In the Southwest corner, we are winding down from our Texas interlude after traveling to Austin a week before Halloween and left a day before the rites of scary.
The purpose was the Vanderbilt, Texas A&M football game. Maureen, and Vanderbilt friends and brothers, Alan and Jim Hicks accompanied me. My vision was to buy five more tickets for my Texas family, but the cost for good seats waylaid that plan.
We spent Thursday evening and Friday with family in Austin. Jim and Alan were stayed downtown and then with cousins in Taylor, Texas. The cousins gave the two a tour of Austin, including the Lyndon Baines Johnson Museum, capping it off with dinner at the biggest and best barbecue in Taylor, a moniker claimed by about 100 barbecue Tesas restaurants.
The two-hour Saturday drive to College Station required leaving in the dark. Austin and College Station are in the Central Time Zone with Lebanon. Sunrise is after 7:30, almost three-quarters of an hour later than back home.
The football game could have been better. “Johnny Football,” aka Johnny Manziel, and the Aggie offense shredded the Commodore defense. After the first minutes, I was afraid Cumberland’s long standing record of a 1916 220-0 loss to Georgia Tech was in jeopardy. A previously porous Aggie defense dominated Vandy’s offense. James Franklin’s Commodores won the second quarter. The final score as most folks know was 56-24. It was not pretty.
But for me, it was a delight; no, not the game, but the experience. It was also an enjoyable time for Maureen, my friends from Vandy, and Eddie and Brenda Callis, who traveled from Lebanon for the weekend.
It is difficult to describe my feelings about A&M. The Aggies are an enigma, a culture lost from times past. I was the senior Naval Officer in the NROTC Unit at the university from 1976 to 1979. I often described it then as a culture from the days just after World War II. I became immersed in that culture. As the senior Naval officer (the Marine oriented unit had a Marine colonel and a lieutenant colonel for commanding officer and executive officer), I wore many hats.
I was the company advisor for the 2nd Navy-Marine Regiment, Company E-2, charged with taking care of Reveille, the school’s mascot, a collie. Two “fish,” (freshman) kept the dog in their barracks. Reveille marches at the head of the unit in all of their parades, including the ones into the stadium.
I also was advisor for the Fighting Texas Aggie Marching Band. This 300-plus cadet unit is just flat incredible to watch. There are no fancy decorative formations but the precision military marching, highlighted by some incredible maneuvers where four companies march through each other is simply amazing. All the while, they play heart-thumping military march music, including a bunch of Aggie songs.
Maureen, Alan, and Jim were struck with awe. I later learned Brenda and Eddie were equally wowed. When I took my mother and father to a game in 1977, the Aggies were fifth in national rankings and blew away Memphis State much like they did to Vandy two weeks ago. Daddy had little use for bands at halftime. He wanted to watch football. Bands were just unnecessary interruptions. But when left Kyle Field that afternoon, I asked what he thought of the Aggies.
“They were okay, but that band was incredible.”
Our seats were in the middle of Aggie faithful, four Commodores swamped by maroon. That was true for the entire stadium: a solid maroon sea of 83,000 with tiny specks of black and gold. But it was good place to be. I have had whiskey poured over me and been cussed out in the worst of terms at Neyland Stadium. But at A&M visitors are treated kindly, not with vitriol. The folks around us commented on the game, even showing sympathy at times, asking about us and our families, acting like friends who were beating our brains out.
The campus has exploded since my time there. Street names have changed to honor the Bush family. Open fields are now swamped with buildings. Still there were some familiar places. We stumbled upon the corps quad. I looked as it did nearly forty years ago.
I wish everyone could experience a football game at Texas A&M. It is college football the way it should be.
Jim Jewell, a retired Navy commander lives in San Diego but was raised in Lebanon. His book, A Pocket of Resistance: Selected Poems, will be available in about three weeks. It will be available through Author House, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble on-line. Jim’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.