Right now, no eleven-year-old has ever seen the Longhorns face off against the Aggies on the gridiron. If that doesn’t seem like a big deal, consider this: the last time anyone could have said that was in 1894, when the University of Texas played Texas A&M University for the first time.
There are many athletic rivalries marked by an intense dislike. The conflict between UT and A&M exists at a different level; each team is virtually defined by its contempt for the other. UT’s fight song has “goodbye to A&M” in its second line. The Aggie war hymn bids goodbye to “Texas University” in its second verse. Texas’s mascot, Bevo, debuted at halftime of the 1916 game with A&M. Before tragedy ended the tradition, the Aggie bonfire was constructed annually with the specific intent of inspiring the team to roll over the hated “TU.”
This rivalry, which sustained generations of fans of both schools, came to an end in 2011, when the Aggies left the Big 12 for the greener pastures of the Southeastern Conference. Though plenty of Aggies were thrilled by the move, which was widely seen as a rebuff of UT, many Texans were distraught over the end of a century’s worth of competitive continuity. John David Crow, who won the Heisman Trophy as an Aggie in 1957, called it “the most disheartening thing ever.” Earl Campbell, the Longhorns’ own Heisman winner, lamented that it “is one of the saddest stories in college football.” In 2013 and 2018, state legislators even crafted bills that would have required the two publicly funded universities to resume playing each other. (Neither measure passed.)
But now the profit motive seems set to repair what the Lege could not. UT plans to join A&M in the lucrative SEC, and the historic rivalry will resume, perhaps as early as 2025. It’s a move that will make many who cling to the state’s time-honored traditions very happy.
In many ways the enmity between the teams never thawed, at least not in the cold, cold hearts of Texas football fans. The rivalry rages most fiercely today in the battle for top high school talent. Last year the Aggies signed what was widely regarded as the best class in college football history, and the Horns secured a pledge from quarterback Arch Manning, the most hyped recruit ever. It’s these recruiting wars that will determine the balance of power between the teams when their games resume a few years from now.
And those eleven-year-olds who have never seen the Thanksgiving showdown? They’ll be high schoolers by 2026. Some of them might be gearing up to become big-time recruits themselves. And maybe, a few years from now, if they get offers from a couple of local college programs, they’ll face an age-old question whose resonance has been missing since 2011.
Orange or maroon?
This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “The Return of Texas Football’s Greatest Rivalry.” Subscribe today.