Discuss 97
September 29, 2011
Introducing the SEC's long-lost brother
photo: Andrew Kilzer, TexAgs
 
Aggies describe Aggies like this: From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. From the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.

But, that was then.

That was in the days of the Southwest Conference and the ever-dwindling days of the Big 12.

They were terrific leagues by any standard, and places where Texas A&M won championships, forged memories and built legacies. There were traditions and friendships built in those leagues, even many “house-divided” marriages.

But those also were leagues where, at the core, fandoms were divided by deep-seeded cultural differences and resentment for various real — and imagined — reasons.

Southeastern Conference fans will get what Aggies are. They will get why Texas A&M is the perfect “fit” of which so many have spoken.

And they will because, long before the universities in the SEC and the Aggies share their first football weekend next fall, they’ve shared more substance and style than the Aggies ever did with previous conference brethren.

I have covered college football for more than 25 years, including multiple games at every SEC campus except Vanderbilt. For a decade, my job was to cover the national college football “game of the week,” which of course often led me to the Southeast.

The first time I saw the Vol Walk, Peyton Manning was Tennessee’s quarterback. The breadth of Vols fans scheduling their days around the walk and passion with which they watched reminded me of the Aggie Corps March-In at Kyle Field.

Whenever the occasion brought me to Knoxville, I never missed Vol Walk again.

Andrew Kilzer, TexAgs A&M and the SEC, ultimately, were meant to come together — the fit is so natural that SEC traditions already resemble the Aggies'. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"right","Size":"large","Caption":"A&M and the SEC, ultimately, were meant to come together — the fit is so natural that SEC traditions already resemble the Aggies\u0027.","MediaItemID":11048}
I watched Mr. Two Bits year after year at Florida Field. His emphatic gestures and the way the crowd roared were reminiscent of Aggie Yell Leaders stirring the 12th Man.

At Ole Miss, I always walked through The Grove to capture tailgating atmosphere. Inevitably, someone yelled, “Are you ready?”  and the crowd responded loudly, “Hell, yes! Damn right!” They might as well have been yelling, “Beat the hell outta Arkansas.”

They had the famous, “Hotty Toddy, Gosh, almighty,”  Aggies had, “Hullabaloo Caneck-Caneck.”

I visited the famous oaks at Toomer’s Corner. When the trees were poisoned, I thought of the Aggie Century Tree and all the life-changing moments and decisions have been made under its canopy, much like Toomer’s.

Every time I covered a game at Alabama, I thought of how privileged I was to have interviewed Bear Bryant at the 1982 Alumni Game at Kyle Field. I never forgot how passionately the Bear spoke of the similarities between Alabama and Texas A&M and his undying love for both institutions.

The first time I covered the Iron Bowl in 1985, the receptionist at my hotel asked me, “Are you Alabama, or are you Auburn?”

And I thought, much like being an Aggie, it’s not a matter of, "Are you a fan of Alabama or Auburn?"

It’s, "What are you?"

In the Southeast, like in Aggieland, following your school and supporting it is not a passion only when it’s convenient or when the team is winning. It’s a terminal condition — it sticks with you through the good days and the bad, when you are alone or with a crowd, and it is incurable until your family slides your Aggie ring off your finger.

SEC fans will get it.

And the first time SEC fans make the drive to Aggieland, they’ll understand it better "from the outside looking in" than most ever did in the Big 12. Because it is, in fact, an SEC-like culture. They can relate.

In the words of SEC president Mike Slive at Monday’s official welcoming of Texas A&M, “The culture, the passion and the spirit … This is the kind of pride and passion shared by fellow members of the SEC.”

But what are the musts that SEC fans must know and experience?

So many of the things that define Aggieland are easy to absorb: Aggies whooping their approval; the stirring drum cadence when the team enters Kyle; “Howdy”; 12th Man Towels; and reading the Reveille Monument outside Kyle.

There are other key, occasionally quirky, relatively unknown elements of a football weekend in Aggieland that SEC visitors will love and should know:

•    Upon arrival: If you want to capture the essence of Texas high school football, fly in on Friday and catch a Southlake Carroll or Euless Trinity game (DFW area), Katy High or The Woodlands (IAH) or Converse Judson (San Antonio). Better yet, get to College Station on Friday and travel to nearby small-school football meccas Navasota, Giddings, Hempstead or Brenham. Go to Brenham and you can stop at the Blue Bell Ice Cream creamery.

•    On The Road: No matter from which direction fans are driving, you probably will see a Buc-ee’s road stop. Pull over. Nothing is quite uniquely Texas like the Aggie-owned road stop known for Beaver nuggets and clean restrooms. Don’t ask. From Austin, stop at Meyer’s Smokehouse in Elgin, get the hot sausage and barbecue sauce and thank me later.

•    Local knowledge (eats): These are all biased (my bias) but get your barbecue at Martin’s; chicken-fried steak at Sodolak’s, Chicken Oil Company or the Longhorn; Mexican food at Papa Perez, La Bodega or Jose’s in Bryan; fried chicken at Layne’s, pizza at Antonio’s; burgers at Koppe Bridge; dessert at Spoons. Fine dining? Can’t go wrong with Café Eccell, The Republic, Christopher’s or Madden’s.

Andrew Kilzer, TexAgs Innumerous must-see spots decorate A&M's immediate radius, providing a road-trip heaven to visiting fans. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"left","Size":"large","Caption":"Innumerous must-see spots decorate A&M\u0027s immediate radius, providing a road-trip heaven to visiting fans.","MediaItemID":10264}
•    Local knowledge things to do: At dusk, take a walk outside The Zone (north side of Kyle Field). There’s an eerie atmosphere, made more so when bats begin flying and diving high overhead. Check out the branded Longhorn at Loupot’s Book Store on George Bush Drive (branded 13-0, which turned into the Bevo name we all know). Visit the Daiquiri Barn (drive-thru daiquiris), The Tap. Take a jog through campus … don’t forget to stop at the Century Tree.

Head to Lake Bryan for live music and a small beach. In November and December, visit Santa’s Wonderland, just east of College Station on Highway 6. It’s Christmas lighting and hayrides done Texas-style. That is, more than a million lights. Don’t leave without kickin’ it at the Texas Hall of Fame dance hall. Head to Downtown Bryan, where an eclectic mix of restaurants, antique shops and an outdoor movie theater always draw crowds. And if you want to buy the best raw steaks you’ll ever have or bolster your tailgate with Aggie-raised beef, pork and chicken, go to the on-campus Rosenthal Met Science Center and order what I like to call the Box O’ Meat.

But these are the 10 absolute musts on football weekends. These are the reasons SEC fans will get to College Station curious about these "Aggies" but leave knowing this was indeed the perfect fit:

•    Tailgating. Start at the Reed Arena lot and work your way to Spence Park east of Kyle Field. It’s a tent and barbecue city that will make SEC fans feel at home.

•    Northgate. The Dixie Chicken is one of the most famous bars in the country and it is consummately Aggie. Walk up and down the University Drive strip and you probably can’t go wrong popping into any bar, especially Daisy Dukes, Logan’s, the rooftop at The Corner Bar and Dry Bean. Don’t be afraid to wear your colors. Aggies probably will buy you a beer and walk with you to Kyle Field on Friday night for Midnight Yell Practice. Speaking of which...

•    Midnight Yell Practice. It’s the epitome of the 12th Man's support in Aggieland. Don’t just open your eyes and senses. Listen to the yells and especially the “little stories” Yell Leaders tell. If you’re lucky, on one of these trips you’ll hear, “The Last Corps Trip.”

•    Bonfire Memorial. The homage to those lost at the 1999 collapse of the Aggie Bonfire is a touching salute and unique architectural tribute. Read the stories. It will move you.

•    Ring dunks. On virtually every football weekend, seniors and seniors-to-be hold elaborate ring-dunk parties celebrating finally earning the most recognizable senior ring in America. The events are well-organized and always open to friendly visitors who ask nicely. Senior rings are dropped into a pitcher of beer while students line up in front of friends and family and simultaneously drink the entire pitcher until they get to finally “taste” their senior ring, catching it with their teeth.

•    Sanders Corps Center. Want a one-stop history of Aggie traditions and military honors? The perspective and depth of the exhibits here tell an amazing story and give visitors a lesson in almost all Aggie traditions.

•    March-In. Ninety-minutes before kickoff, if you’re not at The Quad to watch the Aggie Band step-off to lead the Corps of Cadets to Kyle Field, you need to be somewhere along the route.

•    The Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band's halftime performance. Not a lot to say here. Just don’t leave your seat. Even the Aggies’ fiercest rivals universally acknowledge there’s not a more impressive halftime exhibition of marching in college football.

•    The Bush Library. He is known as “41” — the 41st President of the United States. And George H.W. Bush attends as many Aggie games as possible. If you go to the Bush Library on gameday, don’t be surprised if you see him fishing on the pond outside the library that bears his name.

•    The Memorial Student Center. The ongoing renovation will be complete by the first SEC game of 2012. It is a place rich with history and features a number of can’t-miss exhibits, stores and sites, including tributes and Medals of Honor from numerous Aggies who served their country.
Premium Story Search
View all TexAgs Premium Stories & Notes