Nov. 23, 2008
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
It was an odd place to make a high level decision, but the vacant meeting room at the Marriott River Center in San Antonio was a good place to at least explore some options.
Texas was preparing to play in the Alamo Bowl following the regular season of 2006, and Dave Brown, the programming guru for ESPN and ABC, had stopped by to visit with Mack Brown about an idea the network had been considering concerning the Texas-Texas A&M game.
For some time, the game had been slotted on Friday, bouncing between an early time slot and one in the mid-afternoon. It was the only game on, but it had not succeeded in gaining a strong foothold.
Brown, the TV exec, had come to test the waters with Brown, the Texas coach, to see how the Longhorn family would feel about playing the game on Saturday night after Thanksgiving. That would, some interested parties had surmised, give UT, Texas A&M, and the Big 12 Conference, a showcase game in primetime on the holiday weekend.
But Mack had other ideas.
Playing the game on Friday had shortened what once was a long break for the students of both Texas and Texas A&M, with the main focus being on the players of the two schools. If you move the game to Saturday night, Brown reasoned, the Thanksgiving weekend would evaporate into just another football Saturday.
So Mack offered a suggestion: If you want a primetime game, put it back where it belongs...on Thanksgiving.
Once a staple of Thanksgiving, the game had been moved because of network contracts and conflicts. Now, with ESPN joined to ABC, it was possible that the jockeying of the game could land successfully right smack back in the middle of tradition.
Dave Brown left San Antonio that day with a brainstorming breakthrough.
And two seasons later, the schools, the conference, and the network all agreed that the time-honored tradition of turkey and football would once again be a national TV event, as well as a down-home Texas feast.
Given that the "next best thing" - a Thanksgiving afternoon game - wasn't possible, the move back to Turkey Day night has been hailed by the constituencies of both schools as a good thing.
And this year, Dave Brown came out a winner all the way around. Saturday night, ABC will have the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game from Stillwater, so the drama of the Big 12 and the BCS will be played out on national television beginning on Thursday night.
The rich history of Thanksgiving Day and the Texas-Texas A&M game, now known as the Lone Star Showdown, carries all the way back to the early part of the last century.
The electronic world has been a part of its history for almost 100 years. In 1921 at a game in College Station, two Aggie cadets transmitted a play-by-play with prearranged abbreviations over station 5XB in College Station to station 5XU in Austin. It was the first game account transmitted by wireless in the southwestern United States.
With the completion of the west side upper deck of what was then called Texas Memorial Stadium in 1972, ABC-TV, operating under its contract with the NCAA television package, aired the Texas-Texas A&M game on Thanksgiving night for the first time. When the NCAA TV package was dissolved by a lawsuit in 1984, it wasn't long until ESPN grabbed the game and again put it at night in their fledgling primetime cable package in the mid-1980s.
When ESPN joined with ABC, the cable network once again had the rights to some evening Big 12 games, and the perfect fit for the regular Thursday night ESPN crew has turned out to be a visit to Austin this season. And it appears the trend will continue for the foreseeable future.
Future schedules will re-introduce the "short week" concept, where Texas and Texas A&M will play on a Saturday, and return to action five days later on Thanksgiving.
This year's schedule allowed both schools some healing time, with the Saturday before the game slated as an open date. The Texas staff used the time to allow the players some "down" time, but they returned to practice on Sunday afternoon for the full complement of work days. Sunday and Monday will replace what would have been the heavy Tuesday and Wednesday practices, with Tuesday equaling the Thursday "walk through" work out. Wednesday will be set for the usual "day before the game" schedule.
Under the old schedule, the Longhorns had traditionally held a chapel and Thanksgiving service on Thanksgiving morning, and then the players have had time to eat with their parents before getting into the pre-game routine.
Now, the turkey and trimming will wait until the players are through with the game, and they will be able to travel home with their families for a long weekend.
What hasn't changed, with all of the scheduling and re-scheduling, is the intensity of the rivalry, or the importance of the game. The state's two major institutions of higher learning may agree that playing on Thanksgiving again is a good thing, but that will be about all they agree on Thursday.
The age-old tradition puts this one back in one of the many scenarios this rivalry has seen through the years: One school fighting for respect, the other with championship dreams. The Longhorns have been given a national stage on which to present their best case against their biggest rival.
And once again, the whole country will get to see the pride and tradition of football, state of Texas style. It may have started on a primitive wireless broadcast, but now it's in high definition. The more things change, the more they remain the same. So grab that extra piece of pie and settle in. After all, this thing always has been about friends, family and food.