The rivalry is dead. Long live the rivalry.
I wonder if anyone will remember the name Justin Tucker? Last night Tucker became a hero after literally booting a last-second kick for 40 yards through the east Central Texas air of Kyle Field, thus ending one of the most storied college football rivalries of all times. In the end it was Texas Longhorns 27 Texas A & M Aggies 25.
It would be no exaggeration for me to say that I practically knew the words to “The Aggie War Hymn” by they time I was five thanks to a record of Aggie songs my oldest brother brought home once, during the several semesters he attended A & M. A Christmas picture snapped with my four brothers at my Grandmother’s house one Christmas shows me hamming it up with a toy guitar while proudly wearing an Aggie Corps of Cadets garrison cap.
I have several close relatives who are Aggies — given that you believe once an Aggie always an Aggie — and a number of friends who attended “The” University of Texas at Austin. Actually, if you say “The University of Texas” that pretty much is understood to be the campus which is bounded to the west by “The Drag” or Guadalupe (pronounced “Guad-a-loop”) Street in Austin. I thought about attending UT both as an undergraduate and as a graduate student. My undergrad degree is from Stephen F. Austin. I’ve not attended graduate school. Obviously, I have nothing against TAMU. I just never thought of it as a collegiate choice due to the criteria I used to select a school. As is the case with some folks who might get a degree from a good school, some people I know who have gone to either school seems to think their educations are much more special than they believe.
But the end of a regular football game between Texas and Texas A & M has nothing to do with academics. Well, at least not with athletics per se. The end of this long famous rivalry — the two teams may not play each other for at least seven or more years — has to do with money. The O’Jays, those grand philosophers of funk, sang it best:
For the love of money
People will steal from their mother
The football rivalry festered during the many years the two schools played each other in what I feel was the Daddy of all collegiate conferences, the Southwest Conference. Those teams plus others such as TCU, Baylor, Rice, Texas Tech, Houston, SMU and Arkansas, were mostly a Texas affair from the SWC’s beginnings in 1914. Schools from Oklahoma also played from time-to-time in the league’s history. The conference was truly an all-Texas from 1991, when Arkansas left, until the SWC disbanded in 1996. The break came as some of the schools heard those coins a jingle-jangle-jingling.
For the love of money
People don’t care who they hurt or beat
UT as the king of the schools comprising the Texas component of the Big 12 seemed to have all the prestige — a National Championship in 2006 and runner-up in 2009 — and big money that it could want. Money, though, seemed to overtake prestige. The University signed a $300 million deal with ESPN for its own sports network. The move, of course, rankled some schools and caused others to go “Wild West” on everyone and to do anything at all for money.
For the love of money
A woman will sell her precious body
Talk began of one Big 12 school going here another going there. Then, other schools, in other conferences, started making deals for new super-duper league alignments in which geography was thrown out the window.
In the meantime, Texas A & M had its eye on the prize. It lusted for what many to consider to be the Mother of all athletic conferences, the Southeast Conference. It seemed at one time as if the Big 12 would implode. That would surely be big trouble for schools already on the bubble such as Baylor. Baylor, which has one of the Lone Star State’s best law schools, sued.
All of the drama — to this point at least — played out to the ending blow last evening as Texas A & M said goodbye to its long-time rival, like the steady and sure teen headed out to make his way in the world. Unfortunately, the bon voyage ended badly for A & M. Now, the nationally-ranked albeit no potential national champion Aggies, will face some really tough SEC opponents in years to come and perhaps even experience extended periods of future cellar-dwelling what with foes such as LSU, Alabama, Auburn, et. al.
And of the rivalries, well, providing a school needs rivalries — perhaps not but whatever extra revenue, recruiting benefits and camaraderie such serial competitions bring, why not? — Texas still has a huge one with Oklahoma in the “Red River Shootout.” The Aggies may end up renewing an old Southwest Conference rival with Arkansas within the SEC. The teams are not strangers having played 68 games. The two teams first played in 1903 and met in October when the now No. 3 Razorbacks beat A & M 42-38. Another possible in-conference rival is present No. 1, the LSU Tigers. The Aggies have played the Louisiana team 50 times, the most games with any non-conference school although the two schools were twice in a pre-SWC league for a couple of years.
The loss of rivalry is a loss of tradition. Yet It isn’t just college tradition that is being destroyed by ” … that lean, mean, mean green/Almighty dollar, money … “ as the poignant 1973 O’Jays hit penned by Gamble, Huff and Jackson says.
High schools are being infected by big money. Look around Texas and one can find multi-million dollar football stadiums with deluxe computerized scoreboards and huge Jumbotron-like screens, usually bearing the name of some corporate sponsor.
Sure the money helps students. There is the old joke about one never having seen a stadium filled for a chemistry lecture. But the money doesn’t strictly benefit the kids in either college or high school. Look at UT’s Mack Brown, paid $5.166 million, making him the highest-paid Texas state employee. Then there is the money made in deals among school alumni. Let’s not even go to professional sports. It’s about enough to make one’s head explode.
So as we say adios to a great old rivalry, perhaps we shouldn’t go out with verses of the “Aggie War Hymn” or “Texas Fight.” Perhaps we should just keep in the groove with the O’Jays, “All for the love of money … ” Tradition, flattened by bundles of cash.