There are so many reasons that we, as fans, love us some college football. Naturally, the games themselves are what we live and breathe for but the campus settings that host the events are what truly separates college football as THE best sport in America.
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit 13 of the 14 SEC stadiums (with the lone exception being Faurot Field in Columbia, Missouri) and this past weekend, I had the honor and the privilege to visit the Aggies in College Station, TX. I can now tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is my new favorite place to visit outside of Tuscaloosa. While the Aggies’ traditions and their whole “Yell Leader” thing is a bit quirky, it’s this kind of uniqueness that makes Aggieland so special. If you haven’t been to Texas A&M’s campus, then I’m telling you if you love college football then you absolutely have visit College Station.
In 2011, my wife and I visited Dallas, TX for the Red River Shootout between Texas and Oklahoma at the state fairgrounds. At that time, the rumors were just starting to come out that A&M might be joining the SEC so there was quite a buzz among the Longhorns about the pending A&M move. I was representin’ the Crimson Tide by wearing my Alabama polo and, naturally, this sparked some fun conversations about why in the world I was watching the Horns play the Sooners! My typical answer was “I’m here to watch the junior varsities play” but sometimes I took the time to explain that I simply love college football and I always wanted to see their rivalry. To a man, all of the Longhorns we spoke to insisted that if you love college football then you have to go to College Station – they said there’s nothing like it anywhere else. Folks, this is akin to an Alabama grad telling people how wonderful the Plains at Auburn are to visit. Put it this way – when I tell people how to get to Auburn I tell them “go south til you smell it and east til you step in it,” but I digress…
Anyway, two years later we were finally headed to College Station. The tales of the Midnight Yell practice had already made it back to us and we soon found out that the Aggies had moved their famous “First Yell” to the third game of the season for the first time in their history. That’s a big deal for a school that deeply values their traditions! Over 50,000 fans were expected to be there along with ESPN’s Gameday crew and hordes of media. After all, the Alabama-Texas A&M game was THE game of the season so the entire world seemed to be descending on the A&M campus. Awesome!
For those who are interested, we attempted to book hotel rooms in College Station well over six months in advance but they all required three night minimums at over $300 per night. Yeesh. My research led me to an awesome little place called La Torretta Lake Resort and Spa, located in Montgomery, TX (which is just an hour outside of College Station). To our surprise the Alabama football team actually stayed there as well! If you are planning on going to College Station then La Torretta is a really nice place to stay. I mean, if it’s good enough for Nick Saban, it should be good enough for you!
Friday night before the game, we piled into the car and headed to Kyle Field for Midnight Yell practice. It was a quick drive and we were soon perched on the rooftop of a fabulous campus bar called Daisy Dukes. It seemed that most of the establishments along the College Station strip all had rooftop bars and that created a really cool vibe around the town. Daisy Dukes pumped in some great tunes (it wasn’t all country) and they had Shiner on draft – as they say, you can’t beat that with a stick!! We had a great time at Daisy Dukes…
Our next stop was Kyle Field for the famous Midnight Yell practice – the stadium was probably about a mile or so from Daisy Dukes. The path to the stadium led us on a nice little walk thru campus and along the way we passed by the famed Memorial Student Center (the MSC). The MSC is known as the “Living Room of Texas A&M” and it’s a must stop if you visit the campus. If you go here, please note that you are not allowed to walk on the surrounding grass and, upon entering, you are required to remove your hat, as the building serves as a wonderful memorial to the Aggies who have given their lives in wartime. What an awesome memorial to those men and women. Inside, it’s a bookstore, a living room, a game room and a place to eat. It’s a pretty cool place and it’s a definite “must see” place to visit when you are on campus.
Since A&M was on the biggest stage, hosting the biggest game of the college football season, they moved their traditional “First Yell” practice from the first game of the year to the third game of the year against Alabama. Believe me when I tell you that Kyle Field was absolutely packed to the gills for this. Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen even played a concert prior to the Yell Practice, making an already big deal into an even BIGGER deal.
Here’s a picture of the scene as we all waited to get into the stadium for Yell Practice.
If you visit College Station then you’ve got to stay up and go to the Midnight Yell Practice. It’s quirky. It’s weird. And you won’t understand it. But, honestly, that’s the fun. Seeing the Aggies’ male cheerleaders (they don’t have any female cheerleaders) in their bedazzled A&M overalls, making effeminate hand gestures and gyrations to the crowd was more than quirky or weird. In fact, I can’t imagine any of our good southern boys slapping on the sparkly overalls and gyrating around like they did. Seriously – this was more than odd. But in College Station, they love it!
Here’s a shot of their head Yell Leader (and other Yell Leaders hugging it out behind him) who regaled us all with some jokes making light of Nick Saban and Alabamians in general.
The words to the cheers (Hullabaloo! Caneck! Caneck! video) and the cheers themselves are all pretty weird but each little cheer is beloved and chanted in the same manner that all of the generations of Aggies who have gone before them chanted them when they were there. As a testimony to their love for the past and their reverence of history, the Aggies still refer to themselves as TAMC (video) and they even continue to cheer “Farmers Fight! Farmers Fight!” (video) in numerous chants after all these years. Cheering their beloved farmers is so silly and so antiquated but it truly makes you appreciate their traditions, spirit and the heritage of their university. A guy behind me summed it up perfectly when he said, “If you wanna know about it and understand it, then you’ve just gotta come here and live it, man. You’ve just gotta come here and live it.” I’m not sure I want to understand grown men flailing around in bedazzled overalls but their quirky traditions are truly must see TV.
Honestly, it was all a lot of fun and, at the end of Yell Practice they want you to have even more fun. When practice concludes, they turn off the lights and encourage everyone to participate in “kissing practice” – let me tell you that the two couples from Alabama would have made you all very proud!
By the way, they may be a welcoming bunch but here’s a video to show you that they still want to BTHO (beat the hell outta) whoever they play. Love the “woooo” at the end – very menacing… 🙂
On game day the scene is an amazing one to behold if you are a full-blooded heterosexual male. Folks, nothing is sexier than a snappy little sun dress worn with some cowboy boots. And they were everywhere! Sweet mother of all that’s good and holy! And, the temperature there was way hotter than most anywhere else I’ve been so the general rule appeared to be the less clothing the better.
We tailgated with some Aggie alumns and their hospitality was unbelievable – in fact, the entire campus seemed to be entirely focused on making sure our trip as wonderful as possible. Everywhere you looked, there were these little buttons that said “Howdy!” But, in College Station these aren’t just a buttons – they represent their way of life. Everywhere we went, people would stop us in our tracks and say “howdy” and then they wanted to make sure we were having the absolute time of our lives – and we absolutely were! From the young girls in the sun dresses to the older generations, the kindness and generosity poured out from everyone on campus was unbelievable. Everyone there was infinitely proud of their school and they wanted you to be proud of it to. In short, it was amazing.
I’ve been to a lot of stadiums and I’ve been to a lot of campuses but I’ve never been treated as warmly and as wonderfully as I was in College Station. Before and after the game we weren’t treated as an opponent but, rather, we were treated as a long-lost relative who was visiting from out-of-town. To the Aggies who will read this, thank you from the bottom of my heart for a wonderful experience that I’ll remember for a lifetime – you guys, with your quirky traditions, overalls, sun dresses and cowboy boots are an exceptional bunch of people and I thank you for allowing me to be a part of your family for a weekend.
To those of you who are reading this who are not Aggies, then I would suggest to you that we all should adopt the Aggies way of living. Instead of harassing the fans of your opponents, welcome them in to your tailgate. Talk to them, shake their hands and, heck, even say “howdy!” I want my university to be talked about in the same glowing fashion that people talk about the Aggies and, honestly, isn’t that the way it should be?
So howdy, and Roll Tide!