I am an outsider.
I have no Aggies in my lineage. I am not a Texan. I don't own a gun. The only encounters I had with Aggies before I was 18 were the counselors at the camp I went to growing up in Colorado. I thought they made weird sounds and were loud, but they sure as hell loved one another.
God, fate, happenchance, or whatever brought me to Aggieland and I'll be forever grateful. Growing up in Colorado, the two main sports are the Broncos and skiing. College football serves as an avenue for Ram and Buff fans to get hammered and fight each other - may the less stoned fan win.
When I decided to go to A&M, I was nervous about not seeing the mountains every day. I was really nervous about the heat. I made the long drive from Colorado across endless miles of flat Texas in 2003 en route to become an Aggie. I was young, dumb, and already missing the mountains.
Road weary, I got closer to College Station (or so I hoped; there are basically no College Station signs on the highways of Texas) around sunset. At this time, I hadn't yet contracted the virus that makes me emit college football from every cell in my body. I knew Texas A&M had good defenses and that about covered my NFL-occupied knowledge.
I turned onto Highway 47 with one of those iconic Texas sunsets, kept rolling, and then I saw it - just a gargantuan fortress off on the horizon towering above all else. I think my jaw hit the steering wheel. Cold, dominating, imposing, and built for some kind of war.
I've had the opportunity to visit many college stadiums. Universities often like to have their stadium blend nicely with the surroundings and architecture of the campus. Not Kyle Field*. Kyle has this dominion as if to say, "we would have built this taller, meaner, and concrete-ier if allowed". It was absolutely daunting for a bright-eyed Colorado kid leaving home for the first time.
My first game at Kyle Field was also Dennis Franchione's first game on August 30th, 2003. I hiked what felt like a Colorado mountain summit to get to my standing spot at the top of the third deck. I didn't realize the earth could allow nighttime to be so damn hot. That night an energy entered my blood. That was the night as a culture-shocked kid I began to feel at home in College Station.
This past Saturday still hasn't quite set in. I've mentioned to friends that it is the first time a football game has felt like graduating high school. I'm left with emotions of ecstatic joy and pride but also sadness. It's numbing in many ways.
Kyle Field as we currently know it had things wrap up just about perfectly on Saturday. The last two years feel like a blur. A dream. Kyle Field's existing state is leaving with a program in strong shape and on the most promising trajectory in its history. One of the finest players to ever play the game put on a final show in front of the Aggie family.
Johnny's Aggie experience is not like yours or mine. When he isn't traveling and enjoying his celebrity, he is either laying low or at the football facilities. If the last two seasons feel like a blur to you, imagine what it is like for him. For all the fun and accolades he receives, there remains an air that this is all a little uncomfortable and too fast for him. Never has a college athlete had the pressures and expectations that Johnny shoulders. If he is figuring out how to handle this fast lifestyle off the field, everything is happening in slow motion for him on the field.
Barring a miracle, Johnny played his final game in College Station on Saturday. He was brilliant, sparingly maddening, tough, and the best player in college football. He was in his comfort zone doing what comes so natural to him and seems so supernatural to us.
We're going to get a much-needed, shiny new Kyle Field to call home for decades to come. It will have all the premier bells, whistles, suites, and amenities ranking it among sport's elite. We'll love it and brag about it to be sure, but this all still feels tough.
As the game winded down on Saturday, I saw the best Aggie football player of all time have a conversation from the field with 30,000 of his adoring peers jammed into three old, concrete decks. Johnny seemed as antsy as anyone for the clock to finally hit 0:00. When it did, he took off in his irreplicable Johnny-sprint to be a part of the 12th Man - his Aggie family. He was comfortable, he was at home, and it looked like the weight of Kyle Field had been lifted off his shoulders as he sang the "War Hymn" with all of us.
Johnny is going to one day have a massive statue at the shiny new Kyle Field, but for me, he'll always be the guy that took the Hate Barn out in unfathomable style.
I'm really going to miss the Hate Barn the way it is now. I like that it isn't pretty. I like that it smells like bat shit. I like that it is the exact opposite of everything Jerryworld tries to be. On its own, it's stoic, old, and utilitarian. Fill the Barn with 88,000 Aggies? It feels like home to a lost Colorado transplant.
Texas A&M football is never going to be quite the same. Fortunately, an indescribable spirit is going to live on and you're going to tell generations to come that you witnessed the legend of Johnny Football and you'll share all the joyous, sad, hilarious, and iconic memories from the wonderfully brute Hate Barn.
I can't wait. Gig ‘em.
*OK, so maybe Kyle Field fits in perfectly with A&M's soviet architecture.