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Forging rivals

Texas in the rearview mirror as A&M continues SEC war path

Published: Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 01:11

 

Rivalries matter in college football. A&M is no stranger to that. We still sing about the Longhorns every week and I can’t help but wonder what fans of the opposition must be thinking when we do. So far it hasn’t mattered, because when the players and fans have sawed varsity’s horns off, opposing stadiums have already been emptied or shamed into submission by head coach Kevin Sumlin’s bottled lightning of an offense. 

 

We still care about Texas and they still care about us, no matter how hard both sides try to pretend otherwise. I was walking to my car after the 29-24 win over No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa when I was stopped by an Aggie fan. The man was everything a too-drunk football fan should be, complete with a half-smoked victory cigar in his mouth. We were in Alabama — the taste of the biggest win in modern program history still sweet — and all this guy could talk about was Mack Brown and the Longhorns. He wasn’t interested in Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide, BCS standings or any of the other things that are supposed to matter in those moments. He said things — in what was honestly the most epic cinematic voice I’ve heard in a while — about how A&M is stealing everything Texas lives for, everything they had. This was a watershed moment in the age-old (and previously one-sided) power struggle between the two state powers and this man knew it. The Aggies have the phenom freshman, the hotshot offensive coordinator, the top-flight head coach, the fresh uniforms, the newly painted SEC seal at midfield. What does Texas have?

A&M and Texas will play each other sooner than many fans think. Athletic director DeLoss Dodds will get the boot and we’ll pick up right where we left off. Until then, who are we supposed to hate? At least half of college football is having someone to hate. For A&M in the SEC, the answer isn’t so obvious.

It’s not Missouri, even if they entered the SEC at the same time as A&M. It’s not Alabama because there is too much mutual respect between the teams, too much history. Gene Stallings and Bear Bryant helmed both schools as head coach, and Alabama fans care about that kind of thing.

If there is a rivalry ready to be stoked into anything resembling the bonfire that was A&M and Texas, it’s going to be found among the dormant feuds between A&M and LSU or Arkansas. There’s history with those programs and if A&M cares about anything, it’s history.

But what I’m suggesting is maybe there isn’t the bitter brand of rivalry in this new conference home, and maybe that’s a good thing. I hated most schools in the Big 12. The first time I supported a Big 12 team, ever, was last Saturday as Baylor took a match to Collin Klein’s Heisman chances. That’s it. I always thought the argument that we should root for other conference or Texas teams was ridiculous. But haven’t you noticed something different about the SEC?

When Oregon and Kansas State lost, I was thrilled first and foremost for the Heisman chances of Johnny Manziel. But it was a good night for another reason: the SEC was going to be back in the BCS National Championship Game. When have I ever cared about something like that? There’s a level of conference pride in the SEC that Aggie fans have never experienced in the Big 12. The SEC sits on a pedestal in the college football world, the unquestioned king of the hill. The schools have a vested interest in that position — the cash flow in a conference with revenue sharing and six straight national championships is considerable — but the fans don’t care about the dollars and cents, at least not from what I’ve seen. The SEC cares about the SEC as a brand and as an institution.

The obvious counter to this argument is that we’re in the middle of some kind of “honeymoon stage.” Incoming students think every campus conversation will be an intellectual one and every passerby will give a “Howdy.” They couldn’t be more wrong. Maybe the novelty of the switch is lending the better part of the unity and cohesiveness we feel in the SEC. The Aggies are the new kids and they’ve had more success than any talking head predicted. The University will print the SEC logo on anything it can get its hands on (What’s the over/under on SEC scantrons and blue books for the spring?) and will hang the flags of every conference member around campus on game day. Which, by the way, LSU fans thought was absurd. That could speak to A&M as the naive freshman or LSU as the self-centered scrooge. I don’t know the answer.

I’m suggesting A&M has two rivals: the Texas Longhorns and everyone outside the SEC. As Aggies, we bite and scratch at the Longhorns. As members of the SEC, we tussle with fans and pollsters that try to convince us we’re overrated, or try to keep us — “us” the SEC, not “us” the Aggies — out of the national championship just because we’re so good that we cannibalize ourselves. In a few years, maybe the freshness will wear off and the togetherness we feel will devolve into something reminiscent of what we had in the Big 12.

No matter what, we’ll still be able to hiss at any burnt orange we can find.

And that will always be enough. 

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