How many Aggies does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Three. One to yell about it, one to make it a tradition, and one to complain that Texas made them do it.
Growing up in the state of Texas, before you learn to walk, read or write, you generally know one indisputable fact: Whether you're an Aggie or you're a Longhorn. (That is, unless you're born in the unenviable position of being a Red Raider or, God help you, a Baylor Bear.)
I say this because I was born in Houston and as a child I was taught three things by my father that I distinctly remember. The first was that my lord and savior is Bruce Springsteen -- years later I discovered he was just joking about that... I think. The second was that I am, just like him and my mother and my uncle, a Texas Longhorn. And the third was that I should not grow up with hate in my heart, but if I did happen to stumble upon some, I should channel all of it towards the most evil institution on the planet: Texas A&M.
The mutual dislike between the Aggies and the Longhorns stretches back further than my father, and my father's father, could possibly remember. In 1876, the state of Texas established an agricultural and mechanical college that would eventually come to be known as Texas A&M. That very same year, the state of Texas mandated the creation of another university, one that would be "of the first class," known as the University of Texas. If the University of Texas was a university "of the first class" then what did that make the Aggies? This would come to be the very first chip on Texas A&M's shoulder, and it would progressively grow and breed more vitriol for that school in Austin over the course of the next 135 years.
On a surface level, it's not difficult to decipher why the institutions hold a longstanding dislike for one another. They are indisputably the top two public universities in Texas, meaning that many of the brightest minds that the state produces attend either one or the other. Texas A&M prides itself on its traditional values and Aggie loyalty, while Texas prides itself on its progressive thinking and the fact that it's not Texas A&M. The Aggies are affiliated with President George H. W. Bush and every one's favorite stumbling, bumbling Republican presidential nominee, Rick Perry. The Longhorns are affiliated with Walter Cronkite and every one's favorite stumbling, bumbling shirtless actor, Matthew McConaughey. And speaking stereotypically, because after all that's what any good rivalry is mostly based on, Texas A&M is a school full of conservative blowhards who constantly appear on the ready to invade a small European country, and Texas is an institution chock-full of liberal hippies who would be more content sitting in a drum circle talking about their feelings than attending a football game.
They are undoubtedly two of the most polarizing state universities in the country and they are only 90 miles apart.
And, on Sunday, after weeks of speculation, Texas A&M officially decided to move to the SEC, leaving behind the Big 12 and their hated wealthy sibling, the University of Texas.
Why did they decide to make a move? Well you'll hear a number of reasons, but as Ivan Maisel of ESPN wrote, "In the end, it's pretty simple. This is what happens when you tell Aggie jokes for nearly a century."
I asked W.K. Stratton, author of the excellent book "Backyard Brawl: Inside the Blood Feud Between Texas and Texas A&M," which chronicles the history of the rivalry, about his thoughts on A&M departing from the Big 12:
As Ben Johnson's character in The Last Picture Show said, "Probably I'm just as sentimental as the next fella when it comes to old times." At least part of me. And that part of me hates the notion that Texas and A&M won't be in the same conference. Many times, especially in the old Southwest Conference days, that Thanksgiving weekend game determined who would win the conference championship. Even if they continue to play as nonconference rivals, it won't have the same gravity. Plus I always liked the clash of values involved whenever the two schools clashed, overall-wearing Fightin' Farmers from College Station (with a chip on the shoulder) vs. the privileged Teasips from liberal Austin.
But I'm not completely a sentimentalist. In fact, I'm probably more of a realist. As such, I understand that college football ceased being "rah-rah college football" a long time ago. It's not about winning one for the Gipper anymore. It became a marketable product, refined and molded for television, and we're in an age when brilliant marketing minds at top football schools are in the business of exploiting the financial potential of that product for all it's worth. Both UT's and A&M's football programs have made business decisions that have trumped any traditional concerns.
From a business standpoint, as Stratton acknowledges, the move makes perfect sense for the Aggies. They will now be the lone Texas representative in the best sports conference in the country. This should garner them more money and publicity than they could ever get while battling under the shadow of the University of Texas, which has the most lucrative athletic department in the country. In the SEC, Texas A&M will indeed be the university of Texas, a distinction that they have itched for for well over a century.
Meanwhile, the Longhorns will continue to be financially stable without the Aggies, thanks in part to the creation of a television network in conjunction with ESPN that will net the school roughly $248 million over the next 20 years. The Longhorn Network, and the unfair advantage it's believed to give Texas in recruiting, was supposedly the tipping point in this whole ordeal, even though according to Texas athletic director Deloss Dodds, he spoke to Texas A&M prior to the creation of the network and they weren't interested in making it a joint venture.
But these financial spouts should not have signaled an end to this unlikely and unstable marriage. The fact is, this rivalry stretched beyond money -- based on their collective endowment, both institutions have plenty of that -- to being a cultural staple in the state of Texas. And in that respect, nobody involved had any right to destroy it.
Some of my best memories growing up and in college involve watching Texas defeat and even lose to Texas A&M. And now, because of money and a false sense of pride, other young kids in the state of Texas have been robbed of the opportunity to experience this rivalry in the same capacity. Granted Texas and Texas A&M may still play each other in the future, but everyone involved knows that without conference ties, it won't the same.
Right now both schools are in the stage of the break up where they want the other to know that they're doing just fine without them -- like, really, they care so little that they're no longer together that they just need the other person to know (and still be thinking about them... please?). A brief perusing of the online communities of both fan bases show that at least half the conversations are dedicated to how little they care about no longer being tied to the other. Strange way to show you don't care, isn't it?
A fact that few Longhorns or Aggies would care to acknowledge is that deep down, they don't hate each other. No, it's much worse than that: they need each other. Because a big part of the identity of anyone who attends either institution is in fact their direct connection to the opposing school. We may not admit it, but our lives will not be nearly as fun without our lovers quarrels.
It seems both of our fight songs written decades ago were preparing for this moment all along when they wrote in their own farewells, "Goodbye to Texas University," "And it's goodbye to A&M." Indeed goodbye to yet another cultural landmark that has been regrettably cast aside in favor of an extra buck.
And here's just one more for the road:
Four college students are traveling in an airplane that is low on fuel. First, the Red Raider yells "this is for Texas Tech!" and leaps to his death. Next, the Horned Frog gets up and yells "this is for TCU!" and jumps to his death. And finally, the Longhorn steps forward, and yells "this is for Texas!", and throws the Aggie out.
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