Being an Aggie is tough at times. To paraphrase Kermit the frog, “It ain’t easy bein’ maroon.”
I don’t remember ever deciding to be an Aggie; I was born one. It is in my blood and has coursed through the veins of four generations of my family beginning with my Grandfather Brown, Class of ’30, my dad, Class of ’57, my brother Greg, Class of ’83, me, class of ’85, my son Chris, Class of ’12, and my son Charles, Class of ’15. “There’s a spirit can ne’er be told,” but I’ll do my best to at least explain what being an Aggie means to me.
To say my dad was a huge A&M fan would be equivalent to saying water is wet. He passed down this love for his university to both my brother and me. I became a diehard Aggie at an early age. When I was eight years old, my friend Paula and I declared we were going to go to college at Texas A&M. We even had a secret Aggie handshake!
I remember sitting with my dad on Saturday afternoons, as he searched for the A&M game through all the static on his transistor radio. As we listened to the commentators, Dad relived stories about his college days in the mid-to late 1950s, during the era of “the Junction Boys,” led by Bear Bryant and players like John David Crow and Gene Stallings. While he spoke about days of old, I sat in my white A&M sweatshirt with the maroon Sarge and Block T on it, hanging on his every word.
I learned very early that Thanksgiving was not only about the Pilgrims and Indians but also about the Aggies and Longhorns. This day meant celebrating (or grieving) the holiday with the A&M-t.u. game. As a young child, this rivalry game was usually watched at my grandparents’ home in Gonzales. My grandmother despised the fact that the TV blared during our meal, and she chided my grandfather with her standard line: “You’re going to burn, Brown.” In the end, her objections were overruled, and we watched the game while we ate because God understands about football. I must confess we weren’t above praying and asking the good Lord for an Aggie victory before we said, “Amen.”
The Thanksgiving game when the Longhorns scored three touchdowns in the first two minutes is forever burned in my mind. After the third touchdown, my grandfather jumped up from the table, muttered a few colorful words, and announced he was going to retrieve his hatchet so he could chop up the large wooden console TV. I waited with bated breath, imagining we were going to have our own personal version of an Aggie bonfire in the middle of Nana and Papa’s living room.
I discovered more about being an Aggie when we were visiting my grandparents in the summer after my brother finished second grade. Looking for something to do, Greg decided to climb a tree which hung over the back patio. I ventured out to see what he was doing just as he began screaming, “Snake, snake!”
I didn’t stick around long enough to see if it was true. I ran inside and alerted the adults. My Dad and Papa ran outside, and when my grandfather spotted a copperhead coiled up at the base of the tree, he sprung into action. He ran into the house, grabbed his A&M saber off the wall where it was mounted, ran back outside, and sliced the snake in two. He could have grabbed a shovel or other garden tool, but he wanted to be sure that he “Beat the Hell Outta” that snake, Aggie style. Whoop!
It is imperative that I give my father full credit for my love of both Texas A&M and football—two sacred things that for our family go together like peas and carrots or, better yet, chips and salsa. My dad and brother taught me the gridiron basics, and I quickly caught on to the signals the officials gave when assessing penalties. At four years old, I was a rare breed—a girl who would rather watch football than play with Barbies.
As I look back on my formative years, I realize the love of sports my father instilled in me was in preparation for the life I would lead as a coach’s wife and mother of two boys. I clearly see the Lord’s plan in this and am so lucky that God gave me two men who not only shared with me their love of the game but also the life lessons that abound in the world of sports.
Collegiate football has drastically changed since my childhood days and my freshman year at A&M when Tom Wilson was the head coach. Now, schools not only compete on the field, but also in the transfer portal. NIL has added another dimension, which to me, has ruined the game. I always enjoyed college football more than watching the pros because it seemed pure. Players played for the love of the game; they represented their team with pride. Sure, many hoped that their success would lead to a contract in the NFL, but overall there was a fire within them that seemed to burn more brightly.
I’m not a fan of these changes. I guess I’m old school, or more accurately an old Ag, or “old army.” I am glad for the National Championship playoff games, but it seems that early in the season, hopes are dashed with one loss. Teams are counted out. And as an Aggie, this is when the sky starts falling.
With the recent decision to go in a different direction and search for a new coach, the insults and barbs are at an all-time high. It’s hard to take, and I feel at this point in my life, I’m being a poor sport because I get so defensive. But here’s the thing, if we didn’t matter, if we weren’t a possible contender, it wouldn’t be such a big deal to other programs. Believe it or not, we have become relevant. And that, in itself, makes others uncomfortable, to say the very least.
If you’re an Aggie, you understand that it’s about so much more than supporting the football team. When you enter Kyle Field, the world comes full circle. You relive your days on campus. You run into old friends. You experience the atmosphere unlike any other with your children and grandchildren.
Being an Aggie is a way of life. It’s taking the values we learned at A&M and carrying them through our daily lives. It’s remembering those who are no longer with us by saying “here” at Muster. It’s saying “howdy,” and not ever walking on grass when there is a sidewalk available. It’s meeting other Aggies all over the world because they can identify you by your Aggie ring.
It’s passing down the love you have for your university, and sharing that love with future generations.
It’s keeping the Aggie spirit of loved ones who have passed away close to your heart.
My father died on October, 20, 1992. It was sudden, shocking, and heartbreaking. Needless to say, our first Thanksgiving without him was painful. For most families who have been in our situation, stumbling through the meal would have been the hardest hurdle to jump, but for our clan, it was the football game we would watch that afternoon—the traditional rivalry game between the Aggies and the Longhorns. This family tradition without Dad would be the most difficult to endure.
With thoughts of Thanksgivings past and memories of Dad cheering for his team, we clicked on the television to watch the ball game. The showdown was played in Austin that year, so the environment seemed extra hostile. Sounds of the band playing “The Aggie War Hymn” filled the living room as we watched the teams run onto the field. As if he were sitting in the room beside me, I heard my father boldly proclaiming, “If the Longhorns played the Soviets in Red Square, I would cheer for the Soviets every time.”
It goes without saying that in the South, football is a religious experience, and I knew with the added emotional baggage attached to this day and this game, we would be “having church” like never before. Going into the game, the Aggies were undefeated and embarking on one of the best seasons in A&M football history. There was so much riding on this contest, and of course, we bundled all our hopes and dreams and burdens into a victory, as well. Somehow, we fully believed if we beat Texas, it would be a tribute to my dad. In a month full of losses, a win for our family was monumentally important. Football that day became more than just a game. It represented life itself.
We whooped and cheered and high-fived and quietly mumbled ugly words throughout the four quarters. We yelled louder and stronger and prayed harder than ever before during a football game. We simply had to win. We couldn’t take another letdown or loss. When the final whistle blew, the Aggies had resoundingly defeated the Longhorns 34–13. We firmly believed Dad was waving his 12th Man Towel and whooping it up in heaven. It was the first time in over a month that we felt alive. Deep down in my soul, I know God doesn’t choose sides, but that day, he was an Aggie. As much joy as this victory brought us all, it was still laced in sorrow, and nothing could take away the sting we felt by Dad’s absence.
After the game, the time had come for us to leave. We loaded the car to return home, and along with the leftovers, I packed a great big helping of guilt, something I always felt whenever we left Mom alone in that big, empty house. Since the cemetery was on our way out of town, Brian and I decided to stop by. We knew Dad’s grave site would still be a mound of dirt with only a temporary marker identifying him. His headstone had been ordered but wouldn’t be in for a month or so. Even though we dreaded it, we knew stopping by to pay our respects was the proper, grown-up thing to do.
The sun was setting on an autumn sky, and shadows were starting to dance across the monuments and stones. I wasn’t exactly sure if I could find Dad’s resting place as we weaved in and around the winding pathways that coursed through Sunset Memorial Park. I was grateful that his plot was newly made and would help us narrow down the options. From a distance, I could see the dirt covering my father. It seemed to have settled since I was last there, and in a temporary flash of madness, I wondered if he was cold. Snapping out of the crazy thought, I admired several floral arrangements that had withstood the weather over the past month or so.
As I continued to survey the area, something white caught my eye. It was almost like a white flag of surrender, which I thought was a little harsh, even for a cemetery. The closer we moved to the object, the more familiar it became. It was a 12th Man Towel attached to a stake. During Jackie Sherrill’s tenure as the head football coach at A&M, he introduced the tradition of waving white towels imprinted with “12th Man.” This was a rally cry for the team and reminded us that all Aggies stand ready to go in the game and help our boys if ever needed. To a die-hard Aggie fan, the 12th Man Towel is a mandatory wardrobe accessory for game-day attire.
As the November wind blew gently that afternoon, the flag proudly waved like the one planted at Iwo Jima. It, too, represented pride, tradition, and camaraderie. We stepped out of the car and clumsily searched for a note or something that might reveal the thoughtful giver of this random act of kindness. After investigating the area for a few moments, there was not a trace of anything but the towel.
I never found out who put the flag there, but know whoever it was understood my father’s deep love of his alma mater. I can think of no greater honor or tribute to one of the most loyal Aggies I’ve ever known. “There’s a spirit can ne’er be told, it’s the Spirit of Aggieland.”
As we drove away from the cemetery that autumn night, the last few stanzas of a poem entitled “The Last Corp Trip” echoed in my head. I will always regret that I didn’t think to have this poem read at my father’s funeral. This is how I envisioned Dad’s entrance into heaven:
“And the band poured forth the anthem in notes both bright and clear.
And ten thousand Aggie voices sang the song they hold so dear.
And when the band had finished, St. Peter wiped his eyes
And said, ‘It’s not so hard to see they’re meant for Paradise.’
And the colonel of the Cadet Corps said as he stiffly took his stand,
‘It’s just another Corps Trip, boys, we’ll march in behind the band.’” —P. H. DuVal Jr., ’51
The A&M experience is unique to all Aggies, but the common thread of loyalty, honor, and pride is woven through those experiences, connecting each of us to all other Aggies.
To me, being an Aggie is more than just wearing maroon and supporting a team. It’s a link between my past, present, and future. My boys never knew their grandfather, but through Aggie traditions, stories, legends, and experiences they have been connected to him in a way that would otherwise not be possible.
So, what does it mean to be an Aggie?
- It’s going to Fish Camp to learn the Aggie way of life.
- It’s Thursday nights spent at the Dixie Chicken, listening to the needle of the record player scratch across entire albums by Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie Nelson, and Hank Jr., always ending with “Goodnight Irene.”
- It’s putting a penny on Sully, hoping the luck will get you through that test.
- It’s changing your major 3 times and trying to beat your midterm grades home before Spring Break.
- It’s my brother, as a senior in the Corps, getting Jackie Sherrill to sign a football which Greg’s outfit would run to Austin before the A&M/t.u. game.
- It’s the sound of senior boots clicking along the sidewalks and streets.
- It’s the solemn stillness and quiet of “Silver Taps.”
- It’s getting your Aggie ring, and sitting in the MSC, waving to all your friends, showing off the results of your hard work.
- It’s the fall of 1985, when we beat Texas at Kyle Field, securing a place in the Cotton Bowl, and having your brother scream at some upset teasips, “I don’t know what you call this in Austin, but here in College Station, we call this an ass-whipping.” And amazingly, his didn’t get his whipped…
- It’s waving a 12th Man towel.
- It’s going to the Cotton Bowl and stopping Bo Jackson on the goal line when it was 4th and one.
- It’s jumping for joy when your two sons are accepted to A&M.
- It’s finding a Twelfth Man towel on your father’s grave…
September 8, 2012, when A&M entered into a new era in the Southeastern Conference, was an extremely emotional day for me. I usually tear up during “The Spirit of Aggieland,” but that year, I couldn’t even sing it. As the team ran onto the field, tears streamed down my face. Never in my life have I felt such depth of emotion attached to being an Aggie.
I realized in that moment who I am today is largely due to my family heritage and legacy as an Aggie. The footsteps we have all made across the campus and into the world have contributed to the place where our university is today. We truly are a part of all those we have met, and many others whose presence has only been felt; our university moves forward on the heels of the many Aggies who have left their mark on the campus before us and those who will walk across the same campus in years to come. We have a bright future because we hang on to those values that are simple and fair and just.
On that beautiful day in September, as I stood among more than 87,000 others looking onto Kyle Field, I realized that the torch had been passed to my sons. Their generation, and all the generations to come, will be the ones leading us forward into new horizons.
And just like those before us, and those who come after us, no matter how our team is playing, we will always get goose bumps when we hear, “Now forming at the north end of Kyle Field, the nationally famous fightin’ Texas Aggie Band.”
Aggies live for football season. There’s no better place to be than Kyle Field on a Saturday night under the lights. But eleven years after entering the SEC, it seems we’ve taken one step forward, and twelve steps back.
While I’m disappointed with the way things have gone, I will never give up hope that one day we will finally get it right. Until then, like all Aggies, I will keep supporting my school and my team.
That’s the thing about Aggies. We’re always there. We keep coming no matter what. We always have hope. We always believe.
In the last leg of a dismal season, 103,000 Aggies turned out for a night game at Kyle Field. And those same Aggies will pay $25 for nachos, make donations, and keep buying season tickets.
You see, Aggies are all-in. Maybe that’s our problem. Many football programs who have gone through growing pains and have ended seasons by firing the coach, do so because the fans stopped showing up, donations decreased, and there was a general malaise about the future.
But Aggies don’t operate that way. No matter what, we’ll show up in our maroon, we’ll wave our Twelfth Man towels, we’ll yell, and sing, and sway. After the game, we’ll armchair quarterback, and talk about what could have been. But we will never, ever not show up.
As sad and disappointing as it is, and has been, we will still end the season on an optimistic note by saying, “Wait until next year.”
Sure, we might wish for touchdowns, and wins, and championships, but the amazing thing that keeps us looking upward is something we already have; something we don’t have to search for. A unique and undying spirit no other university can boast of.
It’s a connection, and it’s maroon.
It’s called being an Aggie.
It’s about much more than a game. It’s about being a part of something that only those who experience it can understand.
So, when all the others mock us, or make jokes about us, just remember,
“After they’ve boosted all the rest,
They will come and join the best.
We are the Aggies, the Aggies are we.
We’re from Texas AMC.”