Changing conference landscapes signal the end of this long-standing, heated in-state rivalry
This profile of the Texas and Texas A&M college football rivalry originally appeared in Athlon's 1986 college football annuals. With Texas A&M leaving the Big 12 for the SEC next season, this year's Thanksgiving Day showdown could be the last game between the in-state rivals in their series that dates back to 1894.
The Great Rivalries — Texas vs. Texas A&M
By Galyn Wilkins
It has lasted longer than the Wars of the Roses, longer than the Hatfields and McCoys, and sometimes it seems as fiercely fought as the Normans vs. the Saxons.
We’re talking Rivalry here, with a capital R. Rivalry as in the Unversity of Texas vs. Texas A&M. Ninety-one years of air raids — real air raids — cattle rustling, pregame conflagrations that make the Chicago Fire look like a patio barbecue, close games, blowout games, games resembling a concerto with four perfect movements and games with no rhyme or reason.
Just to say they take it seriously is an understatement. They take it personally. They take it as one of life’s larger responsibilities. Just last year, for example, A&M Coach Jackie Sherrill was watching from his office window as students piled up logs for the annual pre-Texas game bonfire.
“Doesn’t look like a Boy Scout campfire,” thought Sherrill as the logs were hoisted by crane and guided by nervous but steady hands into place 100 feet above the ground.
Responding to an inner trumpet call to action, Sherrill bolted out of his office, climbed the stack of logs and joined the bonfire engineers. The idea, see, is that anyone in Aggieland or Longhornland is willing to risk his neck the week of the game.
In recent years, frankly, some of the creativity has been extinguished in this great bonfire of a football series. Some of it has been legislated out, of course, because the kids were getting a little too creative.
In the 1950s, for example, the Aggies were working on plans for stealing the Texas mascot, a 1,500-pound steer named Bevo. One of them probably said, “We’ve done that before. Let’s try something different.”
So, in the space of eight hours one night, they traveled the state in commando groups and stole every mascot in the Southwest Conference, including the Arkansas razorback and the Texas longhorn.
The last theft occurred in 1972, when Texas’ Bevo made yet another trip to College Station in a U-Haul trailer. After that, conference rules were passed prohibiting such pranks. Bevo the steer and Reveille the collie have slept peacefully ever since.
The series has been anything but peaceful, though. It continues to burn as bright as the Aggie bonfire. Their match three years ago was one of the biggest double-barreled surprises in the history of Kyle Field in College Station, one of those games so shattered by unreal events that it can’t be put back together in a logical explanation.
Texas was unbeaten and rolling toward an almost certain national championship. The Aggies were 5-4-1 and hoping to fire one last shocking shot at the end of the season.
They almost did, taking a 13-0 lead in the second period. That was hard enough to believe. Much harder to comprehend was the Longhorns’ comeback. Riding the arm of quarterback Rick McIvor, they scored 45 points in a 15-minute blitzkrieg and won 45-13. The Aggies, however, not only had the last laugh that season, as Texas lost its national championship bid on a upset by Georgia in the Cotton Bowl, but have won the last two games in convincing fashion 37-12 and 42-10.
It’s about time, the Aggies say. For reasons not revealed by musty archives, they got off to a terrible start, losing the first seven matches with Texas, starting in 1894, all shutouts.
And then Charley Moran arrived in College Station. We can picture him riding onto the Aggie campus astride a white horse, six-shooters strapped to his waist, “Beat Texas” buttons pinned to his tunic.
This was 1909 and Moran was the Aggies’ 10th football coach. Thus, their impatience with coaches was established early. Moran’s first words were, “I didn’t come here to lose.”
He didn’t. He is the only Aggie coach whose teams defeated Texas twice in one year. By the middle of 1910, his second season, the Aggies had a 10-game winning streak. Moran had lit the fire.
Texas authorities suspected a rat in the woodpile and, sure enough, one of Moran’s stars admitted later that “from time to time we used boys of questionable academic pedigree.”
Texas broke off relations, diplomatic and otherwise, with the Aggies after the 1911 game. A verse chanted in the saloons of Austin shows what Texas students and fans thought of Moran:
To hell, to hell with Charley Moran
And all his dirty crew,
And if you don’t like the words of this song,
To hell, to hell with you
When the schools decided to resume combat in 1915, Moran was fired, probably in a concession to the powerful politicos at Texas — but the Longhorns had not heard the last of Charley Moran.
From exile in Kentucky, Moran wrote each Aggie player, urging him to “beat those people from Austin, if you still love me and think anything of me.”
There must have been something of a mystic hangover from the Moran years, because in the first game after his departure, the Longhorns fumbled 12 times and A&M won 13-0.
A&M students carried their heroes off the field, then helped Longhorn rooters carry their warriors to the dressing room. It was a peace that couldn’t last, and didn’t.
The next year, Texas avenged that 13-0 loss 21-7 and celebrated by acquiring a mascot, a cantankerous Longhorn steer. In 1917, Texas students planned to parade the steer at the Aggie game in College Station with 21-7 branded into his flank.
In the dead of night before the game, a Model T-Ford chugged off toward Austin, loaded with Aggies and branding irons. The next morning, the student wranglers at Texas were appalled to discover that their prize mascot had been branded with the 13-0 score of the 1915 game.
Oddly enough, a billboard proclaiming the quenching delights of Bevo Beer solved the problem. An enterprising student took a branding iron and changed the 13-0 to B E V O. Bevo Beer didn’t survive, but Texas mascots have been called Bevo ever since.
If the Aggies’ favorite target has been Bevo, the Longhorns have long been dedicated to watering down the A&M bonfire. In 1915, due to incendiary causes still unknown, the bonfire exploded. A witness, C.E. Griesser, who still lives near the campus, recalled that incident recently. “It scattered Aggies and wood from hell to breakfast and left a hole 10 feet deep,” he said.
In 1948, a Texas student was buzzing the bonfire in an airplane when he ran out of gas. After a forced landing, Aggie students removed the wings and threw them into the bonfire. Following a lengthy discussion, they set the nervous pilot free.
By 1920 the game had become an annual crusade for players, students and fans of both schools. A paragraph in the 1920 Texas student newspaper says it all: “The A&M game is at hand and classes and quizzes are mere details.”
A&M had hired Dana X. Bible, who later would “jump ship” and, after eight years at Nebraska, become a legend at Texas, where he coached 10 years.
The Aggies knew Bible had built something in 1920 when his team wiped out Daniel Baker 110-0 in the season opener. By the time the Aggies arrived in Ausitn for the last game of the year, they hadn’t yielded a single point.
Though 1920 is beyond the memory and hindsight of most fans, and beyond videotape of course, it must have been one of the greatest games in the history of the series. Maybe it was even, as the Austin American-Statesmen declared, “the greatest athletic contest ever played in Texas.”
You can imagine the players bashing noses, denting leather helmets, wiping the blood off their knuckles on moleskin pants.
What the Aggies couldn’t imagine was Texas scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter for a 7-3 victory, winding up a perfect 9-0 season. In a sneak preview of things to come much later, the Longhorns, exasperated after hammering at the Aggie defense all afternoon, pulled a trick pass play. They made tackle Tom Dennis eligible with a quick shift, and he caught a long pass at the A&M 3. Texas scored on the next play, bringing the first of 22 Southwest Conference titles to Austin.
Two years later, Bible used a shift of his own — to the history books. At halftime in Austin, where the Aggies had never won, Bible reminded his squad of the Alamo legend where Colonel William B. Travis supposedly drew a line in the dirt floor and invited all who wanted to stay and fight the huge Mexican force to step across the line and join him.
“Now men,” Bible said, screeching a chalk line across the locker room floor, “those who want to become known as the first A&M team to defeat Texas in Austin, step over the line.”
Bible was almost trampled in the rush, and the Aggies broke the 7-7 halftime tie and won 14-7.
Among the heroes illuminated by the rivalry, none symbolized its spirit more than Ed Bluestein, captain of the 1923 Longhorns.
After A&M’s 14-7 upset in 1922, Bluestein, a senior, got up in the depressed Texas locker room and said, “I want another crack at the Aggies and I’m going to do something about it.”
The next day he asked his calculus professor to flunk him so he could come back for another crack. The crack was hardly what he had in mind, however. He broke his leg on the Monday before the annual Thanksgiving Day bash.
Nevertheless, the Longhorns scored on a fumble recovery in the first quarter and held on for a 6-0 victory. Bluestein lived happily ever after, first as a Texas assistant coach and then as a highway patrolman stationed near the A&M campus.
Eventually, after Bear Bryant left A&M and Darrell Royal arrived at Texas with the makings of a dynasty, the Longhorns began to take charge of the series. They reeled off 10 straight wins, until in 1967 Edd Hargett threw an 80-yard missile to Bob Long that propelled the Aggies to a 10-7 victory and the conference title.
“There were several years when we didn’t have the manpower to keep up with Texas,” remembers Gene Stallings, then the Aggies’ coach. “That’s why we came up with those plays we called Texas Specials.”
Stallings pulled the chair from under the Longhorns in 1965 and 1966. In the first game, he had quarterback Harry Ledbetter throw what looked like a misdirected pass toward Jim Kauffman in the flat.
“We rehearsed every bit of it,” Stallings says. “Ledbetter had to throw the ball into the ground and turn around disgusted. Kauffman had to angrily kick the ground and start back toward the huddle.”
Suddenly, Kauffman picked up the ball and threw it downfield to Dude McLean. Bang! A 91-yard exploding cigar. See, it wasn’t an incomplete pass Ledbetter threw to Kauffman, but a lateral. Live ball. Ha-ha.
The trick not only astounded the Kyle Field crowd, but sent the giggling Aggies into a 17-0 lead. But, as Stallings would discover in the second half and in the rematch in Austin the next year, tricks are only fleeting, rickety glimpses of success. Texas came back from that 17-0 surprise to win 21-17.
Stallings pulled the Texas Special II the next year. Long, the kickoff receiver, faked a handoff to Lloyd Curington, ran toward the sideline, stopped at his 15 and threw a long lateral back to Curington, who ran 74 yards before he was apprehended for the fraud. The Aggies scored and crept to within 7-6, but Texas went on to a 22-14 victory.
“Those plays were fun,” Kauffman said not long ago, “and we realized they weren’t good, sound football. But when you’re out-manned, as we were, you have to get any edge you can.”
Field Scovell, now a Cotton Bowl impresario, was involved in a classic backfire as an Aggie guard in 1928. The Aggies had a play where the ball was hidden behind the flexed knee of a guard, there to be picked up by a furtive runner.
A Texas player, however, spotted it, grabbed it and headed toward the goal line. Scovell, the guard on the opposite side, chased the thief and caught him a few yards short of a touchdown.
“A lot of good that did,” Scovell says now. “We lost anyway 19-0.”
Hargett’s classy game in A&M’s 1967 triumph erased the nightmares of the backfires and the long Texas winning streaks.
But he soon discovered that in this rivalry a man can be standing with his cleats on the other team’s neck on year and have them shoved down his throat the next year.
When Hargett met the Longhorns at the end of the 1968 season, he had thrown 176 passes without an interception. They intercepted him five times en route to a 35-14 victory.
In 1975, the Longhorns took the nation’s top offense into Kyle Field – and lost 20-10. The Texas quarterback, Marty Akins, was on the sidelines most of the afternoon, sitting out an injury. It was a lifeboat of an explanation the Longhorns quickly jumped in after the game.
“If they say that was the reason they lost,” barked Aggie linebacker Ed Simonini, “well, they’re sick. I don’t like ‘em anyway.”
The feeling has always been mutual. Always will be.
See what you started, Charley Moran?