Hurts So Good

Aggies ATX billboard vandalized

Hurts So Good

Legend has it that in 1920, pressed for money and disillusioned with their ornery new mascot, the University of Texas cooked and served Bevo I at their annual football banquet, where both Longhorn and Aggie players feasted on what must have been some seriously tough meat.

As the two schools grew up and expanded, the Longhorns came to treat their steer with a tad more delicacy, and Bevo never gave his life for barbecue again.

But when I started as a Fish at Texas A&M in the late Nineties, it felt like the Aggies were still eating Bevo, if metaphorically: as a freshman, I was fed a steady diet of blood-maroon spite for the condescending "tea-sippers" in Austin. The Aggies competed, and competed well, in the final days of the Southwest Conference and the formative years of the Big 12 — which meant the school, my school, played several different opponents each football season.

But no matter whom Texas A&M played, the "burning desire" to see the Longhorns undone — eviscerated, skinned, dismembered, and slow-smoked—sustained the student body week by week, day by day, and had done so for more than 100 years.

The Longhorns I knew mostly failed to reciprocate. "UT, for its part, has far fewer traditions and slang terms for A&M," Paul Burka wrote shortly before A&M and UT's final football contest, "but this is only because UT's favored mode is to behave as if A&M is beneath it, unworthy of elaborate rituals and responses." The Longhorns gussied up and trotted to Dallas to play the Sooners each year, while Aggie hexes fell on seemingly deaf ears.

Lately, though, I've sensed a crack in the Longhorns' well-polished veneer. Ever since Texas A&M took leave for the SEC, I've noticed a certain edge in the taunts from Texas. Two fine examples occurred around the Aggies' season opener, as Texas A&M took on Florida in College Station.

I am accustomed to Longhorn ambivalence, so the venom that sprayed from former UT defensive coach Will Muschamp before and after the Florida game took me by surprise. "You ever been to College Station," he said at a booster event before the game, "it will be the only time you go." And later, after his Gators narrowly escaped their visit with a win, he quipped: "Being able to come out here in this environment and disappoint these people is a lot of fun."

Now, I found it interesting he'd rather disappoint Aggie fans than encourage his own players, but only mildly. I did wonder how he fit all that baggage into his College Station hotel room.

But the surest sign that the Aggie move to the SEC has unhinged some Longhorns is the vandalism of the billboard Texas A&M recently erected in Austin. Featuring a football player in the No. 12, the sign declares, "This is SEC country." Shortly before the Aggies' opener, the billboard standing near I-35 and Wells Branch Parkway was vandalized in orange paint.

As fellow Chronicle contributor Joe O'Connell put it, "Not a good idea to put up an Aggie billboard in Austin!"

Or is it?

I think it's fantastic. The billboard, its damage, everything.

And it's really not because I'd take any opportunity to taunt Longhorns; I'm not the type to harass anyone, especially since Texas A&M left the Big 12. As far as I'm concerned, Longhorns and Aggies aren't rivals anymore. The maroon sheep from a family of burnt-orange stock, I'm happy to let bygones be bygones and hope vainly for the best national championship game ever.

What's wonderful about that billboard is that it culled forth, from the depths of cool superiority, enough primal feeling to propel some Longhorn to climb a monstrously sized modern-day billboard in the middle of the night and paint it orange. It brought out the unbridled and undomesticated side of UT, the side exemplified by Bevo I when he charged his first photographer, before he was put down and served family-style to Aggies and Longhorns alike.

It reminded me that, in their spite, Longhorns care as much about Aggies as Aggies care for them, even if none of us will admit it, and gave me hope that the rivalry that started all this will one day recommence.

In the meantime, on Saturday the Aggies and Longhorns came as close to playing each other as they're gonna get this season: Texas A&M took on an SMU team led by UT graduate Garrett Gilbert, and the Longhorns played the SEC's Ole Miss. The Aggies got a belated chance to test-drive their offense, despite Christine Michael's ineligibility; the result was slower-paced than what Kliff Kingsbury presented against Florida, but far more consistent, and the Aggies took home a 48-3 win.

Look for more of the same as the Bulldogs from South Carolina State travel more than 1,000 miles to butt heads in College Station. SCSU returns QB Richard Cue, and they'll bring a ground game along, too. But "Captain Amazing" Johnny Manziel's offense should eat the Bulldogs right up.

It's not Longhorn, but it'll do.

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Texas A&M football, Will Muschamp, Johnny Manziel, Garrett Gilbert, Richard Cue

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