"I don't give
a damn whether he was representin' anybody or not!" Stallings barked. The
point was, the player had in effect challenged his authority. By the same
token, when All-America Tackle Mo Moorman disregarded a midseason warning from
Stallings to quit cutting classes last fall, Stallings fired him, too.
Toughness, you see, and the uncompromising exercise of authority are, to
Aggies, virtues they pride themselves on. Because football—more than anything
on campus—stirs A&M men wherever they exist, Gene Stallings has become the
foremost Aggie archetype. This year his conference champions have lost five
games but have fought hard, never losing by more than six points—a circumstance
that enables Aggies to continue speaking their proudest boast. "We never
lose," they advise strangers at every turn. "We're just outscored."
Their words begin to explain why non-Aggies love to put down Aggies.
Spartan approach to football suits Aggie students and alumni just fine,
because, as it happens, they themselves tune up for a football game with
considerable fervor. Aggies do not use kindling and old newspapers to build
peprally bonfires—they chop down whole trees. Out on the cadet drill field the
week of the Texas game, a pyramid of logs rises to a height of almost 90 feet.
The mere sight of an Aggie bonfire—which officially symbolizes, honest to
goodness, the Aggies' "flaming love" for A&M—causes Aggies to
swallow hard. Cadet sentries stand guard 24 hours a day lest infiltrators from
Austin—Teasips, the manly Aggies contemptuously call them—commit sabotage. But
on one occasion the Teasips attacked by air, swooping down in a light plane to
200 feet, dropping Molotov cocktails. The Aggies poured out of their dorms as
if rising to the defense of Pearl Harbor—"with rifles, rocks, baseballs,
anything they could put their hands on," one witness told me. Later, when
the Teasip plane landed in Austin, aviation authorities expressed wonder that a
craft shot so full of holes could survive.
Saturdays at Kyle Field (where, by the way, the scoreboard works and the grass
grows nicely), the Aggie Spirit—always capitalize the "S"—charges the
air with a tension so overpowering that it moves everyone, save visiting
sportswriters. To traveling football journalists, a long-treasured autumn
ritual is the Friday night drunk. Beer, which never does the job right, can be
purchased in Bryan- College Station, but except in the dining room of the
country club and in the Ramada Inn's quiet second-floor pub one cannot buy a
drink of hard liquor in Brazos County. Furthermore, there is not so much as a
go-go joint, let alone a nightclub. Indeed, in the realm of student hot spots,
A&W root beer at last word ranked No. 1. As a consequence, the football
writers find themselves disturbingly clearheaded on Saturday, after which they
fan out in all directions carrying word that College Station remains nip and
tuck with the Spanish Sahara as the likeliest place to spend the World's Worst
Weekend. "Even the river runs dry," one sports-writer exaggerates
Oblivious to the
mood of the press, Aggie exes file proudly into Kyle Field, class rings
glittering. Next only to wives and children, perhaps, Aggies prize their class
rings most. At the sight of a man wearing one, Aggies bound across restaurants,
hand outstretched. So revered is the ring that Aggies are on standing
instructions from the Association of Former Students to purchase any seen
languishing in a pawnshop. The association reimburses the buyer, and then, as
if leading a long-lost relative home from a flophouse, tucks away the ring in a
safe lest it ever suffer further ignominy.
tension mounts. As the 272-piece Fightin' Texas Aggie Band strikes up The
Spirit of Aggieland, students and their dates rise as one—and remain standing
throughout the game. "The Twelfth Man," they call themselves. They
cannot sit, for they are pledged to fling themselves into the battle should
Stallings run out of bodies, which fortunately number 84. "Yeaaaaaaa, gig
'em, Aggies!" the Twelfth Man roars. "It still sets me off," I was
told by a middle-aged ex. At half-time the spines of alumni stiffen to the
electrifying sound of the Aggie War Hymn, which was written, as you might
guess, on the back of an envelope by an old Aggie while he lay in a World War I
trench. Finally, should the A&M team reward its faithful by winning—which
is to say, by not being outscored—Aggie jaws start flapping all over Texas.
can be splendid company," says a Houston gentleman. "Two Aggies are
impossible." If it is true, as even non-Aggies suspect, that A&M's
conference rivals have plotted to hold Aggie victories to a minimum by
mercilessly gumshoeing the school's every recruiting move, their motive
undoubtedly lies in the conclusion that Aggies, though infuriating in refusing
to acknowledge defeat, are even more boorish as winners. Ironically, Texans—for
so long stereotyped as braggarts by the rest of the nation—turn inward to pin
the same rap on their own kind.
Yet, in fairness
to the Aggies, one must ask if the Aggie Spirit is more than just a hundred
anachronistic rituals kept alive, largely by the Corps of Cadets. Is it more
than coincidence, for example, that no fewer than six Aggies won the
Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II? When Gene Stallings applies his
ramrod Aggie methods to his players, is he merely subjecting them to a juvenile
existence? Bill Hobbs, a small but swift All-America linebacker from West
Texas, blushes at the sound of his own answer but delivers it intently. "If
I ever quit in front of Coach Stallings," he says, "I could never face
I met with Hobbs
and a sophomore defensive end named Mike DeNiro, who is the only Northerner on
the Aggie squad, in the maroon plush Lettermen's Lounge, and by way of easing
our un-familiarity I remarked to DeNiro that I once had spent a week in his
home town, Youngstown, Ohio. "The week I was there," I said, "the
auto dealers were advertising $40 foolproof locks for auto hoods. There were
quite a few people blowing up one another."
said Mike. "My Uncle Vince got killed in that."
Certainly—the big boss. I remembered dining on expertly prepared Italian
cuisine in Vince's restaurant not long after his body had been gathered up from
Market Street. "Vince had a terrific restaurant," Mike said. "He
was a nice guy, if you knew him."