During the month of June, BON authors will memorialize the final days of the UT-A&M rivalry through a series of perspectives, as seen through The Eyes of Texas, to include essays, personal reflections and commemorations of significant note.
My dad and three uncles on one side are Aggies, though the oldest two were Texas A&M college grads. My fondest thanksgiving memories involve my grandfather finding new and creative ways to burn bacon, my grandmother's insistence that pecan pie is a vegetable, and UT-A&M on TV. The grandfather has passed, the grandmother no longer makes pecan pie, and UT-A&M has consigned itself to the dustbin of memory. Not all change is gentle.
So in honor of better, simpler times, I decided to do a (very brief, very biased) study of the gridiron history of our Texas A&M fightin' Aggies. If you take any of the following seriously, you're probably an Aggie.*
Precambrian Aggie 1894-1902: Independent. Ah, the halcyon days of A&M's football independence. When men were men, football was often fatal, and UT and A&M were known to play each other twice a year, as in 1902 when UT vs A&M round one ended in a 0-0 tie on a neutral site and a 12-0 A&M win in round two. The fact that no aggie has rubbed that level of gridiron dominance in my face only goes to show that they have little grasp of their own history and tradition. This is one of the better time periods in A&M's history, they won about 62% of the games they played (Texas won 79%), but Yale was also the best football team in the country over this time frame.
Cambrian Aggie 1903-1908: Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association. From the Spanish American war to the Great War, A&M believed that its football conference should be "multiple", hopping in and out of low commitment unions every few years. Notable achievements in this era include shutting out the Texas School for the Deaf by 49 points in 1904 and the Houston YMCA in 1905 in a 29-0 point victory. A&M had the 43rd highest winning percentage in the nation over this time frame, but they were a sleeping giant, just waiting for the greatness that would later come with Dana X Bible. (Nebraska steals him first. We steal him later. This is one reason why they can't have nice things.)
Silurian Aggie 1909-1911: Independent. Another few years, a messy breakup, and the false hope that one day A&M could find true conference love during the same century. In 1911 A&M ran roughshod over future SEC teams Mississippi and Auburn. I'm sure Bill Byrne made a note of this in his presentation to Gene Stallings. During this three year period, A&M wins 90% of its games, which would be impressive if Colorado and Washington didn't both go undefeated for 3 years running. It's a much better time than Texas had over the same period, with a mere 67% winning percentage. This is the first major period of Aggie dominance, they'll have to wait about 80 years for the next.
Carboniferous Aggie 1912-1914: Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Ever get back together with an ex you knew wasn't right? The SIAA was a congested mismatch of every southernish school that ever thought about playing football, from Furman and Cumberland to Alabama and Texas. A timeline of its conference membership is longer than a page and looks like a Rorschach test. While it's difficult to fault A&M for joining, separating, and rejoining, it's perfectly natural to fault A&M for joining after Texas did. Texas wins 92% of its games during this period, Washington & Lee is a powerhouse, and A&M is approximately the 33rd best team in the country. Which part of that sentence is the most difficult to believe?
Triassic Aggie 1913-1917: Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association. This is less of a sports conference, and more of an open acknowledgement that maybe the Texas schools which are good at football (this does not include the Houston YMCA), should form a permanent athletic conference. As such, I'm going to play like most amateur football historians and pretend this period didn't happen.
Neogene Aggie 1915-1995: Southwest Conference. Okay, finally we get to something resembling the modern era. Both of A&M's claimed national titles came in the SWC. The first in 1919 and the second in 1939. The later victory was cemented with a crushing one point win over Tulane in the Sugar Bowl (note, if A&M wins an MNC cataclysmic war seems to be either ending or imminent. Is Aggie football success guaranteed by the Mayan calendar? Discuss.) Don't confuse two MNCs in a three decade period with continued dominance. True, A&M had a better overall record from 1915 to 1940 than Texas, but both schools faced stiff competition from TCU. Skipping ahead to 1954-1957 Bear Bryant was there for 4 seasons and enjoyed A&M's (and his) only Heisman with Louisianan John David Crow. Bryant famously tried to force integration of the football team and was met with substantial resistance, demonstrating that football would be a powerful bellwether of civil rights at Texas Universities.
A&M had a cumulative .53% winning percentage in the SWC, with significant thanks to Jackie Sherrill, RC Slocum and a hilarious number of alleged (and proven) NCAA violations. A&M batted about 77% in the SWC from 1982-1995, which explains why every Aggie in his late 30s to early 40s believes that A&M's history is far more glorious than actually it is.** Amateur football anthropologists should note that A&M football hit a cumulative 48% SWC streak until Sherrill and Slocum. Bear in mind that streak included arguably the greatest football coach of all time. It's worth noting that the change from an all male college to a formally recognized coed university in 1963 was followed by a 46% rate of football success. They were a decidedly below average football team during most of the SWC era. Interestingly, A&M has never changed its official record books after promising to forfeit games for the shenanigans of the early 90s, so the Sherrill/Slocum era should be less impressive in history books. Clever accounting manages to save the day.
Modern Aggie 1996-2011: Big 12 Conference. For A&M, the Big 12 conference could be called "regression to the mean". Their overall winning percentage was 53%, they were an inviting 59% at Kyle field, and their away record spelled doom for Red Raider goal posts. Was Aggie misery in the Big 12 caused by inflated expectations brought on be suspiciously positive results during the Gordon Gecko era, or because the success of their football program seemed to lag behind the great strides the University had made in so many other areas during the time period?***
Future Aggie 2012-?: Southeastern Conference. Sometimes you eat the bear.
Sometimes Typically the bear eats you. Good luck Aggies. Football has changed to the point of being unrecognizable since A&Ms last MNC, perhaps the future will be more kind to the Aggie championship case than the past.
*If you're upset with the lack of hate, I have a confession: I don't have hate for A&M. I was treated graciously when I was on campus whether socially or for class related things, and I barely interact with Aggies professionally or socially (I'm drowning in a sea of Baylor Bears, Red Raiders and Sooners). The only Aggies who routinely annoy me exist on the internet. The institution itself is odd, at times goofy, and not blessed with an over-abundance of self-awareness but I'd say the same about a lot of universities.
Also, before someone questions using the geologic time scale to stare at Aggies through the lens of Stassen. A real Aggie time scale should move slowly, almost appearing to be unchanging, until you realize that the all male military college has become one of the largest coed universities in the country.
**TCU has an eerily similar football resume (46% winning percentage) from joining the SWC in 1923 to 1984. Right down to besting Carnegie Mellon in the Sugar Bowl in its 1938 MNC vs. A&M besting Tulane in the Sugar Bowl in 1939 during its MNC run.