Football

Embrace It

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

rivalry needs.
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

Basketball Tournament.

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…

“WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO…”

Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.

“PIG!”

“SOOIE!”

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.