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.
How in the hell did Aggies get to be Aggies? Were they always like this? Does Texas A&M attract delusional types or have the stresses and strains of historical events over time twisted their psyches so much that they babble grandiose projections as a matter community agreement?
Certain Texas A&M football websites may not represent the general population of students or Aggies at large, but, you know, they aren't that far off either. I'm sure each of you knows a sane Aggie or two. But there is this strange affliction that seems to keep Aggies from seeing their football teams as they really are...and, I will suggest, blinds them to their particular situation over their history as well. I will also contend that this is a top-down phenomenon.
Join me over the jump to discover why "every turkey has his Thanksgiving."
From the time I was 10 years old until I was 27, the Texas Longhorns lost only once to the Texas Aggies. What a wonderful 17-1 stretch that was from 1957 through the fall of 1974, with the lone black mark a 10-7 loss in 1967 at Kyle Field. This was a time when it wasn't "if" but "how much" the Horns were going to win by on Turkey Day. In 1969 I gave a sawed-off little Aggie 35 points just because he was so damn bull headed and stubborn. Texas won by 37, 49-12, and I didn't see him for two years. He still won't talk about it and never gave me the 10 bucks. That's OK because I really got my money's worth out of that situation anyway.
It was in this period that the Aggies truly lost their bearings. I can understand that to some degree...it's no fun getting the pee water beat out of you every single year for so long. This was the time of ATSD - the lesser known Aggie Traumatic Stress Disorder - and all you had to do was wait until next year to get re-traumatized. For those poor souls totally emotionally invested in Texas A&M, it was a time without pity. It was the heyday of Aggie jokes.
For those of you much younger, the closest thing you have seen to this was the period when OU beat Texas five times in a row...y'all were starting to go nuts in your own right if this blog was any indication. What would have happened if it had been 17-1? Ten years in a row, you eek out a narrow victory, and then seven more years of butt kicking. That's bad, real bad. Makes you have some appreciation for Rice and Baylor and a few other teams that carry a similar burden...but those people weather their defeats much better than A&M and with only minor soul twisting. Obviously, Rice is a lot smarter than A&M. Rice has won once against Texas since 1965, in 1994 by 19-17 to John Mackovic, of course, but Rice knows what they have, the challenge they face and they usually are up for it and don't blubber in their cocktails afterwards. It's simply the price they pay for a great degree. They are realistic.
The Lure of the Dark Side
Texas A&M dipped into the dark side three different times in their history, employing coaches that may have won them a lot of victories but the Aggies always paid a high price for their shenanigans. Those coaches were Charley Moran, Bear Bryant and Jackie Sherrill. Of those, Bear Bryant probably had the cleanest motives...to get A&M to the big time as quickly as humanly possible, because he obviously had places to go, places far away from Bryan-College Station. There is a story that when Mrs. Bryant first saw College Station she burst into tears. Obviously, she was quite normal.
Texas A&M didn't start out as a football powerhouse whatsoever. The first seven games against Texas they went 0-7 and didn't score a point - 157-0 ledger. However, from 1894 to 1908 they went 55-27-6, a 62.5% winning percentage. Not bad, really, with two undefeated seasons marred by ties (1896, 2-0-1, and 1902, 7-0-2). However, they wanted better, so they went out and hired C.B. (Charley) Moran.
A colorful character, Moran also was quite loose in his choice of players in a time when the rules were rather lax. He would bring in ringers and semi-pros, opponents said they played dirty, and this was not so uncommon in that era. Texas lost to Moran a couple of times and then defeated him in a 1911 upset, 6-0, in Houston. Allegations of a Texas player having his leg broken on the field on purpose tainted the scene, and a strange night of Aggies with sabers chasing around Houston sealed the situation. The Texas administration felt that Moran was way over the line and decided not to engage the Aggies in any sports until Moran left A&M.
When Theo Bellmont led the creation of the Southwest Conference in 1915 and A&M joined, there was an understanding that Moran would be gone although nothing officially was stated. Texas and A&M resumed their series on a home-and-home basis. From 1915 up until 1939 the teams broke even, with A&M under Homer Norton winning a MNC by vote of the Associated Press in 1939, going 11-0 with a Sugar Bowl victory over Tulane, 14-13. However, Texas under new coach Dana X. Bible was just getting ready to roll, and the Horns immediately thwarted A&M undefeated seasons in 1940 and 1941.
At this point, A&M didn't seem to have the depth of psychological afflictions - they had good teams as long as their coaching was good, like Norton and Dana X. Bible earlier. But over the next period until Bear Bryant, they were losing their way. Sure, the war years were tough for them, but after that they just couldn't keep up with the smart scheme Oklahoma produced following WWII to get a great coach and bring in talented players under the GI Bill. At some point Texas couldn't keep up either, and it is instructive how they each solved their problems.
In 1954 A&M hired Bear Bryant away from Kentucky, which he had turned into a winner (60-23-6). Bryant wasn't exactly the dark side in the manner of either Moran or Sherrill. He was tough as nails, and he wanted his players to be exactly the same way. What he found in College Station wasn't' exactly what he wanted, so he engaged in some serious pre-season work at Junction. After a 1-9 season, A&M showed some power, going 24-5-2 the next three seasons and beating Texas, 34-21, in 1956 to win the SWC championship...but they didn't go anywhere because they were on probation.
Coach Ed Price had been hanging on by his fingernails and the 1-9 season in '56 was the worst in Texas history. This led directly to Texas' solution, for Bryant and for Bud Wilkinson and OU: they hired young Darrell K Royal.
Ah, 1957...I was 10 years old, lived next door to the local football coach who was coming off a 26-game winning streak and life was good...with a lot of football going on all around me. And we finally had a TV to watch some of it. This is when my era really started.
In '57 Texas went into College Station against the #4 Aggies and soon-to-be Heisman winner John David Crow. After winning the first eight games, Bryant's Aggies had stumbled against Rice, losing 7-6, and there were rumors the coach was soon to leave. DKR's first season was rough. Early victories over Georgia and Tulane were tempered by losses to South Carolina and #1 OU (21-7). Rebounding with wins over #10 Arkansas there and Rice helped pushed them up to #13 in the AP poll, but a loss to SMU (12-19) and tie with Baylor blew that away. With a final win over TCU, 14-2, Texas was 5-3-1 coming into the game.
Royal's team would show something in this game that became the backbone of Texas teams: defense. The wisest thing the University of Texas has ever done has been to understand the platinum standard of great defense. It is a lesson A&M should have learned but didn't. Texas beat A&M that day, 9-7, and Royal would never lose to Bear Bryant.
Texas would whip the ever lovin' crap out of A&M for the next 10 years. In Royal's three-year malaise from '65 to ''67 the sourest moment came in the final loss to A&M in '67 by 10-7. His team had fine defenses in that period - the Aggies gained only 233 yards in the loss, but an 80-yard pass in the fourth doomed the effort - but they didn't have sustainable offenses. Royal and Emory Bellard would change that in 1968 with an option offense that would reinvigorate football unto this very day. The key word is option, not running...whether passing or running, it's the options available on every play that counts.
After Bryant, the Aggies would go into a shell. An administrative shell, if you ask me. Until 1972 when they hired Emory Bellard, A&M had forgotten that football is about winning championships. They put up with coaches they should never have sustained...good Aggies, yes...elite winning football coaches, not a chance. Again, this goes to the top, these should have been administrative decisions.
When A&M hired Bellard, they found someone that could lead them out of their morass, maybe heal the accumulating psychological wounding they had endured. And lead he did, with a curve of victories that predicted a great future: 3-8, 5-6, 8-3, 10-2, 10-2, 8-4, 4-2. With the wishbone offense working well and a much better defense, staffed with a strong crew of assistant coaches that included R.C. Slocum, A&M seemed on the way back. They beat DKR twice and tied for the conference in 1975. Then after the sixth game of the season in 1978, Bellard suddenly resigned. Wikipedia will tell you after starting four games, the Aggies had just lost to Houston, 33-0, and Baylor, 24-6. Texas lost to both of teams that year as well. That wasn't why Bellard left.
I asked Bellard why he left. This was in a period after he had retired. He stated he had left "because someone up high lied to me." He was a man of ethics and never spoke an ill-considered word that I ever heard or saw in print. I later confirmed that the person who lied was the president of Texas A&M. It came from the top and in this case obliterated a great future. I don't know what the lie was, but it had to be considerable.
A&M went to Tom Wilson for four years of mixed returns, then turned completely to the dark side with Jackie Sherrill in 1982. It was a time when the SWC was about to be dealt some tough shots, and this was just one of those mortal blows.
If you came of age to be a Longhorn fan in 1984, Lord help you because the next 15 years of your life were basically no damn fun when it came to Aggies. Over the next 16 years, the Aggies went 12-4. Sherrill left under a cloud of recruiting violations in '88. R.C. Slocum would take over and keep the roll going, but he peaked in 1998 but they kept him around until 2002. Then you have Dennis Franchione and Mike Sherman to now.
One thing Sherrill and Slocum did was to reveal the platinum standard of defense. When the Wrecking Crew were at their best, they were something to behold. But the Aggies soon lost sight of what was important and began sinking.
These psychological elements I've mentioned deal with overwhelming self importance which is, in fact, a deep-seated insecurity. Self importance is like wearing a pair of blinders - the perception of the world is filtered through the self, making it virtually impossible to see things for what they are. Thus, a sense of unreality and delusional projections ungrounded in everyday reality sets up even more unfortunate events and disappointments in the future. My little parable at the start of this GTFO series about my fictional daughter and self-torturing Aggies has this grain of truth at its core. And I cannot state strongly enough this permeates from their backwoods hick followers clear to the to the very top of their food chain and has been there for some time.
College football is about winning championships. Period. While there may be considerations about the athletes, the college life, the status of college football and the incredible money, on the field it is about winning championships. None of any team's traditions win a championship...those traditions come from winning championships and the struggle to get there, from the integrity of the program on the field, within the university and throughout the alumni.
I want Texas A&M to go away and mature. Maturity in this sense is not a juvenile male idea, it is the cooperative model of focusing outward, engaging the world, seeing it for what it is and making good decisions. The female maturity model is cooperative, and both male and female maturity models converge into the cooperative model for those who become fully mature.
Texas Aggies are their own worst enemies.
We've all known this for a long time.