Tech-A&M rivalry remains bitter despite Aggies' slow start

October, 15, 2008
10/15/08
6:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas Tech is streaking through its most memorable season in Big 12 history. Texas A&M is floundering through its worst Big 12 start.

But even with that dichotomy in success, fans from the two old rivals remain bitter.

Tech cornerback Jamar Wall is very familiar with the feelings of Tech fans about the Aggies. It's not unusual to find an A&M logo adorning urinals at Lubbock nightclubs.

"Most people (at Tech) don't like A&M," Wall said. "But they are just another team to us."

And A&M coach Mike Sherman learned quickly of the depth of the rivalry among Aggie fans soon after taking the job.

"It's definitely is a sore spot with all Aggies and it's pretty evident traveling around this state," Sherman said. "One of the war cries is always, 'Beat Tech! Beat Tech!' That's something that is important to the people here and has been for quite some time.

"I grew up in Boston and the evil empire there was always the (New York) Yankees. It's kind of like that out there in Lubbock."

A&M leads the series, 34-31-1, but the Red Raiders have dominated recently, claiming 10 of the last 13 games in the series. And since the two schools became conference rivals in 1960, Tech has a 26-21-1 edge.

And after losing his first game to A&M in 2000, Tech coach Mike Leach has beaten the Aggies six of the last seven games.

The traditional rivalry has had its bitter moments over the years. There was the nasty altercation in 2001 in Lubbock when Tech fans carried a goalpost into a section where Texas A&M fans were sitting. An angry brawl ensued and Dr. Mike McKinney, father of former A&M football players Seth McKinney, was struck in the face by "some kid in a red shirt," he said after the game. It turned out it was another A&M fan.

And Leach brought some levity when he talked about A&M's cadets when he saw them at a game in Lubbock several years later.

"How come they get to pretend they are soldiers?" Leach said in a New York Times interview. "The thing is, they aren't actually in the military. I ought to have Mike's Pirate School. The freshmen, all they get is the bandana. When you're a senior, you get the sword and skull and crossbones. For homework, we'll work pirate maneuvers and stuff like that."

After beating the Aggies in a 2006 game in College Station, Leach made a famous comment after the Red Raiders escaped with a 31-27 victory.

"Once in awhile, a pirate can beat a soldier," Leach said.

The game had some sizzle last season. Jorvorskie Lane predicted victory before the game in Lubbock. And Von Miller leveled Graham Harrell with a tackle shortly before halftime that the Tech quarterback later said was a cheap shot. Tech claimed a 35-7 triumph.

Lane and other seniors didn't even show up for A&M media availability this week. About the closest to any retorts from the Aggie side was when A&M freshman receiver Ryan Tannehill told reporters he wasn't proud that he grew up a Tech fan during his youth in Big Spring -- even down to having a Red Raider football uniform as a little boy.

Some of Tannehill's early Tech infatuation was understandable. His father, Tim, was a Tech wide receiver. And his son grew up wanting to follow in his father's footsteps as the Kliff Kingsbury or Sonny Cumbie.

"Those are guys I always dreamed of because they were good quarterbacks," Tannehill told reporters earlier this week. "But now, I just want to take them down."

The rivalry could provide some fireworks, even as the Red Raiders attempt to defend their No. 5 ranking in the coaches' poll and a No. 7 ranking in the Associated Press poll. The Aggies are off to a 2-4 start, including two conference losses for their worst conference start since 1984.

A&M's struggling defense, which ranks 100th in turnover margin and 106th in scoring defense, will face a potent Tech offense that's averaging 46.3 points per game.

Sherman, in his first season as A&M's coach, is feeling that pressure to conjure up an upset that could turn around the season. The Aggies have allowed 100 combined points in their last two games.

"Our backs are so far against the wall we have splinters up our [bottoms]," he said.

Despite A&M's struggles, Tech players are excited about their chance to play at Kyle Field. In eight of Tech's last nine trips there, the game has been decided by seven points or less.

"We always enjoy playing them," Tech wide receiver Eric Morris said. "It will be fun playing in that atmosphere. We understand that people from here and there don't really get along that well. And us coming into town and having the success we have, they will be ready to play. I'm sure we'll have a bull's-eye on our back."

Morris said he enjoys Kyle Field and Nebraska's Memorial Stadium as his two favorite stops in the Big 12.

"There is great atmosphere at both places where they have great and loyal fans," Morris said. "I remembered they cheered us at Nebraska after our game out there. But they might not be as welcoming at Kyle Field as the Nebraska fans are."

And despite A&M's struggles so far this season, Morris expects that A&M fans will be ready for Tech's visit on Saturday.

"It's more of a rivalry and there's no love lost between the two schools," he said, chuckling. "They're good fans, but not that good of fans."

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