The debut of the Texas A&M football season on Aug. 31, 2013 drew a tremendous crowd of 86,686 to College Station, Texas, not counting all the Aggie gridiron enthusiasts who tailgated, watching the live ESPN broadcast or listening on the Aggie radio network (while some still worked their jobs) in town and around the country. The real numbers of those impacted by yesterday’s opener are far more than those in attendance who support, love, and follow Aggie football, all a part of the Texas A&M family.
Texas A&M’s proud history as an agricultural and mechanical college from first founding in 1876, and an institution of tremendous training and preparation for military service is legendary. The school’s training of future great military heroes has resulted in those heroes returning honor and glory to the name of Texas A&M for over 200 years.
Texas Aggies argue with you if you call them an ex-student. Once an Aggie, always an Aggie; former students forever claim Texas A&M as theirs. The 12th Man of Texas A&M is every student who pays for the privilege of standing in the blazing sun blistering down on Kyle Field, standing ready to go in if called; their school is enriched by their devotion to cheering on the Aggies to victory.
The professors and staff on the campus of A&M work hard to provide the best classroom experiences for all student-athletes. The Aggie women’s basketball team is a prime example of players being able to graduate with college degrees in four years, or even three, because the coaches integrate time management and the importance of a college degree into their players’ minds.
Parents are included in the process, and the coaching staff is like family for each player, starter or benchwarmer. That’s a given in many Aggie sports. Texas Aggie students are given scholarships because their athletic talents have the potential to be a credit to their school, and the talents will come together in victory and generate pride in Texas A&M, the SEC, and the state of Texas. In return, our state’s teachers who brought them up through high school are supposed to take pride in their prowess and progress as a Texas Aggie student-athete.
Let’s be frank: Football runs Texas A&M, when it comes to money. The payments for television rights to Aggie football make it possible to offer scholarships in all the other sports. Basketball and baseball, swimming and diving, track and field, volleyball and soccer, tennis, golf and equestrian skills also have student-athletes called Texas Aggies. Many have gone on to the Olympics; others have succeeded in business beyond college and returned to give back to their university’s athletics programs. And, at the bottom of it all is football. As the football program goes, so goes Texas A&M, at least the past 30 years.
Back in the days of Coach Emory Bellard, many football players made the GTE (before Verizon) Academic All-American teams; many were engineering majors; and many were able to graduate with 3.5 GPAs before joining the pro teams where they enjoyed good careers.
Texas A&M outgrew the SWC and the Big 12 and now have graduated into the SEC, considered by many as the “cream of the crop” of conferences. To be sure, the Aggies and Mizzou Tigers were invited to join schools of great tradition, pride, and prowess in “their conference.” Still in our second season, the Aggies are “not” the SEC and the SEC is “not” the Aggies, yet. You have to be there long enough to be accepted and truly belong. Until you’ve paid your dues, you’re simply a tenant and not an owner.
Someone once said, “To know where you are going, you have to know where you’ve been.” Yesterday on television, the cameras showed the faces, painted maroon, belonging to students who wore the shirts bearing the number of the team’s starting quarterback. They may not know much about some of the more hallowed names of Texas A&M: Gen. Earl Rudder, Dr. Tom Harrington, President Jack K. Williams, Dean of Engineering Fred J. Benson, Sterling C. Evans ’21, or others whose names are on buildings.
Their collective love of Texas A&M and sacrifice in behalf of same knows no bounds; they represent our school still today with pride and honor. There are myriad numbers of Texas A&M Distinguished Alumni who’ve been honored by this institution outside of athletics, whose names are essentially unknown to most current students, unless they are offspring or relatives.
Something is very, very wrong with the image of Texas A&M today. People are made to forget who the core of the Aggie family is: the Corps of Cadets. They’re not just symbols to be acknowledged as “yeah, we do that here”; they are to be respected and honored because they’re willing to give up time, sleep and peace to prepare for their future. On the television screen, you tend to miss a lot each week about what is great, right, and true with Texas A&M, like the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band. Commercials and making money supercedes everything. At least on KAMU-TV game rebroadcasts, if you can see them, you don't miss out.
You don’t see all the majors in the hard sciences and engineering whose nights are often spent in the basements of old buildings, too broke to afford tickets to the sporting events, who study in between classes and one (or two) jobs where they’re trying to pay for their college education without exiting with $50,000 of debt, as they begin to look for a career position.
You often won’t see the graduate students from all of the countries that are not the USA. They are thousands of miles away from their beloved families and they spend holidays, nights and weekends on campus, in the libraries and laboratories, working for their future, many of whom will return home as a Texas Aggie, taking the best our professors have to offer back to their countries, in hopes of improving and saving lives there.
You don’t see the graduate students enrolled at Texas A&M’s premiere Veterinary school, or the Medical school, or the tremendous programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, where the first images of Aggies were born. Farmer-born, farmer-proud, farmers fight. Those people.
Then there’s the teachers who teach them, the staff who make sure they’re fed and housed, and the folks in fundraising who work to find other “good ol’ Aggies” to give back so these kids have a chance at a future. No one gives them a standing ovation at the end of the day. You don’t see the smiling faces who reach out to address the fears of the freshman who’s scared that he or she is not cut out for a particular major.
You don’t hear the words of encouragement that beloved professors share and the extra tutoring hours put in to make sure one kid passes a killer course so they graduate on time. It’s about sacrifice. It’s about the Aggie family. And, it’s about the Aggie tradition. “We are the Aggies, the Aggies are we. We’re from Texas AMC.” That’s the fight song. Sort of weird to sing it now because of the first line, but Aggies being Aggies, you just sing it anyway.
Gone are the days when Aggies wished those who love Bevo a bad day. Gone are the days of Aggie pranks chronicled by the late iconic education professor, John Hoyle, ’57, which are hilarious but oh-so-simplistic. Today there are news bites that chronicle actions of football team members that cause Texas A&M to be identified with those players.
Facebook posts share, tweets abound on Twitter, Instagram brings photos to all, and the 21st century Aggie family is focused in directions that page views dictate they should go. Dan Wolken’s excellent story today in USA Today might not come to your front door, but it comes to your in-box, or it gets shared on a message board. We’re an instant society these days. But we are also Aggies.
The Aggie family hurts when one of us hurts. The Aggie family is punished when one of us is punished. And the Aggie family is trained to respond to duck and cover, run and hide, deny and defend (sometimes unwisely) when criticism comes our way. It’s a reflex from years of sparring, unsuccessfully, with the University of Texas on the football field each year. Bonfire is gone. The SWC is gone. The Big 12 is gone, to the Aggies.
What is also gone is a heightened level of respect by a few football players at Texas A&M—respect for their current fellow students, the former students, and most of all, respect for their coaches, the school name on their shirts, and the right, privilege and honor of representing Texas A&M in being given those shirts to wear. When the new Aggie football uniforms were unveiled last year, they were designed with pride and distributed in excitement and anticipation of what it would mean to the Aggies to have something “new, just for them.”
The numbers on the jerseys are worn by Aggie fans from two years old to eighty-two years old, and to wear a player’s number means that you identify with the greatness of the player. But it’s a privilege to wear the Texas A&M uniform; it’s an honor to represent a university of more than two centuries of bringing merit to this institution, and it’s a goal that the players will more than breeze in to the program and exit as soon as the pros come calling. It’s a goal to see that student-athletes exit with a degree and an invitation to greater experiences beyond college.
Congratulations to Coach Kevin Sumlin and his coaching team for finding a game plan and uniting a team, of which 95% of the players’ names have not seen print all summer long, because they have not been of controversy. To wear the jersey of Texas A&M on the football field and represent this school is a privilege. And it’s time for some players to join the others in remembering to be grateful for that privilege, to show genuine gratitude instead of supreme attitude. After all, if you’re lucky, you’re a pro player for a fixed amount of time, but remember, you’re a Texas Aggie for life.