This rivalry has been a very significant part of being Texan...a shining moment that is gone, but not forgotten.
Nov. 24, 2011
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
COLLEGE STATION – Remember when you were a kid, and your best friend’s dad got transferred to another town? You vowed to remain close…said nothing would be different. Pals forever. But the miles, and the years changed everything. And you found that emotion gives way to reality, and in time, the old relationships were never the same.
That is the destiny of the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry in football. With the moving of the Aggies to the Southeastern Conference, the game as we have known it will be gone forever. Even if the two schools do, one day, agree to play again, it is folly to think it will be anywhere close to the same. Actions, we are taught, have consequences, and the result will be manifested on Thanksgiving night.
For 118 years, it had been played, with the teams in the same league for most of the last century.
It had begun in 1894, this football series between The University of Texas and what was then Texas A&M College. In the years that would follow, it would become one of the great rivalries in College Football. And Thursday night, it all ends.
All of us who have been around the series for a while, or for just a stop, have vivid memories. I was 17 years old when my brother Harvey and I drove from Winters, just south of Abilene, to College Station to watch the Longhorns and the Aggies play. Darrell Royal was in his third year at UT, and the ‘Horns needed a victory to claim Royal’s first Southwest Conference title, and first Cotton Bowl trp. They got it, but not before quarterback Bobby Lackey led them from a 10-0 halftime deficit with two fourth down conversions in the fourth quarter.
Four years later, in the shadow of one of the nation’s darkest hours, the Longhorns again needed a come-from-behind win to garner their first National Championship. In 1965, the Aggies stunned the folks from Austin with a trick play called “the Texas Special” (a bounced lateral that turned into a touchdown pass.) That brought a 17-0 Texas A&M halftime lead, and it led to one of the storied moments of Royal. His only speech to the team at intermission was to write the “17” on the board, and converted it to “21-17.” And with three touchdowns in the second half, Texas won, 21-17.
In 1969, the Longhorns Wishbone offense was so dominating statisticians wondered what the record was for a team going an entire game without ever facing third down. Earl Campbell clinched his Heisman in a rout in 1977. Starting in 1985, Texas A&M won five straight games in College Station, and the Aggies’ “Wreckin’ Crew” defense became dominant.
When I was working on a book called “What It Means To Be A Longhorn,” I asked Ricky Williams of his memories of “The A&M game.” I assumed, of course, that he would talk about his record setting performance in Austin in 1998. But Ricky, as was his nature, turned instead to a team victory. He remembered the season of 1995, when Texas had taken down the great Aggie defense to win the final Southwest Conference Championship. Since that game, the Longhorns have dominated the series, 11-5, including games in both Austin and College Station. Mack Brown’s teams are 4-2 at Kyle Field, once considered one of the toughest places to play in America.
One by one, the memories return, each with a special twist, depending on the color you prefer, or the school that you have come to love. And love and family has been what this thing has always been about. It has been like brothers who squabble, but share a common bond. It is a game where legends played, and legends were made.
They are all gone now, with their tattered pennants and their faded uniforms. It would be wrong to call it the passing of an era, because it is much more than that. As Texas A&M moves to uncharted waters in the Southeastern Conference and Texas remains a pillar in the Big 12, the landscape of the college game, and the Lone Star state, changes forever.
And so, to pick a greatest moment - to pick a single legend - becomes impossible. In a way, it is rather like the putting away of Christmas decorations that have adorned the family tree for generations. Place them gently in a box, tuck them away, and treasure their memories.
For well more than a century, this series has brought people of the state together, in a friendly (though sometimes heated) rivalry. Blended families, particularly from the days when Texas A&M was an all-male institution and most of the pretty girls went to Texas, have long been part of the fiber of the state of Texas. It has been unique, in that people who were business partners and husbands and wives would share the same Thanksgiving dinner, but cheer fervently for their respective team. And when the game was over, on the next day they would go back to work, side by side, building lives together.
It was, in its own way, the rarest of competitions. In a 27-game span from 1940 through 1966, Texas won 24 games. There were two Aggie victories and one tie. That would have been enough to dull some rivalries, but not Texas and Texas A&M. The roots were deep, and firmly planted in the history of the state’s two flagship institutions.
For the Longhorns, it has been a series of heroes and memorable moments. Who will ever forget Noble Doss’s famous catch that beat the Aggies, 7-0, in 1940? It was an upset of epic proportions, coming as the Aggies were ranked No. 1 and seeking to duplicate their only National Championship in football, which was won in 1939. The Red Candles - the genesis of Texas Hex rally of later years, came out when the Longhorns won for the first time at Kyle Field in 1941. Duke Carlisle and the Longhorns’ 1963 team won UT’s first National Championship, coming from behind in College Station in an historic time less than a week after President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas.
Texas rolled in the Wishbone years, and the Aggies had a successful run in the 1980s. In the twilight of the old Southwest Conference, Ricky Williams played brilliantly and James Brown played bravely in winning the league’s final game in 1995 in College Station. And then, of course, 1998 brought Ricky’s run to the NCAA record books in Austin. The recent years would bring Vince Young and Cedric Benson, Chris Simms and Colt McCoy. Twice - in 2005 and 2009 - the Longhorns beat the Aggies on the ‘Horns’ way to playing for a national championship.
Many will say that their greatest, most moving moment in this rivalry came in 1999, when 12 young people died when the Aggie bonfire fell shortly before the game. Mack Brown and his wife Sally had organized a blood drive, and Texas turned its Hex Rally into a memorial service shared by both schools.
In a moment of silence after the Longhorn band played the hymn “Amazing Grace” during its halftime performance, those who were there felt a kinship unlike any other, as the only sound was the tolling of a bell, and the rustling in the wind of the flags of the two schools.
The memories, and the stories, are legion, but perhaps it is there that we should stop. As this game winds down and the clock clicks zero, that is truly how we should remember. Because in that space, this has never been just about balls and scores and bragging rights and trophies and championships. It has been, after all, about people - a small, but very significant part of being Texan…a shining moment that is gone, but not forgotten.