The week of Thanksgiving has historically been reserved for some of the best rivalries in college football. The Game, Clean Old Fashioned Hate, The Iron Bowl, The Civil War: All great rivalries that are greater than the sum of their parts. I won't pretend to know how the fanbases of each of these schools truly view each other, but with all great rivalries, one factor remains consistent: decades of tradition.
It's that deep timeline that makes it so sad when a truly great rivalry is taken away from us. As the landscape of college football has changed over the years, many rivalries have remained, resisting the coursing river of change, but others have been unfairly stripped away from schools in the pursuit of the almighty dollar. We Longhorns know far too well what it feels like to have a decade old game taken away from us, and regardless of how you feel about the breakup with Aggie and whether we should ever play again, college football as a whole is worse off without the annual Texas - Texas A&M game.
This week I hung out on various college football boards, and I felt like a part of me was missing. There was so much quality hate being spewed, and I found myself yearning for that excitement. Last year, the game against TCU didn't feel like anything; it just was, and the hard feelings from A&M leaving the conference were still too fresh. This year, though, the lead-up to our annual Thanksgiving matchup seemed different. It felt like the powers that be wanted to recreate the Lonestar Showdown in some form, and Texas Tech was auditioning for the part. A noble goal, no doubt, and for personal reasons I was intrigued. I wanted the Texas - Texas Tech game to be something it couldn't.
I grew up in West Texas, and as many of you know, after I left the 40 Acres I did my graduate work at Texas Tech. Because of that I have a unique perspective on this particular game. Growing up a Longhorn fan in West Texas I thought this game was a huge rivalry. Believe me when I say, on this half of the state the game matters. Maybe it's because there are far fewer Aggies and Sooners out here, but Longhorns and Red Raiders alike spend the week talking trash to one another with the ferocity of the RRS. Furthermore, a significant portion of the Texas Tech student body absolutely loathes The University of Texas.
Growing up in that environment, you could color me very surprised when I set foot on campus at UT and realized that most Longhorns considered Tech an afterthought. The most concern I heard people express about the Red Raiders was, "You've got to be careful when you go to Lubbock," and "That high flying offense is hard to stop." Needless to say, it was somewhat of a culture shock to realize the game wasn't the rivalry I'd grown up around.
Flash forward to my first year at Texas Tech. It was the year after the 2008 Crabtree catch, and it felt like things were changing. Texas Tech had reached their first ever number 1 ranking the year before, had knocked off the Longhorns, and around campus there was the sense that a real rivalry was brewing. I couldn't even wear my Burnt Orange around town without someone talking trash to me, the severity of which varying depending on the age, maturity, and sobriety of the respective Red Raider. What ultimately happened, though, fell very short of expectations.
That year, we handily defeated Tech on our way to the National Championship game. Then our collapse happened, and even though we've been terrible to mediocre the last few years, the Red Raiders have failed to defeat us since that electric night at Jones AT&T Stadium back in 2008, and the seeds of true rivalry have failed to sprout.
This brings us back to present day. This is Texas' second year without our traditional Thanksgiving rival, and I, probably naively, wanted the Red Raiders to step in and fill that void. I wanted the game to be electric. I wanted the game to be competitive. I wanted there to be hate. And, I wanted the people in charge to say, "Yeah. This will work."
Instead, our boys ran out onto the field to a lackluster DKR with 20k-30k empty seats, and with the exception of a couple of big plays and special team break downs, the game was never in doubt, as the Longhorns thoroughly handled the Red Raiders. I realized last night that the Texas - Texas Tech game can never be what I want it to be, and it simply can't replace what we lost.
Rivalries are naturally born; they aren't created. The hate has to be organic. It doesn't matter how many times ESPN and Fox slap "Rivalry Week" across the TV, and it doesn't matter how many times those networks show the Crabtree Catch. The fact is that Texas and Texas Tech didn't start playing each other consistently until the 1960s. Texas holds the all-time record 46-15 and have now won 10 of the last 11. There have been some streaks through the years where the game has meant more, but ultimately, it just doesn't have the makings of a yearly, primetime, national rivalry showdown.
I'm not going to sit here and say get A&M back on the schedule yet. I, admittedly, found myself missing them this week, but I am still very on the fence about the whole ordeal, and believe the game needs to hibernate a little longer. That said, until we play the Aggies again, we need to drop this farce of Texas playing a rival on Thanksgiving, and schedule this week like any other.
Texas - Texas A&M on Thanksgiving was special. It was a game where you could throw the record books out. It meant a lot to the State of Texas, and it almost always piqued national interest. It was a rivalry in every sense of the word, and to pit UT against a rotating Texas school on Thanksgiving and try to call it a rivalry is insulting to that century old tradition.
Texas Tech, I mean no disrespect to you. I've been on both sides of this aisle, and I truly wanted this to work. For people living west of Highway 83, this game will always be huge, but the void left by losing our in-state rival is one that you simply cannot fill.