“If you didn’t go there,” a very astute person once observed about Texas A&M University, “you can’t understand it. And if you went there, you can’t explain it.” I think that just about covers it.
Images from the 2009 Texas-Texas A&M game, shot on assignment for Sports Illustrated.
I grew up in suburban New York City, and I went to school at a university that barely had a football team, so I never “got” the whole college football thing–let alone the whole Texas college football thing–to begin with. It was only upon moving to Austin in the mid-90s that I began to grasp (by necessity, if I wanted to make a living at this) the importance of football. I was, admittedly, an athletic snob; a fan of sports of solitude and self-reliance like tennis or golf or, when I ventured into team sports, games like baseball which I considered cerebral and therefore, worthy of my intellectual consideration. Football was, to my uninitiated and now, in retrospect, simple, mind, eleven very large men on either side of a ball, wearing school colors and beating the crap out of each other on a weekly basis.
And then one day, shortly after moving to Austin, I threw my cameras in the car and made the lonely 90-mile drive from Austin to College Station and wound up at a Texas A&M football game. Talk about a baptism by fire. From the second I saw the giant press box and light towers of Kyle Field rising up into the flat, desolate middle of nowhere as I rolled toward town on Highway 60, I got this inkling that I was in for something special. Then the Corps of Cadets marched in, the (“Nationally Famous”) Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band started playing, and for the first time in my life, I heard the Aggie War Hymn-and, when I wasn’t feeling the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, felt myself getting seasick as I watched the alternating rows of spectators lock arms and sway to and fro in opposite directions, giving way to a sense of panic that the grandstands were about to topple over. It occurred to me that this football thing might be serious business down in these parts.
And then the game started.
I can’t remember who the Aggies played that day in 1994. I can’t remember who won. And I don’t care. Sorry, Horns fans, but it was the Aggies who got me hooked on college football. And perhaps because I am now an adopted (or is it adapted?) Texan, I can’t think of a better example of what football is all about than the annual Texas-Texas A&M grudge match. It doesn’t matter where it’s played, doesn’t matter what the point spread is, doesn’t matter who’s better, doesn’t matter who’s ranked where in the latest polls or who has the Coach of the Year or the Heisman trophy candidate. Throw it all out the window. This is when it all gets serious. And this year, the game, or the teams, didn’t disappoint. Sure, Texas won. But not without a scare, and not because the Aggies rolled over and let them. They never do. Neither team ever does in this one.
I still maintain to this day that there is nowhere better to see a football game than at Kyle Field, and there’s no better game to see at Kyle Field than this one. I can’t tell you anymore than that. No, I didn’t go there, so I can’t fully understand it. And as for explaining it? That’s about the best I can do.