So here was Mike
DeNiro, olive-complexioned, with a wide, unassuming smile and a way about him
that made you imagine him standing on a Youngstown corner, snapping his fingers
and watching the girls go by. What was he doing in Aggieland?
spectacularly quick, a starting end from the first of his sophomore year at
A&M, he could have picked his spot in the Big Ten, he explained. A friend
who had played under Stallings at Alabama had sent a film to the A&M coach,
who needed only one view of Mike in a high school game to hightail it to
Youngstown. Mike liked the way Stallings looked him in the eye, telling him
that A&M was a hard situation, a place where he would have to work for
everything he got. "Sometimes when I'm out there in practice," Mike now
said, "I feel like I'm in a daze, like I'm unconscious. And I'll be
truthful with you, I get homesick—like every night. I'm a guy who likes a good
time, but it can't be done here. But y'know? It's quite a place. They tell us
they want us to have class. They don't want us going into the world saying,
'Hey, everybody's against me.' " Mike DeNiro smiled, so that I would not
think the Aggie War Hymn had affected his equilibrium. "It's a good
atmosphere. It builds character."
there is a specter stalking the hearts and minds of old Aggies. It is the fear
that the Aggie Spirit is in danger of withering. In colleges and universities
across America, school spirit has become a vanishing value, whose last
protagonists risk being labeled infantile or square. Aggieland—buttressed by
Texas' pioneer heritage and by a Protestant morality that demands loyalty to
one's nation and institutions and, most of all, by the intensely proud corps of
cadets—stubbornly has refused to turn in her school spirit for beards, pot or
Vietnam teach-ins. "This is the best place on earth," says a cadet. So
why would Aggieland want to copy fashion? But ominous signs have been coming
for nine years now, or since Earl Rudder became president of Aggieland.
Hell's bells, fella, he's an old Aggie—played on the football team, and got
himself decorated to the chin by leading a battalion of Rangers up the side of
a Normandy cliff while the Germans dropped grenades in their faces. He's not
one of those fancy fellas—hasn't even got himself a master's. And he can be
tougher'n Gene Stallings himself if you don't pay him mind. Indeed, though
President Rudder encourages Aggie students to participate in politics, he
commands that they do their politicking in town—not on campus—and stands ready
to enforce his word. When an SDS cell popped up last spring in Aggieland like a
pouch of marijuana in a bowl of Wheaties, its leader defied Rudder's canon,
passing out leaflets on campus. He was told to finish the semester and get
is old shoe, he's pure country," says Buck Weirus, the director of the
Association of Former Students. Notwithstanding a rank of major general in the
Army Reserve, Rudder prefers to be addressed as Mister, old-shoe type that he
is. "But he's smart as hell and he gets things done," says Weirus.
In the beginning
Mr. Rudder looked around at his new domain and for the most part liked what he
saw. Since 1876 young Texans had been arriving at A&M, the state's oldest
land-grant college, from the farms and small towns. Most of them came from poor
or middle-class means, determined to carve out a career. Together they endured
the arduous regimen of the cadet corps, it being compulsory to serve the corps
a minimum of two school years, and went on to become military men, engineers,
oilmen, agronomists and scientists.
Fine, said Mr.
Rudder, but times have changed. "I think I realized, and our board
realized, that the great problems were not really science or engineering
problems, but human problems," he says. He poured money into liberal arts,
of all things. He created a philosophy department! He went after high-priced
faculty brains. And with an eye to big-time scientific inquiry, he sent a
research engineer named Richard E. Wainerdi to Washington for a nuclear
reactor. "Where's Texas A&M?" Washington asked Wainerdi. So the
Aggies audaciously built their own nuclear equipment, and with the help of the
federal millions that followed, achieved world leadership in something called
nuclear activation analysis. Of course, that didn't stop the Aggie jokes. When
Aggie scientists, caught up in tradition, decided to commemorate the completion
of a 300-ton cyclotron by shooting a pinch of radioactivity into an A&M
class ring, they punched their buttons—and the ring melted. All over Texas,
Old Aggie alumni
realized that the school had to change, but in 1963, when Mr. Rudder began
letting in girls, that was too much. The alums fought those Maggies in the
legislature—unsuccessfully—and they threatened to eliminate A&M from their
Aggies leave here," explains Buck Weirus in his alumni office, "they
want to be sure everybody in the future will have the same experience they had.
So when you add girls, you've pulled the rug out from under them. It's sort of
like one old Aggie who came back here for a visit, then went home and wrote me,
'Dear Buck, I want you to know that I shall never visit Texas A&M again.'
He had asked where B Company Infantry was located, and a freshman had replied,
'Sir, there is no more B Company Infantry.' And the old Aggie said, 'No B
Company Infantry! This school has gone to hell!' He got into his car and drove
off. But he's a good Aggie, and he's back in the saddle again."
would almost rather climb that Normandy cliff again than talk about his coeds.
"Oh, I can just see your story now," he told me one afternoon when I
left him, saying I intended to interview a few Maggies. "It's all gonna be
about coeds." By devious means, chiefly the failure to provide coeds with
on-campus housing, Mr. Rudder discreetly had held their numbers to a
trickle—now something less than 1,000 out of a student body of 13,000, and most
of them wives of other students. But the alumni and the school's 3,000 cadets
themselves are convinced the Maggies will turn the corps into oatmeal. They may
be right. "Those girls are husband hunting here," one cadet told me
sharply. "You'll notice that very few of them are the kind you'd like to
date during the daytime." But when I spoke to a petite, miniskirted
brunette, she said that of the requests for dates she receives, the great
majority comes from cadets.