The University of Texas Longhorns and the Texas A&M University Aggies met a consecutive 118 times between 1892 until 2011 when conference realignment ensured that they would no longer play each other during the college football regular season for the foreseeable future. The two schools’ fight songs mention the other, explaining the inextricable link between the two fueled by history, hatred, and highlights on the gridiron. The Aggie War Hymn boasts, “Goodbye to Texas University, so long to the Orange and the White,” while Texas Fight likes to chant, Texas Fight, Texas Fight, and it’s goodbye to A&M!” However, there is so much more to the rivalry than just football that explains the greatest sporting rivalry the Lone Star State has ever known. The cultural and historical differences that mark the two schools since their inception by acts of the Texas State Legislature are steadfastly held by each school’s traditions that mark a uniquely and distinctively Texan identity forged by the state’s unique history, and therefore, the sports rivalry between Texas and Texas A&M.
Part I: Humble Beginnings
It all started March 2, 1836, when the Texas Convention came together to formally declare Texas’ independence from Mexico and thus sign the Texas Declaration of Independence, which briefly stated the importance of an educated society, “It is an axiom in political science that unless a people are educated and enlightened it is idle to expect the continuance of civil liberty or the capacity for self-governance” (Texas State Archives and Library Commission). This was the earliest sign of a need to establish a university that would educate future generations of Texans for many years to come, but attaining this goal was not without its challenges marked throughout Texas history. That day in the tiny town of Washington-on-the-Brazos (present-day Washington County) would set the course of an entire landmass that would eventually become the Lone Star State as we have come to know and understand it throughout its unique history.
Shortly after Texas was annexed into the United States in 1845, the first state constitution was drafted and ratified, and within its framework called for the establishment of a “university of the first class as soon as predictable that would be tasked with educating an entire people in the arts, letters, and sciences.” However, the state would endure many critical times in which the state found itself being reinvented time and again by conflicts, industries, and even cultural landscapes, ranging from the Texas Revolution to the American Civil War, from the Cotton Farms of the Plantation Era to the Cattle Ranches of the Western Frontier, all these things in history would seemingly not only shape the state in general but even the public universities the state would eventually establish whose traditions would reflect the unique past of this state.
The agricultural industry in Texas dates back virtually since the state’s inception by Spanish colonists. The early Spaniards brought with them cattle from the Iberian peninsula and soon afterward, cattle ranching became a part of the early Spanish mission towns of San Antonio and Goliad where they were bred to feed the residents of those cities, but as the Spanish missions declined, private ranching became more prevalent in the years leading up to the Texas Revolution of 1836. By the time of Texas’ annexation into the United States, Texas as its own country allowed for the ownership of slaves to work on the Texas plantations, and thus, like the other states south of the Mason-Dixon line, in pre-Civil War America, Texas became a slave state, and the pre-Civil War Plantation Era was very well underway. The most popular crop of this time became cotton, and no other slave state produced more cotton than Texas, especially in West Texas where this cash crop was at its most prevalent.
However, in the post-Civil War years and especially after Reconstruction, cattle ranching, the open ranges, and driving herds of livestock to market became the norm for agricultural practices across Texas. The Frontier allowed for famous cattle drives to take shape such as the Goodnight-Loving Trail, the Chisholm Trail, the Sedalia Trail, the Shawnee Trail, etc. In fact, the State of Texas purchased land in the Texas Panhandle that would later become the XIT Ranch, in which profits generated from cattle sales would go directly toward funding for the construction of the Texas State Capitol building. But in the early 1900s, the construction of railroads that cut through cattle trails coupled with the invention of barbed wire by Joseph Glidden severely hampered not only the drives themselves, but far worse, the mere existence of longhorn cattle altogether to the point of near-extinction. This in turn prompted the United States government to establish a wildlife refuge for the preservation of Texas Longhorn cattle in the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma, which still exists to serve the same purpose today.
By the end of the American Civil War, the United States Congress passed into law the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862, which called for the establishment of specific agricultural and mechanical (A&M) colleges in each state intended for the instruction in agriculture, industrial technologies, and military sciences. In the case of Texas, whose mission was to establish a university of the first class of its own to be stylized “The University of Texas”, the Texas State Constitution mandated that the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (Texas A.M.C., as it came to be referred to) would be based in Brazos County, Texas and that it serve as a branch campus to the main university (The University of Texas) based in the capital city of Austin. However, neither college would be without their complex beginnings in relation to each other. The Texas State Constitution mandated that the “university of the first class” would be established “as soon as predictable”, although the Agricultural and Mechanical College (whose early athletic teams came to be known as simply “College”) was established in the year 1876 with its own Board of Regents to oversee the day-to-day operations of the college. The main university, the University of Texas (whose earliest athletic teams were known as “Varsity”), was established in 1883, and would also have its own, separate Board of Regents to serve the same purpose. Now, in the case of Texas A.M.C., its supporters argued that it was established first, therefore it is the rightful university of the first class regardless of the purpose of establishment, whereas, for the University of Texas, its supporters had always claimed that it was the originally intended university of the first class and that the agricultural college was only but a branch of the main university, so by that very fact, they quickly evolved into two separate universities with resentment toward the other and thus, the rivalry between the two schools was born.
Part II: The Earliest Foundations
Two prominent figureheads would emerge from the rubble of Texas’ wartime history to their significant ties to their respective universities by way of their job occupations. Their names were Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross and George Washington Littlefield. Sul Ross, a Confederate Civil War veteran who was a farmer by profession and a politician and university administrator by trade, would forever leave his imprint on the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now known as Texas A&M University), whereas George W. Littlefield, who, much like Ross, was a Confederate Civil War veteran himself, but was instead a banker and rancher by profession but also a university regent by trade, and would eventually cast a very long shadow on the impending legacy of what is now the University of Texas at Austin. Both these men made significant contributions to their institutions, such as Ross overseeing the development of certain school traditions that continue even to this day such as the Corps of Cadets, the Aggie ring, the mascot Reveille, among many others. Littlefield saw to it for the University of Texas that the university would maintain its Texas identity and origins by providing Southern-originated library books for use by university students, the construction of an all-female dormitory named for his wife (which is still in use today), and the erection of the Littlefield Confederate Memorial Fountain, with the fountain itself at the very front of South Mall. Quite apparently, it was also their professions, coupled with their contributions, that also gave hints of what kinds of cultures and traditions each university would breed. Sul Ross’ unique background brought to life Texas A&M’s current military-themed traditions such as the Parsons Mounted Cavalry, the Spirit of ’02 cannon, and the Ross Volunteer Company, all associated with the connotations of formality and uprightness that would be commonly associated with the name “Aggie.” On the other hand, George W. Littlefield’s unique background came to be identified with the University of Texas’ cowboy/western-themed traditions such as the now-defunct Texas Cowboys, Silver Spurs, and Smokey the Cannon, which many people today claim brings to life the casual, laid-back kind of Texan imagery that UT’s traditions would now otherwise seem to convey.
The football rivalry started with a matchup in 1894, with the University of Texas “Varsity” squad trouncing the Texas A.M.C. “College/Farmers” squad 38-0. Football had begun play in the state of Texas roughly by the late 1800s, and the Texas teams had much of the upper hand in the first few years of the rivalry. By the end of the first decade of the 20th Century, in 1910, the state of Texas formed the University Interscholastic League (UIL) to regulate primarily the sport of football in the state of Texas from the high school ranks. Football at the high school levels proved to be immensely popular among many Texans at the time (and even still today), especially in the smaller, more rural towns scattered across the state, where corner stores and travel stops would close early on game days so that everyone would have time to flock to the local high school football stadium and cheer on the hometown team. The more the sport percolated across the state, the greater the fertile recruiting ground for both Texas and Texas A&M proved to be. From its earliest beginnings, the football parity between the two schools only grew, starting with a man by the name of Dana X. Bible. Bible started as the coach of Texas A&M from 1917-1928, which during his tenure as the school’s head football coach during the 1922 Cotton Bowl Classic, E. King Gill was called upon from the stadium stands to suit up for the game ready to play for the Aggies after one of the eleven football players for A.M.C. went down with an injury in a game the Aggies would win. Although he never actually played, his willingness and readiness to play are embodied by the present-day tradition of Texas A&M’s 12th Man, wherein the entire student section remains standing at all football home games “ready to be called upon whenever needed.” Bible would eventually find his way to the University of Texas, where he coached the Longhorns from 1937-1946, where his innovative football tactics helped form the “T Formation” on offense, started the tradition of singing the university’s alma mater “The Eyes of Texas” before and after every game, and with his successful run as the Longhorns’ head football coach, started the championship tradition of the University of Texas that is still in place to this day to achieve athletic excellence for the Texas Longhorns sports teams.
The history of the Texas oil industry also had a huge effect on the nature of the rivalry between the two schools. Oil was first to be discovered in Texas in what is now present-day Beaumont with a gusher blowing from the top of an oil rig named Spindletop. This was the first of many events that matriculated into a mad rush of people referred to as “wildcatters” flocking to Texas hoping to get rich quick off of oil, which they referred to as “black gold,” with the price of oil being sold a three cents a barrel (equivalent to $0.91 in today’s currency). The state of Texas owned land in West Texas that had belonged to the university system, and in 1923, on those lands, oil had been discovered on an oil rig known as Santa Rita No. 1. The timing of this discovery could not have been more coincidental, as both the University of Texas and the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas had seen their facilities become outdated and in desperate need of repair, but the issue was, there was no real way at the time to raise funds for renovation projects until the gusher of Santa Rita No. 1 blew. The oil that was being drilled led to the creation of the Permanent University Fund, or P.U.F., that originally gave all the profits made from the drilling to the University of Texas at Austin, but then it was decided by an amendment to the Texas State Constitution that two-thirds of the funds would go to Texas, the other one-third to Texas A&M, an allocation that remains in place to this day, and the P.U.F. continues to fund the two universities and their respective university systems by the millions.
Roughly about four years after the establishment of the UIL for high school sports, a new conference was formed at the college level in 1914 that came to be known as the Southwest Conference (SWC). Along with Texas and Texas A&M, charter members were made almost entirely of Texas-based schools such as Baylor University, Rice University, Texas Christian University, and Southern Methodist University, the only exception being the University of Arkansas, and for a while up until the mid-1920s, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
Part III: Texas-tough Competition
The two universities proved to be highly competitive in this conference, as both would be the winningest football programs throughout the entire conference’s existence, Texas with 25 shared titles and 19 outright, and Texas A&M with 17 shared titles and 15 outright. This rivalry, popularly dubbed the “Lone Star Showdown,” was bar none the fiercest in the Southwest Conference, and most of the time, the winner of the game would not only be “the winner of (the State of) Texas” in the words of former A&M coach Jackie Sherrill but would also be the season’s conference champion, adding to the high implications of the rivalry’s annual outcome. Both teams would eventually take turns dominating the other, but even then, both universities produced memorable moments within their respective programs’ rich histories by way of this rivalry.
During much of the 1920s and ‘30s, the rivalry was very much back-and-forth between the two schools, but it was not until 1940 where Texas began a winning streak of twenty consecutive victories over Texas A&M up until 1951, where Texas A&M finally put an end to their string of losses by a score of 22-21. In 1954, legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant was hired to be the head football coach of the Texas A&M Aggies. In the summer of that same year, he took the entire team on a 10-day training camp in Junction, Texas, and employed enhanced coaching techniques now otherwise deemed as dangerous in order to “toughen up” the players. Some notable members of this group, which were famously referred to as the “Junction Boys,” included, but were not limited to, Ray Barrett, Billy McGowan, Jack Pardee, Donald Robbins, and Gene Stallings. Two years later, in 1956, Texas A&M would beat Texas by a score of 34-21 at Texas Memorial Stadium with a team that would feature future A&M Heisman Trophy winner John David Crow, their first road win in the rivalry’s history.
By 1957, a man by the name of Darrell K Royal was hired to be the new head football coach of the Texas Longhorns. Royal achieved instant success with the Horns, and throughout the success of the 1960s, he and his assistant coached created and developed the innovative “Wishbone” offense as well as producing star players across every position in the game such as Tommy Nobis, Steve Worster, James Street, Chris Gilbert, Bobby Mitchell, and Freddie Steinmark. His greatest achievement as a coach came in the 1969 football season, college football’s centennial, wherein DKR led the Horns to an undefeated 11-0 record on the season, which included wins over California at Berkeley, No. 8 Oklahoma in the annual Red River Shootout at the Texas State Fair in Dallas, Texas A&M at Kyle Field in College Station, No. 2 Arkansas at Fayetteville in the legendary “Game of the Century” that featured then-U.S. President Richard M. Nixon in attendance to present the national title plaque to the Texas Longhorns in a postgame ceremony in the visiting team’s locker room, and a win over No. 9 Notre Dame in the postseason Cotton Bowl Classic, also in Dallas to cap off an unforgettable season in Longhorns’ history.
The next few decades would feature Heismans, history, and drama for both teams in the ensuing years. Earl Campbell had one of, if not his absolute most, memorable moments during his Heisman Trophy-winning 1977 season. The year before, legendary coach Darrell K Royal had retired, and Fred Akers succeeded him in the role. Campbell’s Heisman moment came against Texas A&M when he rushed for a career-high 222 yards against the Aggies in a 57-28 routing of Texas A&M at Kyle Field en route to winning the 1977 Heisman Trophy. Twenty-one years later, in 1998, another Longhorn Heisman-winning tailback, Ricky Williams, broke Tony Dorsett’s all-time NCAA rushing record by carrying the ball 44 times for 269 yards and caught five passes for 36 yards, along with a memorable touchdown run spinning and bumping into A&M defenders into the end zone with renowned ESPN broadcaster Brent Musburger on the call for that game at home in DKR in Austin. One year later, tragedy struck the entire A&M community, as the 55-foot Bonfire, built-in anticipation for the game against the Longhorns, collapsed in the middle of the night at 2:42 AM, killing twelve and injuring twenty-seven. During the game, an emotional Texas A&M team pulled off the upset at home by a score of 20-16 after a strip-sack fumble recovery by A&M linebacker Brian Gamble to help seal the victory for the Aggies.
Part IV: Political Endgame
The turn of the millennium was marked by mostly off-field drama during the late 2000s and early 2010s, especially when it came to both financial distribution and, consequently, conference realignment. In 2010, Nebraska and Colorado left the Big 12 Conference to the Big Ten and Pac-10, respectively. Shortly thereafter, it was widely reported that besides Colorado, the Pac-10 Conference was looking at other teams in the now-fledging Big 12 to potentially form a 16- team super-conference called the “Pac-16.” The other teams were reported to be Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech. However, at the behest of A&M President R. Bowen Loftin hoped to convince the late Bill Powers, who was UT’s President at the time, the hypothetical super-conference never materialized, and thus, the aforementioned five teams elected to stay in the Big 12 at least for the 2011-2012 academic year. However, in the midst of all this, Texas Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds worked on behalf of the University of Texas with renowned sports broadcaster ESPN and multimedia rights holder IMG College to strike a twenty-five year, $300M deal to form the Longhorn Network, a new cable sports channel entirely devoted to the University of Texas Athletics. This did not sit well with the other Big 12 member schools, especially Texas A&M, the latter of which felt that the new network was, in their own words, “too much to bear.” The Southeastern Conference (SEC), who had long courted Texas A&M since the breakup of the Southwest Conference in 1995 and once again in 2010, was now rapidly becoming a new possibility for Texas A&M. President Loftin, began to take matters into his own hands by convening a meeting with the A&M Board of Regents, which had agreed to give Loftin final say on conference membership only a few weeks prior, to discuss the present nature of the Longhorn Network, which A&M alleged gave UT a recruiting advantage by supposedly broadcasting high school football games of potential UT commits. Therefore, after the meeting concluded, President Loftin announced Texas A&M’s intention to join the SEC, which was hailed by many in Aggieland to be a “hundred-year decision.” The SEC formally invited A&M as its 13th member institution on September 25, 2011, and consequently put an end to any guaranteed future meetings with the Texas Longhorns on the football field after the 2011 season.
On Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 2011, the Longhorns and the Aggies met for the 118th (and final) time on the gridiron at Kyle Field in College Station, with the stakes at an all-time high for both teams, and on this particular day, the two schools’ fight songs now had double-meaning. The game was very back-and-forth the whole way through, as both teams wanted to beat the other very badly knowing that this would be the last game between the two for the foreseeable future. Texas A&M dominated for much of the first half, and then entering the second half, Texas made a third-quarter surge to even out the score, and then in the fourth quarter, A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw a dart in the end zone to wide receiver Jeff Fuller to take the lead back by only one, and then, with only three seconds left in the game, Texas kicker Justin Tucker kicked a forty-yarder straight through the uprights as time expired to steal the game, break the hearts of Aggie faithful everywhere, and win 27-25 in the final meeting of the Lone Star Showdown.
Part V: What The Future Holds
Since then, there have not been any football games between the two schools, and if any games are played between the two, it’s within other sports such as volleyball and baseball. Several grassroots efforts have taken shape, from House bills filed in Texas State Congress to student-led movements from both schools such as “Reinstate the Rivalry.” There are several key reasons why I believe this rivalry should be reinstated on an annual basis not just in football, but across all sports as well. One, no two teams across all intercollegiate athletics are more valuable money-wise than Texas and Texas A&M, with both being valued by Forbes magazine at an approximate $118M in revenue, but $94M in profit for A&M and $92M in profit for UT. Secondly, now that they are in separate conferences, a non-conference rivalry would bring greater attention nationwide for the two schools and to the State of Texas in general, and given their respective conferences’ current television broadcast rights deals, the telecast for the game can alternate between networks depending on who is the home team (FOX for when the game is in Austin during even-numbered years and CBS for when it is in College Station in odd-numbered years). Thirdly, to capitalize on everything that was elaborated on throughout this entire article, the reign of the game could revive a Texas tradition that had every immediate tie-in to the state’s rich history, culture, and heritage imaginable by way of each school’s unique school spirit and traditions.
Now, even though families were divided over the Thanksgiving dinner table by their preferred loyalties, and high school friends against each other by the same, this game did much more than dividing a state, but rather, it brought entire people together as Texans and not just Longhorns or Aggies around a common love for the Lone Star State and a common love for the game the State of Texas loves more than any other, the game of football. This great tradition, now gone for eight years and counting, was forged by the state that gave it birth, encapsulated a uniquely and distinctively Texan identity that no other two schools, let alone sports teams, high school, college, or professional, have been able to match, and for those who wish for the rivalry to resume, we can only hope for the best in the coming years that lay ahead.