No howdies popped
from the mouths of students in civvies, though in the context of modern campus
life they, too, seemed peculiar—all were freshly laundered and clean-shaven.
The phenomenon merited inquiry.
got a few hippies here but they're part-time hippies," a sport-shirted,
bespectacled student told me. "They get into their flower suits when
they're out of class. Their main thing is to have something to gripe about—the
meals, the laundry or whatever, I don't know why they come here, unless it's
because it's cheap and you get a good education." Off in the distance, in
front of the Academic Building, students with chamois cloths were swarming over
the bronze statue of old Lawrence Sullivan (Sul) Ross, buffing up the long-ago
college president for the new school year. Having read in my morning newspaper
that students at the University of Illinois had warmed up for their fall term
by mutilating 11 pictures of past university presidents, I could not help
musing on the Aggies' failure to get with it.
appeared to be reasonably alert, and at this point Texas A&M's grim
reputation seemed in question, capable of being saved only by the allegedly
hapless town of College Station.
No help there
either. College Station, I discovered, is a pleasant, prosperous community of
18,000, joined on its far side by the city of Bryan, which has a population of
33,000 and a proportionate number of glass up-to-date banks. College Station
does not appear to be in the coma that is widely reported. True, the town
offers no gourmet dining, and on days when the Briarcrest Country Club has been
taken over by a ladies' fashion show, A&M President Earl Rudder carts his
luncheon guests over to Arnold's Bar-B-Que. Arnold throws a sheet of shelf
paper on the table and dumps a slab of cheese and a pile of sliced beef in the
middle. He provides each guest with a single eating utensil: a butcher knife.
"Dig in!" commands President Rudder, a heavyset gray-haired man,
whereupon everyone reaches out with his butcher knife and lances a hunk of
beef, which he eats with his fingers. It proves to be delicious.
Aggieland is a place of unpretentious, comfortable small-town living only 90
minutes from Houston. Obviously, it is a victim of massive slander. But why?
The answer pieces itself together slowly, and perhaps the best point of
approach is Aggie football.
At the training
table several days after my arrival, Gene Stallings shot me a look that felt
like the thrust of one of Arnold's butcher knives. I had started to inquire
about the truth of a certain story I had heard on campus, and at once the
coach's eyes narrowed, burning. He is a man totally sure of himself. Four years
ago, when at 29 he served as Bryant's chief assistant at Alabama, A&M
alumni had sought his opinion of two head-coaching prospects who if hired might
revive the Aggies from a seven-year famine. "You haven't asked about the
man who's best qualified," Stallings told them. He meant himself, of
course, and they hired him.
the titles of head coach and athletic director, Stallings is a raw-boned figure
with a prominent nose, a stony chin and lines that form parentheses around his
mouth. His features, in fact, bear a notable resemblance to those of Bryant,
who first had him as an end at A&M in the mid-1950s. Now, when apparently I
had struck a sensitive nerve, Stallings waited, saying nothing, so I continued
my story, the account being that last year one of his players had gone to him
saying he was spokesman for a group of teammates. He told Stallings that these
players all missed the relaxed atmosphere of their high school football
practices. "It was more buddy-buddy in high school—more fun," the
player said. "We'd just like you to consider this."
story went on, lay awake that night, considering nothing else. "I've
thought on what you said," he was supposed to have told the player the next
day, "and now you're going to have from now on to think on it. You're off
When I finished
relating the episode, Stallings confirmed it with a short, reluctant nod.
Finally, at last he snapped, "Damn! This isn't high school!"
Choosing my next
words gingerly, against the prospect of another thrust, I said, "Well, I
imagine you've considered the possibility that you may have dealt a little
severely with the player—I mean, in view of the fact that he was representing
others who may have lacked his nerve to speak up?"