To say I love Aggie football is an understatement. On their own, Texas A&M the school, and football the sport, each rank in my personal Top Five of "Things I Love," so the fact they happen to converge into one glorious entity each fall sends my emotions into an uncontrollable frenzy. (Now imagine if Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote a musical about Aggie football that starred Jerry Seinfeld and instead of hanging out at the coffee shop they always hung out at Freebirds. Life would be complete.) Aggie football is the boy band, I am the teenage girl.
My parents were both Rice Owls. While neither were obsessed with sports, one of their first dates was to a Rice football game. It rained that night and they sat there under an umbrella, probably watching Rice get slaughtered, because come on, it's a school that is literally named "rice." Easily one of the least intimidating foods, just beating out wheat but not as intimidating as toast. Somehow, that was enough to pass the "obsessed football fan" gene to me I guess. I was never not interested in football. Ask my parents and they'll tell you I learned to count by sevens before I learned to count TO seven.
When I was about five, I had no college allegiance. And then I started kindergarten at a little private Lutheran school in a little town in central Texas. My new friends Thomas and Scott and David were Aggies so, easy choice, I was an Aggie too. And I don't know why, but even then, immediately, I WAS an Aggie. I got it. You Aggies out there know what I mean. It was in me and it only grew.
My parents noticed and, like good parents do, took an interest. When I was nine, my dad and an Aggie friend of his took me and some kids to see my first live A&M game. The lowly Rice Owls, my dad's alma mater, were the opponent. Did I mention that my dad was in the band at Rice? He stopped just a year or two before they became the M.O.B. He was a Rice fan. He still speaks reverently of Tommy Kramer, who went to the same high school as Dad and then starred at quarterback for the Owls before playing in the NFL. But that day, my dad rooted for the Aggies with me. He bleeds maroon now.
Around this time (the late '80s), our Thanksgiving tradition grew to include watching A&M beat the hell outta t.u. each year. What a great time to be a young Aggie. We didn't have cable so we would have to find somewhere to watch the game. I remember Keith Woodside running down the sidelines, William Thomas intercepting that pass, A&M winning seven in a row and 10/11. I cut out the articles and pictures and box scores from the newspaper and made a scrapbook. At least one year, we watched in the emergency room because I had a pesky little asthma problem that kept my parents on their toes. Good thing Dad is a doctor.
Speaking of that, he started attending a medical meeting each fall in College Station. He did this because it came with tickets to an A&M game, and I got to go. I attended my first Yell Practice, ran around on the artificial turf at one o'clock in the morning, and awkwardly watched while college students made out when the lights were turned off. The first year we did that was 1989 and the game was A&M versus Houston. The Wrecking Crew versus the run and shoot offense and eventual Heisman winner Andre Ware. Aggie fans know what happened that day.
We were sitting, er, standing, on the first deck of the student side. We got to do the yells and everything. I barely survived, I was so happy. Every year we would go on this trip. We would shop at the bookstores on Northgate, go to Midnight Yell and also the yell practice after the game at the YMCA. I would stay in the hotel room and just hang out when he had to go to his meeting.
I wanted a 12th Man towel so bad. I'm not sure what lesson I was being taught but my parents wouldn't buy me one at first. Instead, Mom made me a homemade version. She ironed some letters onto a dish towel and that was my 12th Man towel. I took it to games and waved it proudly. I wore it tucked into my shorts during my stellar 5th and 6th grade private Lutheran school flag football career. And I still have it today.
Another family friend from our church had a son attending A&M. He asked if I would want some autographs. Of course I would! So he put a notebook in the cafeteria at Cain Hall and I guess left a note on it asking football players to sign it, and later gave me this amazing collection of Aggie autographs. Names like Bucky Richardson, Scott Slater (the kicker) with big, swooping S's, and Adam Bob. Adam Bob is a fantastic name. I still have that notebook.
In 1991, some friends of the family took me along to my first Bonfire. And then in '93, Dad and I went to our first A&M-t.u. game. This was the year of the sleet. Bonfire had trouble igniting, but man, it was incredible. We still laugh when we remember someone yelling "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, UNCOVER!" We spent the night... somewhere, and then in the morning got to hang out with Parsons Mounted Cavalry (through a family friend) and eat Thanksgiving lunch with them and their horses in a big barn.
We showed up to Kyle Field that night with no tickets. Dad found us a deal and we sat on the temporary bleachers in the south end zone. Leeland McElroy returned a kickoff for a touchdown, Dennis Allen saved the game right in front of us with an interception, and A&M clinched another Cotton Bowl berth. The bleachers had a layer of ice covering them and I don't remember being cold at all.
By then I was 14, only a few years short of finally starting puberty. Without spending too much more time talking your ear off, the college years at A&M were paradise for me. In my first class as a freshman, Dante Hall walked in. One time at Freebirds, Dat Nguyen was in line right behind me. I would pass R.C. Slocum on campus and we would exchange howdies. At the football games I sat with Thomas, David, and Scott every Saturday for five years. The same guys that brought me in to the Aggie family were still my brothers and remain my brothers today. We were all Class of '01 and all got our rings on the same day, which was a bit of a miracle considering how far our graduations were spaced apart. We went through great joys and tremendous sorrows, as anyone who was a student in 1999 can attest to. And as happens in college, new friendships were formed, and for me, the best ones were formed around Aggie football.
So where am I going with all this? Well, as you can see, these are pleasant memories, even when tinged with sadness. There have been bad times as an Aggie football fan, but it's still a happy thing in my life. When we flash forward to 2012, after watching the first game of Johnny Manziel's career, it was obvious that he was something different than we had ever seen before. I vowed right then to just enjoy his career. To not complain about what didn't happen but just enjoy what did. And it was the most enjoyable two seasons you could ever ask for. The losses were frustrating, but still, when you have the most exciting player of all time wearing your team's jersey, you should just enjoy it. And I did. And then he left and the team got worse and without a guy like JFF running around, it wasn't so easy to "just enjoy the fact that you're alive for this, Matt."
And that's where this is all leading. It's supposed to be fun, right? So why does it feel like so many of us are just angry all the time? And I can sadly even include myself in this category. Anyone that knows me will vouch that I am one of the most positive, optimistic people you will ever meet when it comes to my team. And even I have times of struggle where the fanhood turns into anger and it loses its fun. So if that happens for me, I understand it can happen to anyone. It doesn't make us bad people... but does it mean we've lost our perspective?
Something happens when we grow up, it seems. The bright-eyed fun and wonder of it all gives way to an "I work hard and put money and time into this hobby/obsession so dammit, I better be rewarded accordingly" attitude. Fanhood turns to consumerism. If the payoff doesn't equal the investment, heads must roll! Yet if I were to describe the joys of my Aggie football memory to someone, describe to them why I love it, well... see the first half of this article. Where is the room for anger in that?
When I look at the place Aggie football occupies in my life, it is nothing but joy. I'm sure most reading this would say the same thing. It's normal for happy things to have unhappy times in them. Heck, the movie Inside Out explains it better than I ever could. The pain deepens the joy, the struggle enhances the success, the shared ups and downs and up-agains strengthen the bonds. So I'm not saying we shouldn't feel sad over a loss or angry over an injustice (the blind ref missed a call, for example) or have an opinion that it's time for this or that coach to be replaced. Those things are part of the experience. But I'd like to think we as sports fans in general can do a better job of seeing the bigger picture. And I'm not talking about making Aggie football less of a priority in our lives, I'm talking about choosing to enjoy something if we decide to make it that big of a priority.
When R.C. Slocum made his infamous "half the teams in America lost today" quote, he was criticized endlessly by Aggie fans. But here's the thing: he was right. And the bigger statement behind his words was right. People tried to act like his quote was proof that he just didn't care enough, but it was the opposite. It proved that he had perspective. But we fans don't want perspective when we're mad. We want answers and maybe for someone to be fired. And that's the problem as I see it. We need perspective. It's not about managing expectations or accepting mediocrity. It's about having fun and being a part of something.
Enjoy the season, Ags. And let me slow down and repeat that one word: ENJOY it. It'll never be perfect, but it will always be great. See you at Kyle Field.