Q: My question to you concerns collegiate rivalries and how dearly we Texans love to hate each other. I know many Aggies who root against the Longhorns regardless of opponent (and vice versa). The same can be said of Baylor, Tech, and TCU fans, among many others. Should we put such differences aside when a rival team makes it to a big game and simply root for any Texas team to excel in bowl games, March Madness, or the College World Series? Or should we actively root against them, even when they play teams from another state? Which comes first, our allegiance to university or to state?
Josh Jones (Fan of the Baylor Bears and the Lone Star State), Waco
A: Among the many signature traits for which Texans are best known, fierce pride and undying loyalty are perhaps most prominent. These qualities are customarily applied to the state at large, but they also trickle down to other matters Texans hold dear—Texas friendships, Texas cooking, and, yes, Texas sports. In fact, most Texans feel something more than simple pride and loyalty toward the latter: they are known to possess a foamy-mouthed affection for sports—especially for football, our unofficial state sport (rodeo is the official state sport). Texas, by the way, is currently without an officially designated state pastime, and one could make a good argument (attention, legislators) that following football would be a fine candidate.
When a Texan, whether he or she is a currently enrolled student, an alumnus, or just a follower of a particular institution, jumps into bed with a Texas college’s athletic department, shedding his or her civvies for that particular program’s colors, he or she creates an inviolable bond. And one thing that really puts the inviolable in that inviolable bond is a palpable hatred of a rival team. In the case of intrastate rivalries, the relationship between the two parties usually turns into something akin to a blood feud. It can be as exhilarating as it can be ugly, what with mortal foes potentially lurking around every corner, ready to lob pot shots of disparagement at any moment.
The platonic ideal of this type of sporting enmity, which you have referenced in your letter, was that between the University of Texas at Austin, where the Texanist chose to receive his higher book learning, and Texas A&M University, an in-state option the Texanist didn’t consider. Those dueling institutions engaged in a fierce rivalry that began in 1894 and lasted until 2012, and in so doing divided generations of Texans into two distinct camps—”tea-sips” and “dumb Aggies,” the derogatory terms the fans of the two schools have for each other, only one of which makes even the slightest bit of sense.
So ingrained was this archrivalry that it was codified long ago in the schools’ fight songs, “Texas Fight” and the “Aggie War Hymn,” each of which contains jabbing references to the other school: “Texas fight, Texas fight, and it’s goodbye to A&M,” goes UT’s stirring anthem. A&M’s is somewhat more prolix:
Goodbye to Texas University.
So long to the orange and the white.
Good luck to dear old Texas Aggies, they are the boys that show the real old fight.
“The eyes of Texas are upon you…” that is the song they sing so well.
So goodbye to Texas University, we’re going to beat you all to…
Hell, that rivalry was a beautiful thing indeed.
Interestingly, even though it has been almost seven years since the series (76-37-5, in favor of the Longhorns) ended when A&M decamped for the Southeastern Conference, neither school has taken it upon itself to adjust its fight song, a fact that gives the Texanist hope that the once-heated contrariety will be rekindled one day in the not-so-distant future. There has even been recent talk among the respective universities’ muckety-mucks of doing just this. Fingers crossed.
On a somewhat smaller scale, but no less rancorous, are the regular in-state matchups between TCU and SMU; SMU and Rice (at least until 2013); and TCU and your Baylor Bears.
The question you raise is a good one, as it brings to light a recurring conundrum for Texas sports fans. While it’s no secret that the Texanist is a Longhorn, for business reasons he has always tried to remain nonpartisan in this space, no matter how sorely he is tempted to do otherwise. Although, on those occasions when the Aggies face the Sooners, he will admit to wishing that there was a way for them both to lose.
Suffice it to say that even though all Texans reside in a big tent comprising their shared Texanness, the complicated relationships between intrastate rivals can make for some pretty uncomfortable living arrangements, especially during football season. It would be asking a lot to demand, for example, that a loyal Baylor Bear such as yourself ever root for the Horned Frogs of TCU—no matter who they were playing. And vice versa. Even now, almost a decade since their rivalry was rent asunder, can you imagine a Longhorn rooting for the Aggies? Or vice versa? (Actually, the Texanist did once have a strange dream in which this occurred en masse at Kyle Field.) The Texanist, a weather watcher, bets that it will be a cold day in hell when this comes to pass.
That said, in the scenario you’ve laid out, there is a demilitarized middle ground that does exist. The Texanist is speaking of games in which he does not engage in open rooting for a rival Texas team but neither does he engage in open hating. Rather, he evinces a sort of disinterested interest. Mind you, these situations involve a number of variables having to do with schedules, standings, consequences of outcomes, and sometimes the personalities of individual players and coaches whom the Texanist either holds in particularly low regard or begrudging admiration. Such contests do not require strict attention and are usually taken in via radio broadcasts while the Texanist tinkers around in the garage or bakes a delicious pie.
In a perfect world, the guiding principles of good sportsmanship and civil society would allow a fan to root for a rival school when that school is taking on an out-of-state opponent. Alas, we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in Texas. And here, the forces that drive college sports rivalries are just too strong. You can Hook ’em, Gig ’em, Sic ’em, Peck ’em, or Wreck ’em, but if your mission in life is to always beat ’em, then you can’t ever join ’em. Not even for an occasional sixty minutes. That’s just not how it works.
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.
A version of this is published in the September 2018 issue.