The Last Waltz: Living in a state divided

COLLEGE STATION— While it is still up in the air whether Thursday’s Texas-Texas A&M game would be the last, it certainly had a air of finality about it.

Never has the “saw varsity’s horns off” portion of the Aggie war hymn had more ironical meaning.

Heisman Trophy winners Earl Campbell and John David Crow were in attendance.

Jackie Sherrill was there, which I find peculiar, because he left A&M in disgrace and on probation after being caught paying players.

The ever-popular Bucky Richardson was an honorary Aggie team captain. When they flashed his image on the godzilla-tron, the place went nuts.

Former Aggie cheerleader Rick Perry was there as were fellow politicians John McCain (his son attends A&M) and former president George H.W. Bush, so something was up.

Both bands paid tribute to their rival schools. One band took the high road, one didn’t.

Texas kicker Justin Tucker rides on the shoulders of history. 
Reporter/Bill Martin Texas kicker Justin Tucker rides on the shoulders of history. Reporter/Bill Martin Texas Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds, who sealed the Aggies’ fate when he agreed to the formation of the Longhorn Network, stood quietly by himself on the Texas sideline.

So important was this particular game that for the first time in at least a couple of decades, the LaGrone family did not gather to watch the game on television, but rather most actually attended the game, including me.

I hadn’t been to a Thanksgiving Day game since covering the 1997 contest when the Aggies were victorious 27-16 at Kyle Field.

I’m not so sure Thursday’s battle was a good game (Texas had under 200 yards of offense until the winning drive), but it definitely had a dramatic and unforgettable ending.

Until Texas kicker Justin Tucker silenced the Aggies’ shredded vocal chords with no time left on the clock, A&M had prepared to send the Longhorns packing.

After the kick that will live in infamy, what few Longhorn fans were in attendance made a bee line to the Longhorn band box where they had been stuffed in the far corner of Kyle Field and had an impromptu pep rally.

There was no shaking of hands in the series finale. While the Longhorns celebrated, the Aggies quietly exited the field, heads hung low.

Two glaring problems came out of the game. One, 6-6 Texas A&M needs an alternative Mike Sherman. It’s not that the Aggies are losing—it’s the way they are losing.

Completely folding up in the second half is a coaching problem.

Secondly, Texas needs to start looking for a quarterback in earnest. Neither Case McCoy nor David Ash can throw the ball downfield more than 20 yards.

You can get away with that if you’re Vince Young, which neither of them put together is.

At one time in my life, I had a string of 15 or 16 Texas-Texas A&M games in a row, accompanying my father who probably had seen 35 or 40 straight, which I had hoped to reach.

Fred Akers put an end to my streak after a loss in College Station in 1979 when Fred thought the only way to answer the Aggies and Curtis Dickey was by way of fullback dive right and fullback dive left in a 13-7 upset A&M win.

I swore I would never go to another turkey day game.

The game I remember the most came in 1974, not because it was a particularly good game, but because it was about 30 degrees and Texas led 21-0 after the first five minutes of the contest.

Two Aggie turnovers in the opening seconds propelled the Longhorns to a 32-3 win to extend the Texas win streak to six games in the series.

We were late to the game and each step we took in the stands was punctuated by a Longhorn score. A freshman named Earl Campbell had 127 yards.

By the time we sat down, it was 21-0. With the game well in hand and the wind whipping around Memorial Stadium, We left at halftime and headed for the Pig Stand.

Despite the possible historic significance of the game, it was only the second largest crowd at Kyle Stadium (over 88,000). It seems more people were interested in seeing Nebraska last season (90,000-plus).

The final and 118th meeting in this holiday tradition has been perpetuated by greed and hurt feelings.

Dodds has made it abundantly clear that the Longhorns have no desire to continue the series with A&M and the first opportunity to do so would be in 2018.

Thursday’s game had all the atmosphere of some kind of a celebration, but in reality it was a going away party.

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