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"…And It’s Good-Bye to AM!"

Thursday night will be Texas’ last game with Texas A&M, at least for a while (I expect talks of reviving the game to happen when Dodds is retired and TAMU doesn’t have an AD that refers to our state’s flagship school as "tu"). It will also be TAMU’s last game ever in the Big 12. This is probably as good of a time as any to reflect on Texas A&M’s long, unique history in college athletics. One thing they are known for is their rabid, fanatic, enthusiasm for their sports teams. They are different from other programs. They refuse to let girls lead cheers. They have pep rallies (called "yell practice" in their jargon) before every game, even on the road. We have grown up with them as rivals and are used to their ways (the SEC is in for a shock), and that has led us to not really appreciate the strangeness of some of their practices (you don’t admit how odd you find a brother or sister-in-law until they are divorced out of the family). Let’s go back in history and recall some of their craziest fan stories.

Before there was an "Aggie War Hymn", before the University of Texas called its sports teams the "Longhorns", UT and Texas A&M College had a heated football rivalry, often playing twice each year. Going into the 1911 game, Texas had gone 14 – 4 – 2 in the series, with the games played either in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, or Houston. Presumably College Station lacked a field adequate for the game.

The 1911 game was played on the afternoon of November 13, in neutral Houston. The Ags entered at 4 – 0, and the Longhorns were 3 – 1. TAMC was favored, as they had beaten Texas in the prior three games played between them. Texas won 6 – 0, and a fan celebrated by grabbing a TAMC banner from the press box and running off with it. Angry cadets chased him, to no avail, and spent the evening assailing celebrating Texas fans in downtown Houston. This was enough for the UT sports administration, as they were already upset with the TAMC coach’s practice of using hired ringers (non-TAMC students who had played varsity football at other schools and showed up to play for money’ a story corroborated by TAMC alum Dutch Hohn in his memoir "Dutchman On the Brazos"), and wrote a letter to the TAMC sports administration notifying the Ags that UT was no longer interested in playing TAMC. Texas and TAMC would not play again until the establishment of the Southwest Conference, with governing rules to regulate the competition.

This incident is the Ur-Aggie- Melee. It has all of the features of subsequent Aggie sports Melees and riots. To whit-

    1. Large scale fan violence- the downtown Houston fights initiated by the cadets were written about in newspaper reports.
    2. "It’s not our fault! They started it!- The Ags had an incident- the theft of the banner- that allowed them to portray themselves as victims defending themselves, and not aggressors. Of course, to any thinking, objective observer, the reaction of the Ags was disproportionate to the initial spur.
    3. The Ags lost the contest they expected to win and were disappointed.

We will see these repeated again and again. Like a miscreant teenager, they are never at fault, yet they are always involved whenever there is trouble.

On October 30, 1926, the (4 – 1) Aggies visited the (3 – 1 – 1) Baylor Bears at Waco’s Cotton Palace playing fields. 15 years had passed since the 1911 Houston Aggie-on-Longhorn violence. The War To End All Wars had been fought. Women were allowed to vote. The drinking of alcohol was prohibited. It was a quieter nation. Except on Saturday afternoon in Waco.

The Ags were trailing at halftime when the Bears drove a car onto the field as part of a halftime show mocking the Aggies. In the car, Baylor co-eds held up signs listing the scores of prior Bear wins over the Ags. TAMC students, offended by the Bears’ introduction of reality and facts, ran onto the field. The affronted farmers mistook the Co-eds for men in drag (I have no idea if this speaks more poorly of the Aggie men or the Baylor women) and slugged them. The Baptist men responded in kind. A riot ensued, per all reports won by the Bears. It ended when the Aggie band started playing the National Anthem (this was a simpler time). Unfortunately, Charles Sessums, a senior class Aggie from Dallas was injured and died that night from a blood clot in his brain.

Aggie lore says that the cadets loaded a howitzer onto a train bound for Waco in order to exact their revenge, until turned back by a Texas Ranger. All attempts to corroborate this story have been unsuccessful, leading you to think it’s another example of Aggie BS. The TAMC president and Baylor president met for 10 hours to repair the schools’ relationship, and had enough success that the schools did not play the next five years.

Again, we see the three familiar elements:

  1. Large scale fan violence
  2. "It’s not our fault! They started it! They made fun of us."
  3. The Ags lost, 9 to 20.
  4. In the 15 years since the last incident, there had been no similar fan riots involving other Texas schools.

On November 17, 1973 the (2 – 6) Rice Owls met the visiting (5 – 4) Texas A&M Aggies at Rice Stadium in Houston. Much had changed since the 1926 Baylor riot. For one thing, A&M had become a university. For another, not all students were cadets, and many were female. One thing hadn’t changed- losing games they expected to win still turned the Aggies into hyper-aggressive sourpusses.

The Ags were losing at the half, when the notorious Marching Owl Band performed a typical (for them) halftime show that mocked the foibles and conceits of their visitors (it has been suggested that perhaps they were misled by how well they were received in Austin that year into thinking they could really let loose with the Aggie jokes). They play-marched, and even goose-stepped for a bit. They made fun of the Aggies’ dog mascot. The Aggies were not amused. Their response was to chase the MOB off the field, and stand outside their locker threatening violence for hours after the game.

So, you again have:

  1. Not large-scale fan violence, due to the police presence, but definitely an over-reaction.
  2. "It’s not our fault. They started it! They made fun of us."
  3. The Ags lost 20 – 24.
  4. In the 47 years since the Baylor incident, a lot of college football, often heated, had been played in Texas. There had been no riots or mob threats.

On a Halloween afternoon in 1981, at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, a goofball masquerading as a soldier provided us with an iconic image of Aggie sportsmanship and hospitality. The (5 – 2) Aggies were hosting the (6 – 1) SMU Mustangs, and faring poorly (the Ags would lose 7 – 27). The male Mustang cheerleaders had a practice of throwing their bodies onto the ground after a score, spelling out in sequence S – M – U. This was not a new practice, nor a rare one (UT male cheerleaders did the same, except, obviously, spelling U – T). The point of doing this on the field (typically, 5 yards in from a sideline) was to be visible to fans.

An Aggie Cadet was Officer of the Day for TAMU, which he interpreted as being the sheriff of Kyle Field. This would-be oficer took umbrage at the SMU cheerleaders’ actions, believing they were breaking a rule by walking onto the field of play. Now, this is where Aggie tradition collides with actual regulations and leaks over into myth. There was no formal rule prohibiting cheerleaders from the field. There were rules limiting field access only to those associated with the game – players, referees, trainers and the like. Now, obviously this rule was not strictly enforced by Texas A&M or by anybody else that has a similar rule. Think of the guy in the red shirt whose presence on the field signals a TV broadcast commercial break. Think of those honored with presentations during breaks. Think of the grounds crew picking debris up. The rule is there in order to give the local security personnel the authority to keep things in hand.

The cadet believed (or so he stated afterwards) that Kyle Field was a memorial to Aggie war dead, and so required special protection. This claim is unsupported by facts (there was never a memorial ceremony) and tradition (Aggie students and alums run all over the field after games, with no pause required to recognize the sanctity of the place). One suspects that the Aggie was really upset over the fact that SMU was crushing the Ags, and their fans were openly enjoying it. He was Officer of the Day, and felt he had to take action.

What action would be appropriate? Should he lodge a complaint after the game, to keep it from happening again? Should he ask for the cheerleaders’ sponsor, to request they stay on the sidelines? Should he approach the cheerleaders himself? Should he ask official stadium security personnel to order the cheerleaders to cease?

No, he decided to put an end to it himself, as a swashbuckling man of action. The next SMU score led to the cheerleaders spelling SMU again. On the "S" formation, the cadet ran onto the field (this could be considered a violation of the sanctity of the field in itself, but evidently the cadet quickly balanced posse comitatus vs. natural law vs. citizen’s arrest precedent and waded in) and kicked at a cheerleader. He then drew his ceremonial sword and brandished it. Unfortunately, this man of action was no match for the quick thinking cheerleaders, who quickly formed the "Three Stooges" formation where one kneels on his fours behind the target, and another pushes him. Luckily, nobody was cut. It fell to a policeman and Aggie defensive back to restore order by removing the cadet from the field.

This isn’t precisely an example of Aggie fan violence, but it illustrative of the Aggie mindset towards rival behavior that …just…can’t…be…tolerated. Also, as we’ll see later, this is not the only example of Aggie game spirit personnel acting out, with no counter-examples from other schools.

The Aggie cadet in question was disciplined, and the rules changed (at the time; I don’t know if they are still this way) disallowing swords on the sidelines. This was during a time when the Texas A&M administration was sane.

On December 2, 1995, Texas and TAMU played their last game as SWC rivals (Rice and UH would play the last SWC game ever later that night). Texas was 9 – 1 – 1, and ranked 9th. The Ags were 8 – 2 and ranked 16th. The last SWC championship ever was at stake, pitting the team that had dominated the conference’s history versus the team that had dominated of late.

It was a low-scoring, hard-hitting affair. Texas’ ground game, led by freshman RB Ricky Williams’ 163 yards, carried the day. Gimpy QB James Brown turned in a gutty performance under the Aggie blitz. Texas never trailed, and won 16 – 6 before over 76,000 fans.

Things got ugly after the game. Texas fans spilled onto the field, to be attacked by TAMU Corps ROTC students, allegedly "protecting the field". It was ugly, as several Aggies swung at Longhorns (male, female, child) before cooler heads could intervene. The Aggie excuse again was that the field was "sacred", required violence to defend, and the Texas fans started it. There were no arrests and no apologies.

Note that the stadium in Austin actually is a "memorial" to war dead from Texas (as commemorated by various monuments throughout) and that the Aggie players and students felt no hesitation in running on it after wins in Austin. Also note that it is shameful and revolting for "men" training to be officers to physically assault any civilian unless said victim is a threat to people or (sometimes) property. You would never, ever see similar actions from West Point, Annapolis, or Air Force Academy cadets. This was an incredibly ugly act by the Aggie Corps, tolerated by their SWC peers because…well, that’s just the Aggies.

Again, we see the three familiar elements:

  1. Large scale fan violence

2 . "It’s not our fault! They started it! They walked on our field."

3. The Ags lost, 6 to 16.

4. In the 22 years since the Rice incident, there had been no fan riots or attacks involving other schools in Texas.

On November 3, 2001, the (7 – 1) Texas A&M Aggies went on the road to Lubbock to take on the (4 – 3) Texas Tech Red Raiders. The Red Raiders won a (surprising) defensive struggle 12 – 0. After the game, the hometown fans (many of them high school kids) poured out of the stands and tore down the goal posts. They paraded them around the stadium before charging a collection of Aggie fans in the visiting fans section, starting a melee.

The TT fans were clearly at fault here. That said, it’s a mistake to portray the Ags as innocent victims, as if a similar assault could or would be perpetrated on any visiting fanbase in an upset win. For one thing, 15 minutes after the game was over, the Aggie fans were still in the stadium. Why? To practice their yells, because of a tradition that they lost because the fans did not support the team enough, and so now had to do penance.

No other fanbase does this. The Red Raiders have upset Texas and OU in the same stadium, and 15 minutes, heck 5 minutes, after the game is over, the visiting fans have cleared out.

That’s not reason enough to blame the Aggies, but there is more still. While the teenage Tech fans were parading around the stadium with the goalposts, the Aggie fans started taunting them and throwing ice. This serves as a good example of why it’s a good idea to leave a stadium after a loss- you’re not going to see any celebrative behavior that makes you feel good, and you run the risk of being dragged down to their level.

A funny thing about this fan riot- the initial Aggie spokesman was Dr. Mike McKinney, Rick Perry’s Chief of Staff, and father of Aggie AA center Seth McKinney. His face had been bloodied in the attack, and he described the chaotic scene to the media, likening his defense of his fellow Ags to Davy Crockett’s defense of the Alamo. Later info came out that he had actually been clocked by a fellow Ag, who was trying to get him to stop swing his binoculars around like a mace for fear that they would injure other Ags, rather than the intended targets of pubescent children. Dr. McKinney, confident that the real story wouldn’t get out, had lied to the press about the details of the attack, and has been silent on the matter since.

And, once again,

1. Large scale fan violence

2. "It’s not our fault! They started it!" (The Ags are right about this. Now, Tech "started it" 30 minutes after the game was over, but still…)

3. The Ags lost 0 – 12.

  1. In the 10 years since the Lubbock incident, Tech (and all other Texas schools) has managed to not engage in any other fan riots.

The Ags received an apology from the TT administration, something that no victim of Aggie crowd violence has ever obtained. This riot was not initiated by the Ags, but in my mind serves as a great support of my contention that whenever there is college football fan violence in this state, the Ags will be involved, and it won’t be their fault.

The last episode of note occurred on December 2, 2005, when the (5 – 5) Ags hosted the (10 – 0) #2 ranked Longhorns. The Ags made a good showing that day, losing to the eventual national champs 29 – 40. There was a little scene before the game when an Aggie cadet flung horse manure onto the seated Longhorn band, as he trailed a horse around the track before the game. Evidently, this disgusting act was motivated out of ignorance and spite, and the cadet was eventually arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.

Reading the Ag message boards after the game was amusing. First, there was shame, and disbelief that an Ag could act so shamefully. A poster suggested that maybe there was a reason. Maybe the Longhorn band provoked him somehow? But how could they? Another poster suggested that maybe the Horns were alarming the horses, and the Ag was actually being gallant in protection of the beasts and their riders. That suggestion was jumped on, and if you bring this incident up today on an Ag message board, you will be met with scores of posts claiming this was a justified response to an aggressive action by the Longhorn Band.

All of which is pure BS. First off, that’s a slur against the Longhorn Band, which has no record of acting out in a malicious manner. There were no such claims at the time, nor any such defense by the cadet charged. Second, even if the cadet were provoked in some manner, how is throwing manure at a bunch of strangers (several of them female) any kind of reasonable response, especially from somebody training (in theory) to be an officer? Obviously, it isn’t. An appropriate response would have been to complain to his leadership, to stadium security, to anybody with the authority to govern the situation. A .gif of the incident shows how it actually happened- the trollish young cadet was passing the seated Longhorn Band, quickly shoveled manure at them, and looked straight ahead with a smirk at the cleverness of his churlish act.

Only in College Station, or to be more precise, only with the Ags. There are plenty of heated rivalries in college football, with plenty of bad behavior. Somehow, things only truly get out of control when Texas A&M fans are involved. It’s ironic, given that they are the classiest fanbase around- just ask them (I freely admit that Longhorn fans can be classless and tasteless). Honestly, I fear for Texas fans at College Station Thursday night should the Horns upset the Ags. Granted, our fans may deserve it for yelling, "Poor Aggies" (might be worth it).

So, this is what we’re losing in this rivalry, even if only for a few years. Whenever there is any kind of fan riot, you can be sure that one of the teams involved is Texas A&M. The Aggies have a mixed record in such events- they can count wins against Texas fans and the Rice Band, but losses against Baylor students, SMU cheerleaders, and Lubbock teenagers. They’re yours now, SEC. No exchanges, no returns.