Longhorns, Aggies had similar break in 1911-15.
Posted November 18th, 2015
History, including that of Texas football, has a way of repeating itself. Except, of course, when it doesn’t.
Remember when Texas and Texas A&M broke off their storied football rivalry after the 2011 season?
Well, the same thing happened a century before that, in 1911. So far, the main difference is that 100 years ago Thursday, the teams renewed their rivalry.
On Nov. 19, 1915, elated, convivial fans from both schools sang “Auld Lang Syne” before kickoff and led cheers for the other school. A&M’s cadets honored UT by forming a T on the field. Finally, when the game was completed, players from both schools were carried off the field in a spirit of exhilaration.
The Alcalde, UT’s alumni magazine, later observed, “The football teams of these institutions have risen above the petty jealousies that used to characterize their movements at times, and have reached a point where they are willing to place sportsmanship above victory.”
Fast forward to today. Those words now ring just a tad hollow. The two teams won’t playing each other this month, and when December rolls around, it will be the longest stretch in which the teams have not met in football, a century-old mark that stands at four years and six days.
Texas coach Charlie Strong and A&M coach Kevin Sumlin have both said they’d like to renew the rivalry, and A&M System Regent Tony Buzbee stoked the fires with a recent Facebook post, writing: “The Aggies need some cupcake games to rest and heal. In my view, Texas is just as weak if not weaker than the non-conference games we play, so we may as well play them.”
Small wonder relations don’t look as if they’re about to thaw anytime soon. Still, at least one force that brought the football teams and schools together 100 years ago might be at work today: economics.
When Texas began playing football in 1893, the slate of opponents consisted of club teams from Dallas and San Antonio. The next year A&M fielded a team and was rewarded for its efforts with a 38-0 drubbing at the hands of UT’s “veterans.”
A&M took a break of four years and three days and tried UT again in 1898, only to suffer a worse loss. But the rivalry persisted; indeed, it was needed to try to balance the budgets of the fledgling teams. For the next three years, they played twice a year, once in Austin and once in San Antonio, as A&M lacked the proper facilities to host a game with a sufficient crowd.
By 1908, the teams were playing a game in Austin and one in Houston to coincide with a large carnival there. That year, in Houston, there was a fan riot. One Texas fan was stabbed three times in the head, and the postgame parade and celebration were canceled because of safety concerns.
No matter the site, or the incidents, the results were highly predictable. The Longhorns brought an almost unblemished record against A&M, 14-1-2, into the 1909 game in Houston.
Then the unthinkable happened. A&M not only upset the Longhorns but crushed them 23-0. The difference was that A&M had a new coach with ties to semipro football, Charley Moran, whom the UT fans quickly accused of using ringers.
The next year A&M counterattacked, charging that Texas was using ineligible players and forcing the UT administration to step in and clear those players, only to have A&M win again.
Before the 1911 game, frustrated UT fans chanted: “To hell, to hell with Charley Moran/And all his dirty crew./And if you don’t like the words of this song,/To hell, to hell with you.”
An inspired Texas team upset Moran’s crew that day as Arnold Kirkpatrick picked up an A&M fumble and ran into the end zone for the lone score in a 6-0 stunner.
“Bruised, battered, bleeding from a hundred places it seems, I revel in the dripping of the blood and the deepness of the wounds, for I realize that in the camp of the enemy there is a wound that no human hand can heal. Honesty and fairness have prevailed, professionalism has been sent back to the dirty realms of its creation,” Kirkpatrick later told the Alcalde. “All Texas is glad, all Texas is wild, all Texas is intoxicated with the joyous news that pure grit had at last beaten the hired athletes of Charles Moran.”
Having the manager of UT’s football team, Steve Pinckney, tell an Austin newspaper that A&M’s squad was a bunch of trained thugs who aimed to maim the other teams’ star players did little to soothe matters.
The chairman of UT athletics, W.T. Mather, quickly repudiated Pinckney’s remarks but also contacted A&M to say games between the two schools were canceled for 1912 because the rivalry had become too unruly.
In just a few years, however, the absence of A&M was felt in Austin. In 1914, lineman Louis Jordan became Texas’ first player to make Walter Camp’s prestigious All-America list. Running back and kicker Len Barrell scored a whopping 121 points that eight-game season, a record that lasted until 1997 when Ricky Williams finally topped it. The team also featured arguably the most versatile athlete in UT history, passing whiz Clyde Littlefield, who would win 12 varsity letters in his career. That trio and four other players from that squad are in the Longhorn Hall of Honor, befitting a team that was undefeated and outscored its opponents 358-21.
Yet, to this day, no one is certain just how great that relatively untested team was. Moran’s 6-1-1 A&M team wasn’t on the schedule. Neither was Notre Dame, which had caused a sensation in 1913 by taking A&M’s spot on the schedule and handing Texas its only loss of that season. UT tried to find another marquee game in 1914 but came up empty.
A void was also felt in College Station. There, before Texas’ game with Oklahoma in Dallas, A&M yell leaders led 15 cheers for the Longhorns and then sent a telegram to a UT counterpart to notify him of that tribute.
That sparked students at UT to hold a pep rally.
Dean T.U. Taylor of engineering, a supporter of the team, said: “I think it is impossible for athletics to develop without a great rival. Agricultural and Mechanical has stretched forth the olive branch and I believe we will now be recreant if we do no seize up this opportunity to renew amicable relations. Games must be scheduled not later than next year.”
The Texas students let out 15 cheers for the Aggies. And, in the newfound spirit of brotherhood, the freshmen and the upperclassmen exchanged cheers as did the usually combative law and engineering students.
More than good will was in play, however. College football in the region had advanced to the point where there were serious discussions about forming a new conference after some earlier startups had split up. It made little sense for Texas to be in one without A&M as the football game between the two was the biggest money-maker for each school.
Both Texas and A&M denied that Moran’s status was part of the deal, but shortly after the Southwest Intercollegiate Athletic Conference was formalized in December 1914, Moran was out of a job. In addition to the two rivals, the league had Arkansas, Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma A&M and Southwestern, with Rice accepted provisionally.
When the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry resumed in 1915, it was played in College Station for the first time and was truly a festive occasion, even if the game was beyond ugly. Texas A&M managed only three first downs and punted 23 times but beat a Longhorns team that lost 12 fumbles 13-0. No matter. The rivalry had been reborn.
It would last until 2011, when A&M announced it was making a “100-year decision” to bolt the Big 12 for the football’s current glamour conference, the SEC.
In 2013, then-UT athletic director DeLoss Dodds proclaimed, “They’re the ones that decided not to play us. We get to decide when we play again. I think that’s fair. If you did a survey of our fans about playing A&M, they don’t want to. It’s overwhelming.”
Unlike in 1915, it seems the students at the two schools are almost indifferent to the historic rivalry; it certainly doesn’t dominate their Twitterverse.
The financial appeal of the game, however, remains strong and might be growing. Attendance at UT football games has slumped in the past several years. Meanwhile, the Aggies have more seats to fill after enlarging their stadium capacity to more than 102,000 in an era when many colleges worry that declining attendance will become a trend.
At some point, history will probably repeat itself and the football rivalry will be renewed. Again. But for that to happen, someone will have to stretch forward an olive branch.