Gig 'em Horns? Hook 'em Aggies? As a child, I got mixed signals from my football-fanatic family.
We stuffed ourselves with stuffing, gobbled down the turkey, and demolished the desserts. As the parade of Thanksgiving food ended, we snagged our spots in front of the television for the evening’s grand finale. The University of Texas-Texas A&M football game was a Fradkin family tradition.
I was four or five years old, and my father had groomed me into his little Longhorn. But during that game, I heard some Gig ’ems and realized not everyone in my family was Bevo’s buddy. I started to cry.
“You asked your mom, ‘How come Mamaw and Pop hate Texas?'” my grandmother says. Heard the one about the girl with Aggie grandparents and Longhorn parents? It’s literally the story of my life. My maternal grandmother “Mamaw” attended the University of Houston, but she whoops it up with her husband in support of the Aggies. “Pop” served in the Corps of Cadets and graduated from A&M in 1941. Their two children and son-in-law, however, bleed burnt orange. “Pop said he was a failure with the kids,” Mamaw says. “He got two teasips.”
As a child, my uncle Ron pledged his allegiance to A&M. My grandparents schlepped him and his sister to College Station for football games, and to this day, he remembers more A&M players than Texas players from that period. But the loyalties shifted in high school, and Mamaw recalls her children’s embarrassment when their father represented A&M at a college fair. Uncle Ron says he saw the light. “My favorite teams [now] would be Texas and whomever A&M is playing against,” he says.
Uncle Ron gained a pigskin partner when my dad joined the family; these die-hard fans root relentlessly against the Aggies, and their Aggie antipathy does not depend on whether Texas is the opponent. “I’d root against A&M even if they’re playing Notre Dame,” says my dad. “Notre Dame is one of those schools people love to root against.”
My grandparents used to join the rest of the family in the UT section of the stadium, but these days my dad and uncle prefer not to make spectatorship a family activity. “I used to hate sitting with my parents because I like to get loud and rowdy,” my uncle explains. “They would think it was rude or poor sportsmanship. I like being able to give people a hard time, and hopefully I can take it when the shoe’s on the other foot.”
Singing “The Aggie War Hymn,” for instance, is one of the many A&M traditions that UT fans deride. Immediately afterward, the Aggies launch into “Saw Varsity’s Horns Off,” swaying back and forth, while Longhorns mockingly sing “I want my mommy.” But the taunting doesn’t stick to one side of the family field. Pop tends to be more subdued, but his brother-in-law Jack was not so soft-spoken. “He would wear maroon pants,” says Uncle Ron, “and when you opened the door to his house, it would automatically play ‘The Aggie War Hymn.'”
But songs aren’t the only traditions Aggies hold dear to their hearts. Mamaw favors the men kissing their wives, dates, or girlfriends after a touchdown, and Pop doesn’t require a string around his finger to remind him of this duty. He still sports his original Aggie ring, worn down and significantly smoothed over the years. The lettering is now illegible, and only the graphic etchings are discernible in the gold. “He didn’t get a wedding ring,” Mamaw says. “He’s not a jewelry person, so he just wore his Aggie ring on that finger.”
Yet, all teasing subsided when the massive stack of logs for the A&M bonfire collapsed in 1999. My dad attended the football game at College Station that year and felt an eerie quietude at Kyle Field. “There really was a sincere amount of sympathy going out from the Longhorn family to the A&M family,” he says. “It shows that the rivalry is on the football field. When the real world was hit with tragedy, everyone kind of bonded together and respected each other.”
Lucky for me, my family was able to maintain the same respect when it came time for me, in 2001, to choose a university. Well, at least outwardly. Most people assumed Austin, but a scholarship offer beckoned me to College Station. “I would have been really uncomfortable with that,” my dad says. “You couldn’t go to Oklahoma either.”
I leaned toward the Longhorns for a while, but in the end, I fled the state. Instead of disappointing my grandfather or risking excommunication by my father, I enrolled at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois, and became a purple and white Wildcat. With this move I guaranteed myself many future opportunities to cry over a football team.