Texas finally pushes A&M too far
In the end, it's pretty simple. This is what happens when you tell Aggie jokes for nearly a century.
Texas A&M took the last laugh on Sunday. After a century or so of being disrespected, teased, mocked and scorned, the Aggies had enough. How else to explain that the school would leave all that it left behind?
The Aggies are McFly in "Back to the Future," Private Pyle in "Full Metal Jacket." They snapped. Texas A&M partisans and everyone else who believes that Texas got too big for its hand-tooled boots will argue about whom to blame for as long as Reveille barks at Bevo. But the Aggies are leaving a Big 12 that's not all that different from the conference they agreed to stand by 15 months ago.
They were no more an equal partner to Texas in 2011 than they were in 2010. But the dispute over the ESPN-operated Longhorn Network served as the last bruise to Aggie Pride. And the Aggies without their pride aren't much more than Michigan State on the Brazos.
Texas A&M, like Michigan State, lives in the shadow of a sister public institution with a richer football tradition. Texas A&M, like Michigan State, has won one AP national championship (1939) and won it so long ago that no one remembers the players. Jarrin' John Kimbrough, anyone?
Never has one school combined an indomitable spirit with such a domitable football team. There have been pockets of success: D.X. Bible right after World War I, Homer Norton right before World War II, Paul (Bear) Bryant in the mid-1950s, Jackie Sherrill in the mid-1980s.
R.C. Slocum sustained the longest run of success, leading the Aggies to first-place finishes in the Southwest Conference in four consecutive seasons (1991 to 1994, though they were ineligible in '94). That went over so well that the league dissolved soon after.
Through the lean times and the occasional flush ones, the Aggies always had their pride. Them being so full of themselves may have made Aggie jokes resonate to the rest of us. But Aggie pride also fueled an unconquerable optimism that bordered on braggadocio. Aggie players played better, ran faster and tackled harder, whether they did or not. Their fans believed, no matter what the scoreboard said. As the saying goes, Aggies don't lose, they just run out of time.
It has been that way pretty much since E. King Gill ran out of the stands at the Dixie Football Classic in January 1922 and became the inspiration for the 12th Man. Bryant discovered that spirit in 1954 when he left Kentucky to become the head coach at Texas A&M. Bryant, in his 1974 autobiography "Bear," recounted a conversation he had with Jack Finney, a member of the A&M Athletic Board, before Bryant agreed to come to College Station.
Bryant: If we could offer a boy the same scholarship deal Texas does, and there were 20 good prospects, how many would we sign?
Bryant: You mean we would get half?
Finney: At least.
"That impressed me because I knew I could win with that," Bryant wrote. "But I didn't know the Aggies then like I know them now. Old Jack was exaggerating. You couldn't get ten. You would be lucky to get one. The chances were you wouldn't get any. Not then."
That bravado, only false when shoved under the harsh light of reality, is the spirit of Texas A&M. Bryant said something else. "Ten Aggies," he wrote, "can yell louder than a hundred of anybody else."
Aggies always ignored the barbs and the jokes and the disses. They had so much pride in themselves and their university that what someone said about them or did to them didn't matter -- until now, anyway.
After all these years, Texas A&M let Texas get to it. Texas, which has won four national championships since the Aggies last won one. Texas, which has built a colossus of a program, complete with its own network. Texas, which has always looked down its nose at Texas A&M in the way that state universities always belittle the land-grant institution.
And now, Texas, which pushed and pushed to take a bigger piece of the pie. Why? Largely because it could, at least until it pushed too far.
Maybe the only thing that changed is that Texas A&M had a safe house. The Aggies didn't have to take the abuse anymore. They could escape to the Southeastern Conference. Maybe the power tipped so far toward Austin that it swung the entire scale out of balance.
Texas A&M is leaving behind a rivalry with Texas that dates to 1894. Earlier this month, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops verbally shrugged his shoulders at the prospect that the Red River Rivalry may run dry. Schools from Virginia Tech to Missouri to BYU were (or are) whispering to conference suitors from coast to coast. All this because Texas A&M decided pride in being an Aggie wasn't enough.
We shall see whether the new normal improves upon the old. The Big 12 looks like it's coming out of the intensive care unit. The Aggies will begin life in a conference that will make the Big 12 seem like a featherbed. Regional rivalries, the lifeblood of the sport, are tossed aside like the unsold items in a tag sale.
College football is too strong to kill. It will continue to strike an emotional chord in its fans as long as they hang their diplomas and wear their T-shirts. But it will be different. Texas A&M traded in 117 years of tradition because it didn't think Texas played fair.
Talk about not playing fair -- all of us are paying a price, too.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.