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November 23, 2011

Texas vs. Texas A&M

David Coleman column for Nov. 24

PORT ARTHUR —     It shouldn’t end this way.

    Thanksgiving night marks the final scheduled meeting between the Texas Longhorns and the Texas A&M Aggies. Unless the leadership at both schools dramatically changes position, this storied rivalry will end when A&M moves to the Southeastern Conference next season.

    It’s a shame that the teams are going out like this.

    Texas is struggling to find an identity offensively and to find a consistent quarterback. The Aggies are struggling to do much of anything, but injuries have derailed their season as much as anything. Both teams should keep the game close, because these two teams play tougher in this rivalry.

    Yes, it is a rivalry. Though I hail from the side that put Texas in its fight song, I’ve never understood the argument that Texas’ biggest rival is Oklahoma. That’s only because OU was beating Texas for much of the last decade and Texas was doing the same to A&M.

    Rivalries are tricky things. You can’t create them out of nothing. It takes some fan heartache and revenge to really get one going. There have to be great games in the past which are remembered fondly by both sides.

    This rivalry is no stranger to those. I wasn’t born into either side, as my parents had more allegiance to Lamar than either Texas or Texas A&M. It wasn’t until I stepped on the College Station campus in 2000 that I picked a side.

    What that means is I missed a whole realm of Aggie tradition around this game in Bonfire. I missed the game in 1999 in Aggieland that Texas A&M won, eight days after Bonfire collapsed. That marked a whole lot of losing for the Aggies in this rivalry. In fact, they didn’t win another game until Dennis Franchione beat the Longhorns in Austin during his second-to-last season.

    I’ll remember that game because it broke the streak, but I’ll also remember the next year fondly for different reasons. Texas A&M won again and Franchione promptly was asked to resign as head coach. It seemed that not even beating Texas could keep him in his job.

    I got to cover that game and went down onto the sideline just before the end with the rest of the reporters. Despite all the craziness that was to come with Fran’s ousting, the first thing I remember about that experience was standing on Kyle Field and looking around at 80,000 fans cheering for their team.

    The energy and passion of those fans was special, just like this rivalry.

    When both of these teams are at their best, this game can move into another level. Think about the game in 2009, when Texas went on to play in the national championship game after beating the Aggies. Quarterback Jerrod Johnson put on an inspired effort in the loss, but wasn’t quite good enough to take down Colt McCoy and Co.

    Rivalries can survive hiatuses. The Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama certainly didn’t suffer from its own extended gap after the teams decided not to continue to play. Heck, even The Battle of the Brazos between Texas A&M and Baylor took some time off after a nasty riot broke out between fans.

    Yes, this game is going away after one last Thanksgiving night soiree. But, it’s not going to be forgotten. In a few years, after the current decision makers have moved on to new jobs, things may be different. As a friend pointed out this week, the only Texas native involved in the decision about this rivalry is Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin, who’s from Hearne.

    If history is any indicator, Texas has the best probability of winning on Thanksgiving night. After all, the Longhorns lead the series 75-37-5. However, since 1972, Texas has a very slim 20-19 lead in the third-longest rivalry in college sports.

    Tonight will be historic no matter the outcome of the game, but I hope the last time we see these two schools play each other will be memorable for more than just that. I hope the game becomes an instant classic. Fans deserve at least that much.

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