has always defined itself as “not UT.” This made sense to the guys from my Dad’s and Grandfather’s eras. UT had long ago stopped defining itself as anything other than what it is: UT. The difference in these self-definitions persists to today, when A&M is a major research university with students from all over the state, similar in many ways to what UT always was. That’s the thing that no current Aggie or Longhorn seems to be able to understand. They are not what they were. And we really do not care as much. Our historical differences have shrunk dramatically, but the Aggies are still defining themselves as not being fast-talking, hip and cool, congenitally rich, city-slickers from Austin. Younger UT fans do not understand the real, old historical difference, or the pride that the Aggies feel in being opposed to what they perceive UT standing for. Aggies do not understand that the most visceral hatred always belongs to the outsiders; UT is not now, and never has been, an outsider. It's a culture war, played by proxies.
These are the things out of which historical rivalries are built! Real Madrid is for the Francoists, Barcelona for the Catalan separatists. Celtic is a Catholic squad, Rangers is Protestant. Man United is the posh club, Man City is the working man’s club. Boca Jrs. is the working class immigrant team, River Plate is nicknamed the “Millionarios.” These things matter. They make sports matter.
Now we are at a point where we are largely talking past one another. The marriage is ending, communication has ceased. A&M wants equality; UT wants recognition for its leadership. That is what we are told anyway. The fan bases are being manipulated by the same old levers – Aggies are backwards rubes, acting out of resentment; Longhorns are rich, entitled brats, doing what they want without regard for anyone else. But these differences that used to drive great football games are now being used by other people, for other purposes.
Because meanwhile, a bunch of greed-heads who are making the BIG decisions for both programs are about to dash history on the rocks of their TV contracts. For what though? The players aren’t seeing any extra money. It costs a king’s ransom to join the Longhorn Foundation or the 12th Man Foundation and get good seats. Regular folks aren’t sitting in those new boxes that are being built. What’s all that money going for? It isn’t helping with tuition, which has sky-rocketed along with the ticket prices. So why exactly are we giving up this symbolic annual reckoning between opposing cultures? Who is getting rich off of killing part of our common culture? What do I care about a Longhorn Network? Or A&M playing South Carolina?
If you know the answer then I would love to hear it. Because if the league were to hold, and A&M were to be good for the next 5 years, then I guarantee you that the rivalry would regain its meaning and prominence. UT fans would again mock the overall-wearing rubes; Aggies would again mock the khaki-wearing, BMW driving sophisticates. Things would get to back to where they should be.
I, for one, will be sad to see the Aggies go. Not to get all touchy-feely, but we could sometimes make each other better. And both schools represent large parts of a large state. It will change the Thanksgiving Day conversation at my house, where I call my Dad a fascist and he calls me a Communist, and not for the better, whatever my Mom thinks.
These are stupid, reckless, greed-driven decisions being made and they are not making anything better for the fans of either school. My two cents worth.