20 Reasons to Love College Football
Not that we don’t love Friday nights and Sundays (and Mondays) too, but there’s nothing like Saturdays, especially here in Texas. From El Paso to Houston, we have, count ’em, ten major programs (and two more on the way), with rivalries as old and bitter as anyone’s, traditions as rich and fascinating as anyone’s, and teams as good as anyone’s. College football is unique—it’s better and faster than the high school game and less (for now) overrun with money and celebrity than the pro game. And the passion it excites from its fans is unlike anything else. Every fall, those fans gear up for what each one believes will be the best season ever, regardless of whether recruiting has been soft or the great quarterback from last year went to the NFL or the offensive line is full of overmatched sophomores. This is the joy (and madness) of being a sports fan—the way faith is renewed every year, the way hope springs eternal in the human breast (especially when it’s painted with school colors)—but it’s particularly true in college football, where the wins seem to mean that much more. So as the first kickoff approached, we compiled the following list of reasons to love the Aggies, Bears, Cougars, Horned Frogs, Longhorns, Mean Green, Miners, Mustangs, Owls, and Red Raiders this year, which we are absolutely sure will be the best one ever.
It’s the fans
All umpteen million of them, screaming and shouting and stomping and yelling and singing. And clapping and jumping and rooting . . .
Photograph by Randal Ford
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If the Aggies and Longhorns face off in November without a single person in the stands to cheer, hiss, boo, or make that horse laughing sound, does the game exist? What would college football be without the fans? Not much more than a bunch of guys throwing a ball around. The game takes its greatness from the fact that so many people care so much about it. It’s the fans who convey the meaning, the true partisans, the ones who grew up wearing the colors, who save their money for season tickets, who plan their Saturdays around kickoff, who inherited their tailgating spot, who travel to away games, who cheer themselves hoarse during every quarter, who can tell you where they were for the past five bowl games their team played, who can sing their alma mater, who try to indoctrinate their children with team-branded onesies and bibs, who have way too many different clothes to choose from on game day, who obsessively listen to talk radio following a loss hoping for an explanation or gloat through the sports page the morning after a win, who have classic games on video, who have missed or rescheduled important life events because they interfered with a critical game, who know that it’s all in good fun but can’t help but stiffen a little bit when introduced, even many years after graduation, to someone who went to a rival school.
Texas is blessed with a lot of fans who fit most of that description. So when TEXAS MONTHLY sent out the call over Facebook and Twitter that we were looking for students from the state’s major colleges to appear in a photograph for our football issue, the response was predictably enthusiastic. Emails, tweets, and photos poured in from people bragging about their work as Longhorn Hellraisers and alums showing off pictures of their personalized license plates. Many hearts were broken during the scheduling process. One particularly zealous TCU fan (immortalized in a photo of him waving a Texas flag next to Coach Gary Patterson after 2009’s Clemson game) was in a wedding party and could not make it. To the cover shoot.
On the day of the shoot, our fans descended on Austin from all corners of the state to show off their pride and engage in a little close-range trash talk (we admit to taking a special delight in placing the A&M cadets right next to the burnt orange crew). Joshua Brito, a 21-year-old media advertising major at the University of Texas at El Paso, had driven straight from El Paso the night before in his dad’s UTEP-orange Hummer. “I’ve been going to Miner games since I was a kid,” says Brito, who’s holding a UTEP flag and wearing a priceless expression. “It’s something my family has done every fall. I felt honored to represent our school in the photograph.”
For the next four hours, as photographer Randal Ford (Texas A&M, class of 2004) snapped away, they jostled against one another, shouted, sang, argued about the upcoming season, and generally demonstrated why it is we love college football in Texas so much. It’s the fans. —BRIAN D. SWEANY
[Click here to watch a video of the fans in the photograph above singing their schools’ fight songs.]
Gary Patterson is Still Yelling at His Players.
Who cares if TCU went to the Rose Bowl last season and shocked the world? If the extremely intense coach of the Horned Frogs is going to keep his thrilling roll going, he’s got to keep! these! kids! focused! [Click here to read the story.]
The strange, Spirited World of Aggieland
No place has as extensive a set of game-day rituals as A&M. Here, a quick guide to as many as we could fit on this page. And oh yeah, see if you can find the four that are completely made up.
➧ The Twelfth Man
During a game, A&M students, collectively known as the Twelfth Man, remain standing throughout all four quarters. This tradition began with E. King Gill (right), who was pulled from the stands during the January 2, 1922, Dixie Classic after so many players fell to injuries that Coach Dana X. Bible became worried he wouldn’t have enough left to finish the game. Gill never got into the game, but Aggies in the student section have been standing ever since to demonstrate their readiness to be summoned to the field at any minute. If the team has lost more than two previous games consecutively, freshman Corps of Cadets members are required to stand throughout the third quarter on upturned tacks.
Couples embrace and kiss every time the team scores. Following rare games in which the Aggies are held scoreless, students in relationships must remain abstinent until the next home win. (See also “mugging down,” below.)
➧ “Saw Varsity’s Horns Off!”
At the end of the “Aggie War Hymn” (“Hullabaloo, Caneck, Caneck. Hullabaloo, Caneck, Caneck,” etc., etc.), the students lock arms and begin to sway, mimicking the motion of a saw blade, as they sing the following verses (in reference to the defining feature of the mascot of their rivals, the University of Texas Longhorns): “Saw Varsity’s horns off! Saw Varsity’s horns off! Short! Varsity’s horns are sawed off! Varsity’s horns are sawed off! Short!” The swaying during Saw ’Em Off creates enough torsion to cause the entire stadium to tremble, a truly awe-inspiring spectacle that has frightened enough visiting sportswriters as to necessitate the following warning in the press packet: “Welcome to Kyle Field. For those of you visiting for the first time, please do not be alarmed. The press box will move during the ‘Aggie War Hymn.’ ”
➧ Midnight Yell
The night before a home game, the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band and the yell leaders host a practice session. At one point during the session, the lights go out and Aggies are supposed to kiss their dates. This is known as “mugging down.” Aggies without dates are required to use a Bic cigarette lighter to symbolically burn their lips as a sign of dedication to the team. This is known as “kissing your Bic.”
Students are led in a series of yells by the five Aggie yell leaders, who communicate using a system of hand signs known as “pass backs.” Famous yells include:
Gig ’Em – Used during kickoffs. The pass back is a closed fist with the thumb pointed straight up. The students shout “Aaaaaaa” until the kicker connects with the ball, at which point everyone shouts, “Gig ’Em, Aggies!”
Farmers Fight – A yell that struck more terror in opponents’ hearts when Texas was a mostly agrarian state, the pass back for this one is a pair of rotating fists. It goes “Farmers, fight! Farmers, fight! Fight! Fight! Farmers, farmers, fight!”
Governor Win – As most people know, Rick Perry was once a yell leader. This tribute yell was instituted in 2001, when Perry became the first Aggie ever to occupy the Governor’s Mansion. The pass back is a finger waggled in the air, then stabbed straight upward. Students shout: “Goooooooovernor! Governor! Gooooooovernor! Governor! Governor, governor! Win!”
Because Mack Brown has Something to Prove.
Admit it, non-orangebloods. You took some pleasure in the collapse of the vaunted UT program last season. Well, guess what? Now it’s time for the empire to strike back. [Click here to read the story.]
Damn Good Coaches
Coaches are revered everywhere you go in Texas (except Cowboys Stadium). But who are the best college coaches the state has ever seen? To answer this question we created a formula: one point for each win, one point for a bowl appearance, three points for a bowl victory, one point for finishing a season ranked number 11–25, two points for finishing ranked number 1–10, five points for a conference championship, and ten points for a national championship. Our system values winning, of course, but it also rewards longevity as a way to balance out the different eras. Coaches like Rice’s Jess Neely didn’t have the resources of the big public schools or the opportunity to go to as many bowl games as coaches do today.
No. 1 Darrell K Royal
University of Texas: 1957–1976
National Championships: 3 (1963, 1969, and 1970)
Total Points: 318
No surprise who earns the top spot. The best coach that Texas has ever seen started out as a speedy quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners, playing for the legendary Bud Wilkinson. Royal took what he learned from his mentor and put his own stamp on it, leading the Longhorns to three national championships and eleven Southwest Conference titles. Royal is remembered for his folksy ways and for his toughness. But of all his feats, he is perhaps best known for a single gutsy decision: Right 53 Veer Pass. That was the fourth-down play Royal called with only 4:47 to go in the fourth quarter of 1969’s “game of the century” against Arkansas. Quarterback James Street connected with tight end Randy Peschel for 44 yards to rally the Longhorns to a come-from-behind victory—and a place in college football history.
No. 2 Bill Yeoman
University of Houston: 1962–1986
Total Points: 224
This pick may surprise you—it certainly surprised us—but Yeoman’s Cougars only joined the SWC in 1976, and he still won four titles. He also posted seventeen winning seasons and reached a national ranking of four, in 1976. And two bold moves early in his career marked him as an innovator. He created the Veer offense, which became one of the most-used formations in the sixties, and he was the first coach of a major Texas school to sign a black player, San Antonio’s Warren McVea, in 1964.
No. 3 Mack Brown
University of Texas: 1998–present
National Championships: 1 (2005)
Total Points: 208
Brown is the CEO of Texas Inc., the chief of a corporate juggernaut that had dominated the state for more than a decade before last year’s 5–7 finish. In fact, consistency had been the defining trait of Brown’s tenure; even with the losing season, his winning percentage at Texas is an astounding 79.6 percent. His recruiting brought to the Forty Acres Vince Young, Cedric Benson, Roy Williams, Colt McCoy, Cory Redding, and Quentin Jammer. Must we go on?
No. 4 Dana X. Bible
Texas A&M: 1917 and 1919–1928
University of Texas: 1937–1946
National Championships: 1 (1919, named retroactively)
Total Points: 205
Bible’s Aggie teams won five conference titles, and the undefeated 1919 squad did not allow a single point all season and was named national champ retroactively by the Billingsley Report and the National Championship Foundation. After a stint coaching at Nebraska, he returned to Texas to coach the Longhorns and received a ten-year contract at $15,000 per year, nearly double what university president Harry Benedict earned.
No. 5 Jess Neely
Total Points: 190
A Rice coach? In the top five? Well, we bet you ’t know that Neely’s team captured four SWC championships and finished with a top-ten ranking four times as well. His recruiting trick was to sign as many Texas high school quarterbacks as possible because he believed they were the best athletes and he could simply convert them to whatever position he needed. He won the Orange Bowl once and the Cotton Bowl twice, but his biggest victory may have been in Houston in 1957, when the Owls defeated number-one-ranked Texas A&M and Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant 7–6 in front of 72,000 fans.
No. 6 Matty Bell
Texas Christian University: 1923–1928
Texas A&M: 1929–1933
Southern Methodist University: 1935–1941 and 1945–1949
National Championships: 1 (1935)
Total Points: 177
Known as “Moanin’ Matty” because of his habit of downplaying his team’s prospects, the Fort Worth native had nothing to complain about during his first season at SMU. With a crowd of some 37,000 in and around the 25,000-seat Amon G. Carter Stadium to watch a matchup of unbeaten teams, the Mustangs surprised TCU with a late touchdown pass to win the game. SMU was awarded a national championship that year even though the Ponies lost to Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
No. 7 R. C. Slocum
Texas A&M: 1989–2002
Total Points: 176
The winningest coach in A&M history, Slocum took his teams to eleven bowl games in fourteen seasons. Under him, the Aggies won three SWC crowns and one in the Big 12 and Kyle Field earned a reputation as one of the toughest places to play in the country—A&M did not lose a home game for more than six straight years. Slocum’s “wrecking crew” defenses established the Ags as the dominant program in the waning days of the SWC.
No. 8 (tie) Dutch Meyer
Texas Christian University: 1934–1952
National Championships: 2 (1935 and 1938)
Total Points: 164
The forward pass was considered a desperation move in the college game before Meyer came along. With an offense designed to take advantage of the strong arm and athleticism of quarterback Slingin’ Sammy Baugh, the Frogs went 12–1 in 1935, including a Sugar Bowl win over LSU and a national title to boot. Three years later, a new quarterback by the name of Davey O’Brien guided Meyer’s team to his only undefeated season—and a second national title.
No 8. (tie) Grant Teaff
Total Points: 164
Teaff, an icon on the Baylor sidelines for two decades, was not the Bears’ first choice as head coach in 1972. The university originally hired New Mexico’s Rudy Feldman, but he quit after one day because he worried that the job was career suicide. Teaff stepped in and turned Baylor around, winning the school’s first Southwest Conference title since 1924 and leading the Bears to eight bowl appearances.
No. 10 Gary Patterson
Texas Christian University: 2000–present
Total Points: 158
Patterson’s Horned Frog teams were among the winningest programs of the past decade, with 66 victories in the past six seasons alone. That includes an undefeated season last year, capped by a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin and a final ranking of number two. Patterson likes to take fast offensive players and turn them into defensive stoppers. As a result, the Frogs have owned one of the nation’s top defenses in recent years. But he’s still missing the one thing that would complete his résumé— a national title. —JEFF BECKHAM
[See our list of coaches ranked 11 through 20 and click here to get complete stats for them all. Plus: Check out the Texanist’s picks for the ten greatest college football plays of all time. With video!]
Snappy-Dressing TCU Fans
Even when TCU was one of the country’s worst college teams, Frog fans dressed up for the games. But now, with the team at the top of the polls, Frog fashion fever has reached a new level, with some women planning their outfits for each home game weeks in advance. Traci Larrison, who works with TCU’s marketing department, helps put on an actual TCU alumni fashion show at the Fort Worth Neiman Marcus, complete with purple handbags, purple jewelry, and purple Tory Burch shoes. “Needless to say, we believe in the power of purple,” says Larrison. —SKIP HOLLANDSWORTH
Boomer the Cannon
It is believed to be the only seven-eighths-scale smooth-bore muzzle-loaded cannon used at a college football game in the country. Yeah, we don’t know exactly what that means either, but we do know one thing from experience: Boomer is loud. Alas, the deafening blasts rang a little hollow last season, which UNT finished without any home wins. But with a new head coach and stadium, perhaps this year it’ll discharge some joyous booms. —BDS
Gut-Busting Game-Day Food
Every school has that one restaurant where everybody goes, and every one of those restaurants has that one belt-straining dish. So this year, when you’re watching on TV, imagine that fans of the following schools have the following dishes sloshing around in their stomachs.
BAYLOR | Vitek’s BBQ, Waco
THE GUT PAK
What is it? A Frito pie on steroids. This monstrosity is packed with Fritos, cheese, chopped beef, beans, and sausage and comes with bread, pickles, onions, sauce, and jalapeños.
TEXAS TECH | Chimy’s, Lubbock
What is it? Basically a chimichanga drenched in queso. Can you say, “Blast off”?
UT | Cain and Abel’s, Austin
THE FAMOUS FUMBLER
What is it? A chicken-fried steak topped with bacon, jack-cheddar cheese, and jalapeños, served on a sweet bun.
A&M | Dixie Chicken, College Station
PITCHER OF SHINER
What is it? Exactly what it says. The Chicken sells more beer per square foot than any bar in the country, and on game days the kegs work the hardest. —PATRICK SMITH
Because SMU Has Never Retired #23
The Mustangs have bestowed that token of immortality known as the “retired jersey” on #17*, #19, #37, #73, #80, and #87. But never on #23, the digits worn by a young black receiver from Beaumont who between 1966 and 1968 made his case for immortality in both the SMU record books (he still holds the mark for most receiving yards in a single game: 213) and the annals of history (as the first black scholarship athlete in the Southwest Conference, he’s effectively been credited with breaking the color barrier in college football in the South). In 2009, though, head coach June Jones may have honored Jerry LeVias (above) in a way a retired jersey never could: He vowed to select one player each season who represents all that LeVias stands for to wear the number in honor of him and his legacy. Chris Banjo, a senior free safety from Sugar Land, is carrying the mantle for the third straight year. —STACY HOLLISTER
*“Retired” may be a loosely used term on the Hilltop. A cursory look at this year’s roster shows Jeremy Johnson, a sophomore from Tyler, sharing a numerical connection with Dandy Don Meredith.
Because Rice Plays Texas
When John F. Kennedy announced his goals for space exploration at Rice Stadium in 1962, he also acknowledged his hosts. “But why, some say, the moon?” JFK orated. “Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, thirty-five years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?”
“I sure wish [Kennedy] had said, ‘Why does Rice play New Mexico State?’ ” current head coach David Bailiff joked to the Dallas Morning News last year. Rice is 21-70-1 in the all-time series, with no wins from 1965 through 1994. The rivalry could have ended when the Southwest Conference gave way to the Big 12, in 1996, but the little private school has lost to mighty Texas ten times since then. Bravely. —JASON COHEN
Photograph courtesy of the El Paso CVB
Because UTEP Plays in a Stadium That’s Carved Into a Mountain
The University of Texas–El Paso is almost as close to Pasadena, California, as it is to Pasadena, Texas. It also has the most breathtaking college football stadium this side of the Rose Bowl. Built in 1963, the Sun Bowl has become a seamless part of El Paso’s high desert vista, its bleachers literally carved into the mountain that abuts it. (We like to imagine the original construction was done by an actual team of pickax-carrying, orange-helmet-wearing miners.)
The Sun Bowl also hosts the December 31 postseason game from which it took its name. It seems like every year, fans of one team or the other grumble that El Paso is not where they imagined spending their vacation. Then they see those mountains, watch the game, and have a happy New Year. —JC
Because Baylor’s Fans Are On the Field!
Those aren’t streakers. Spirit starts early at Baylor, where, since 1970, hundreds of freshmen have dashed across the field (fully clothed) before every home game in the “Baylor Line.” Just before kickoff, the students “run the Line” wearing gold jerseys with the number of their graduation year and their name or nickname on the back. Most fans don’t get to feel the game-day turf underfoot unless they’re storming the field after an upset win. When they’re home, Baylor freshmen do it every game. —JB
Drop by the University of Houston’s Robertson Stadium and you’ll (hopefully) hear the wail of an oil field siren, an aural nod to the school’s deep ties to the petroleum industry. On drilling rigs, a siren means something’s gone terribly awry; at U of H, it marks happy occasions. Members of the Sigma Chi fraternity manned the first hand-crank siren. A more modern push-button siren made its debut in 1991 and was christened “the Blaze” to honor David Carl Blazek, a Cougar fan who died earlier that summer. —SONIA SMITH
The MASKED RIDER’S MOUNTS
• Blackie, 1953–1956
• Tech Beauty, 1956–1959, 1961–1963
• Beau Black, 1959–1961
• Charcoal Cody, 1963–1972
• Showboy Huffman, 1972–1973
• Happy Five, 1973–1978
• Happy VI, 1978–1980
• Happy VI-II, 1980–1987
• Midnight Raider, 1987–1993
• Double T, 1993–1994
• High Red, 1995–1998
• Black Phantom Raider, 1998–2002
• Midnight Matador, 2002–present
Tech’s Other Mascot
Raider Red, a Yosemite Sam–like character, was based on a creation from the fertile mind of Lubbock Avalanche-Journal cartoonist and journalist Dirk West. West’s regular comic strip poked fun at both Tech and its regular opponents (especially the Longhorns, the Aggies, and the City of Waco). West, who later served as Lubbock’s mayor for one term, also created Herbie Husker, the mascot for some large Midwestern school whose name escapes us. —JC
Because A&M and UT Hate Each Other
The Aggie–Longhorn rivalry is one of the greatest in college sports, and over the years the game has inspired many savage acts by partisans of both schools. Think we’re kidding? Consider these high (or low) points . . .
1917 The week before the game, three A&M cadets snuck into the stall where Bevo, the Longhorn mascot, was kept. Using a custom-made branding iron, they left him with a permanent reminder of the score—13–0—from A&M’s celebrated 1915 win. Longhorn branders painstakingly changed the mark to “BEVO” in time for the game. Perhaps to forestall any further calligraphy practice, the UT brass ordered Bevo butchered and eaten four years later.
1948 A World War II combat veteran enrolled at UT commandeered a two-seater plane from the Austin airport and dropped five homemade gasoline bombs on the Aggie Bonfire stack, hoping to ignite it prematurely. Alert cadets snuffed out the only missile that hit the target, and the Aggies were inspired to gut out a 14–14 tie later in the week, ending eight straight years of UT dominance.
1993 Renegade UT students struck again, kidnapping Reveille, the Aggie mascot. A&M officials tried to make a federal case out of it (“You’re talking about a superstar on the order of Lassie and Benji,” an A&M spokesperson said), but the four-month-old collie was returned unharmed, and nobody was prosecuted. Nor, for that matter, was anyone bombed, branded, butchered, or eaten. The rivalry was becoming kinder and gentler.
1995 Or so it seemed. In the last Southwest Conference football game ever played, UT fans celebrated a 16–6 victory by storming Kyle Field, considered hallowed ground by the Corps of Cadets. In the ensuing fracas, several cadets were reported to have drawn their swords. (Hey, why wear them if you never get to swing them?) Nobody got samuraied, but a couple of severe ass-kickings were delivered before the cops and yell leaders cleared the field.
2005 A blunt ceremonial sword is fine, but nothing says “I don’t respect you” like a shovelful of crap. This year, a sophomore in the Corps’ cavalry unit showered the UT band with horse manure prior to the game. He was promptly arrested by campus police. The move may have been, as the dean of student life explained, “inconsistent with Aggie values,” but as far as the state’s oldest football rivalry goes, it was par for the course.
Because the Biggest Game of the Year Takes Place Inside the Biggest Fair of the Year
It’s like deep-fried football on a stick. It’s like a college football fever dream, a surreal vision of pig races, cotton candy, Big Tex, and the Mapapa African Acrobats, all of it drenched in nacho cheese and riding the biggest Ferris wheel in North America. It’s like a corny dog stuffed with a football game and smothered with yellow mustard and chili. And beer! It’s like the biggest tailgate in the world, a mad, ketchup-splattered, face-painted road trip up from Austin and down from Norman to the neutral ground of the historic Cotton Bowl, rumbling and thunderous, half burnt orange, half crimson, like a two-tone ice cream sandwich dripping happiness on your soul. It’s Texas-OU weekend at the State Fair of Texas! —DAVID COURTNEY
You can tell a lot about a fan by the classic jersey he or she wears on game day. Here are some choices that will earn you the admiration of everyone seated in your section on Saturday afternoons. —JB
Mike Singletary, #63
In 1980, with Houston native Singletary starting at middle linebacker, the Bears won ten games and the SWC. The two-time All-American once had—and this is not a typo—79 tackles in a single game.
UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON
Andre Ware, #11
The top gun of the run-and-shoot offense, Ware set 26 NCAA passing records, but the Dickinson native is best known for being the first black quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy, in 1989.
Donny Anderson, #44
Known as the Golden Palomino, the running back from Borger earned All-SWC honors three consecutive years, from 1963 to 1965. Dan Jenkins once described him in Sports Illustrated as a “horse in hip pads.”
UNIVERSITY OF NORTH TEXAS
Joe Greene, #75
The pride of Temple, Greene was a bone-crushing defensive tackle and a consensus All-American in 1968 for the Mean Green—hence his nickname as a first-round draft pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Because San Antonio Is a Football Town! Well, Almost.
Starting a major college program from scratch in a city that’s never had one of its own is a tricky business. Good thing the UTSA Roadrunners hired a national champion to help them kick off. [Click here to read the story.]