One of my nieces went off to college last month at Texas A&M University, the oldest public university in Texas. It was founded in 1876 as Texas Agricultural & Mechanical College.
Being an Aggie, as the students are called, is almost a religion here in Texas. Aggies are known for being fiercely loyal to each other, to their alums and especially to their football team. Whenever A&M plays football, the student body stands throughout the entire game. Although I knew of the tradition, it wasn't until Laura went off to school that I bothered to investigate its origin.
If you're a football fan, you've probably heard of the 12th man. The term, which refers to the fans of a football game, originated at A&M. Here's the story, courtesy of Wikipedia:
The first recorded instance of the term "12th Man" being used was to describe E. King Gill and his actions in Dallas on January 2, 1922, at the Dixie Classic, the forerunner of the Cotton Bowl Classic.From the A&M website:
Texas A&M played defending national champion Centre College in the first post-season game in the southwest. In this hard-fought game, which produced national publicity, an underdog Aggie team was slowly but surely defeating a team which boasted three All-Americans.
Unfortunately, the first half produced so many injuries for A&M that Coach D. X. Bible feared he wouldn’t have enough men to finish the game, so, he called into the Aggie section of the stands for E. King Gill, a reserve who had left football after the regular season to play basketball. Gill, who was spotting players for reporters at the time and was not in football uniform, willingly volunteered and donned the uniform of injured player Heine Weir.
When the game ended with an A&M victory, 22–14, E. King Gill was the only man left standing on the sidelines for the Aggies. Gill later said, "I wish I could say that I went in and ran for the winning touchdown, but I did not. I simply stood by in case my team needed me."
Although he did not actually play in the game, his readiness to play was noted. Since there were 11 men on the field, E. King Gill was the 12th Man, hence the term.
Although Gill did not play in the game, he had accepted the call to help his team. He came to be thought of as the Twelfth Man because he stood ready for duty in the event that the eleven men on the gridiron needed assistance.Laura's father, my middle brother, and I talk most frequently on the phone when we are both driving home from work in the evening. Last night he told me that Laura had met an alum of A&M by the name of Frank Cox, who wrote a book on the Aggie traditions called I Bleed Maroon, maroon being the school's color.
That spirit of readiness for service, desire to support, and enthusiasm helped kindle a flame of devotion among the entire student body; a spirit that has grown vigorously throughout the years. The entire student body at A&M is the Twelfth Man, and they stand during the entire game to show their support. The 12th Man is always in the stands waiting to be called upon if they are needed.
You probably can't tell, but I suspect the cover includes a photo of the famous Aggie bonfire. The nearly-100-year-old annual tradition of building a bonfire in the fall at A&M became world news in 1999 when one collapsed during construction, killing 12 people and injuring 27.
The University ended the on-campus, officially sanctioned bonfire that year, but three years later the students revived the tradition unofficially, off-campus. Here's a photo of the 1993 bonfire, showing the wedding cake structure's size relative to the bystanders.
The building of the bonfire takes months, and the finished structure is lit right before the annual football game between A&M and the University of Texas (where I earned my graduate degree).
This post is for Laura as part of my hope that her freshman year will continue to be as wonderful as her first month as an Aggie has been.