Bitter Texas-Texas A&M rivalry prepares for a sudden ending (cont.)
The source of that, some would call, obsession dates to the creation of both schools. In 1876, the state constitution required the Legislature to establish a "university of the first class." Read: the University of Texas. Meanwhile the "Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas" was constituted as a "branch" of the main university. From its birth, A&M was raised as the maroon-headed stepchild to its big brother in Austin, a mindset that has stuck with the Aggies ever since.
At first, the schools attracted different students. A&M drew from rural parts of the state while Texas enrollees came from more urban areas. Over time Aggies liked to tease these snooty intellectuals from "Texas University," more commonly known as t.u., as "teasips," a nickname that those from A&M use to this day. Every good Longhorn, meanwhile, grew up hearing and retelling Aggie jokes. (How many freshmen Aggies does it take to change a lightbulb? None. That's actually a sophomore course at A&M.)
What the Thanksgiving game did was bring into focus the yearnings of a state measured by oil and football. The schools represented what divided the state and what made it strong. The Aggies were a little bit country, and the Longhorns were a little bit rock 'n roll.
Much of those divisions are gone now. As the state's complexion morphed from rural to urban, the schools' student bodies began to homogenize. At no point have the students at the schools shared more in common than they do today.
Yet the burning desire to "beat the hell outta t.u." or say "goodbye to A&M" remains.
No matter which side had the upper hand, the game had the power to spoil Thanksgiving Day -- or make it more joyful. Meals were scheduled around the telecast, and many an argument and occasional divorce resulted when dad or granddad wouldn't be dragged from the set in the fourth quarter.
Need proof? Pick a year. Before anyone knew it was a rivalry, Texas won the first seven meetings, all shutouts. After the opener, the Austin newspaper described the Aggies as "nice gentlemen, but they were outclassed." The Aggies scored in 1902 and prevailed, 12-0.
In 1939, their great fullback, Jarrin' John Kimbrough, led A&M to a 20-0 victory in a season that ended with a national championship. The next year in Austin, a circus catch by Texas's Noble Doss set up the game's only score, knocked the Aggies out of a second straight title and ended their winning streak at 20 games.
In 1948, a winless A&M squad tied Texas, 14-14, saving its season. But the Longhorns lost only once from 1940 until Bryant arrived from Kentucky before the '54 season to pull off the most notable salvage job of his career.
The Aggies were unbeaten in 1956, but Bryant was wary of playing the 'Horns in Austin. In a departure from his usual tactics, he told the press that he had the better team and if his charges played up to their ability Texas had no chance.
Before the game, the Bear was playing it safe. He refused to bring his team out of the locker room until after the Longhorns had played their alma mater, The Eyes of Texas. He was not going to have his players blasted with it as they hit the field.
The kickoff was delayed five minutes until the Texas band struck up The Eyes, after which the A&M team appeared. The Aggies jumped out to a 13-0 lead and were on their way to a smashing 34-21 win.
The relationship between the schools could be angry, mean, respectful and strange. Coaches on occasion crossed the line. Dana X. Bible produced five SWC champions for A&M from 1917 to 1928. He eventually moved to Austin and engineered superb squads in the '40s -- featuring the flamboyant Bobby Layne, the program's most famous quarterback until Vince Young toppled USC in the Rose Bowl. Emory Bellard installed the wishbone for Darrell Royal in '68, launching a national trend, and then moved to College Station in '72 to turn the Aggies back into winners.
This maneuvering sometimes had fascinating back stories. Ed Price resigned as the Longhorns' coach after the 1956 loss, and an early candidate for the job was a young Royal, a onetime Oklahoma quarterback/defensive back, then coaching at Washington. Royal had asked Bud Wilkinson to recommend him, and his former coach said he would. Then Royal called Bryant for an endorsement, and Bear told him, "Hell, no, Darrell. I don't want you coming in here and whipping our ass."
The Longhorns hired Royal. Later, he remembered walking across the campus with Bible, who had become athletic director, and asking how much Wilkinson's support had to do with his getting the job. "What do you mean?" said Bible. "Bud didn't call on your behalf."
Royal did a double-take. "Then who recommended me?"
Bible was surprised he didn't know. "Paul Bryant."
Royal's first team, in 1957, upset the fourth-ranked Aggies in College Station, 9-7.
The rivalry between the teams spilled over to other venues. Bryant initially had doubts about the toughness of Jack Pardee, who played end his sophomore year and was one of his famed Junction Boys. Pardee was skinny and shy, and his temper did not seem to reflect his red hair.
In the spring of 1955 a few of the Aggie players drove to Austin to cheer for the baseball team in a game against the 'Horns. A brawl broke out between Pardee and Texas all-conference tackle Buck Lansford, who pounded and pummeled each other from one section of the ballpark to another.
Years later, an Aggie teammate revealed what started the ruckus. "We were in the restroom in the concourse behind home plate, and as we left the urinals some of the Texas players walked in," he recalled, "Pardee brushed past Lansford, and Buck said to him, 'Didn't they teach you at A&M to wash your hands after you pissed?'
"And Jack said, 'No, they taught us not to pee on our fingers.' The next thing we knew they were throwing punches. Of course, we all thought Pardee won."
Coaches on both sidelines were fired for losing this game, or hired to win it. Jackie Sherrill was a lightning rod in his seasons on the Brazos River, but he changed the Aggies' mindset. A&M regained its swagger under Sherrill and successor R.C. Slocum, beating Texas 10 games out of 11 between 1984 and 1994.
After Royal, Texas had its own revolving door, during one stretch moving from David McWilliams to John Mackovic and finally Mack Brown.
Farmers and teasips -- you know who you are -- shared the fellowship of pain for 117 years. So did their diehard fans, including two who were governors of the state: John Connally, a onetime Texas student body president, and Rick Perry, an Aggie yell leader.
As governor in the 1960s, Connally received four box seats on the 50-yard line. When Lyndon Johnson was president, he frequently called Connally at noon to invite himself to the game, along with Lady Bird. But Connally complained that LBJ talked politics throughout the game, distracting him from the action on the field.
On Thanksgiving Day, Connally made it a point to leave the mansion at 10 a.m., and the extra seats remained empty. Now, barring government intervention -- which the current governor strongly opposes -- or perhaps divine intervention, the state's most revered football feud will end on Nov. 24, 2011. And all the fans and former players can take their places next to Connally's empty seats.
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