Many Longhorn fans are balking at the
idea of playing Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl just a year after
the Aggies’ departure from the Big 12. But that game is exactly what the
Rivalries are what make college
football great. But they’re not permanent. Like any fire,
metaphorical or literal, they need fuel. Otherwise they die.
Let me tell you a story. It was March
of 2008. I was at a bar in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. I was at a
bar in Little Rock because Little Rock was where the Horns were
playing their first and second round games of the NCAA Men’s
I finished my stout – I love the
darks; rich roasted malt; high abv; mmm, wonderful – and raised my
hand to ask for a second.
Actually, no, do you have a good
swcharzbier? Something complex, with a long finish and…ah, that
looks perfect. I’ll have that. Anyway, as the bartender turned back
to the taps I smiled to myself in amusement at his shirt. He wore a
clean, crisp, probably recently purchased bright red t-shirt with an
inverted Bevo head emblazoned across the chest.
Huh, a Sooner, I thought to myself.
Clearly he’d worn the shirt because of all the Longhorns in his town.
You know, I wonder what brought this Oklahoma grad to Little Rock in
the first place. Or perhaps he’s not an OU grad, just a fan. Not
possessing a degree does not prohibit one from wearing the shirt. Of
course, I was not sufficiently vexed by the mystery to ask him about
it and I returned to enjoying my beer.
The next day I arrived at Alltel Arena
– only the slightest of hangovers; it was a work day, after all –
picked up my credentials and took my place court-side for the No.
2-seeded Longhorns’ opening round game against Austin Peay. It was a
shockingly well-attended game for a first round contest. The lower
bowl was occupied by plenty of burnt orange, as well as a smattering
of a lighter shade of the color, worn by Miami fans watching their
likely second-round opponent. But the upper-deck was solid red.
Red? Who are all of these…
Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.
Suddenly it fell into place. The
bartender. That wasn’t a Sooner fan.
Their team wasn’t even involved
(Arkansas played its first and second round games in Raleigh), but
these people hated Texas enough to show up to a game just to boo the
Horns. And yet when I had seen a man wearing a red shirt with an
upside-down Longhorn on it – in Little Rock, no less – my first
and only thought was, “Oh, must be a Sooner.”
Age is a factor,
certainly. I’m 30, which means I was 14 when the Southwest Conference
broke up. But it’s an indicator of the stagnant state of the
relationship between the two programs. A rivalry takes two. The fire
may still burn in Arkansas, but many in Austin have forgotten – or
simply want to forget.
Alright, I told you that story to tell
you this. It’s fine to let the Arkansas rivalry die. It’s a good
thing, honestly. The whole of the rivalry was reduced driving to
Fayettville and getting your car defaced because you have Texas
plates. There’s nothing fun about that. More importantly, there’s
nothing unique about it.
But there is nothing in college
football like Texas and Texas A&M. The insane traditions, the
physical proximity and the history are all interesting enough, but
add to it a team leaving a conference in a huff because of the other
and the stark contrast between the collective psychology of each
fanbase and you’ve got the most amusing rivalry in college football.
There are rivalries with more pure hate – such as Ohio State and
Michigan or, well, Texas and Oklahoma – but the Longhorns and
Aggies are comparable to hatred within the same family, which is
always more entertaining.
Yes, the mere idea of playing Texas A&M
in the Cotton Bowl has made some Longhorn fans cringe. But you want
this. There will always be something missing without Texas A&M
around. Beating Arkansas was relief, an end to an annoyance. Beating
Texas A&M is schadenfreude. Pure, delicious, uncut, raw
schadenfreude. And, honestly, how excited are you really for a
Thanksgiving game against TCU?
Some rivalries are worth letting go.
This one is not.
And to have these two teams face each
other in the Cotton Bowl just a year after Texas A&M’s
taking-my-ball-and-going-home exit from the Big 12 and Justin
Tucker’s dagger at Kyle Field is exactly what this rivalry – and
college football – needs.