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Give me the College Station Kool-Aid

The Kentucky football team entered unfamiliar territory Saturday night at Kyle Field.  Like most of the BBN, I had no idea what to expect in College Station.  I was warned to stay away from the Yell Leaders’ cult, but after two days at Texas A&M I’m all in on the 12th Man.

It’s no secret the two foes were not well-acquainted.  There have been a few memorable trips to Reed Arena since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012, but the football teams had not met in 65 years.  Last weekend I got to witness the A&M pomp and circumstance firsthand, and oh my, it was something else.

Previously, my only encounters with the A&M fanbase were at the SEC Tournament.  It was enjoyable to sit court-side as Drew Franklin mocked the Yell Leaders in all-white uniforms.  After all, they’re a pretty easy target.

However, the role of the Yell Leaders is much more significant at Kyle Field than it is next to a basketball court.  It came to light at the Midnight Yell.

The Midnight Yell is a Texas football-sized version of a pep rally.  At least 25,000 people filled two lower bowls of Kyle Field the night before the game.  Aside from the corny trash-talk, it warmed my heart to see the unity and camaraderie between Texas A&M fans.

The most rabid fans were students who arrived early to get a good spot to stand.  The rest of the crowd was filled with generations of fans, alumni and future Aggies.  From 60 to 6, all were welcome, even the Kentucky fans.  There were so many people in the stands, yet they all were on the same page thanks to the Yell Leaders.

As the students are taught once they arrive to campus, each cheer begins with a signal.  One indicator was the rolling of arms.  The “Beat the Hell out of Kentucky” cheer began when the Yell Leaders slapped their biceps.  Fans waited for the Yell Leader to progress before they all followed suit.

The choreographed cheers are fun to mock as a cult from afar, but are spectacular to witness in person. They didn’t even need music in-between timeouts.  Instead, cheers from the 12th Man filled the air like a European soccer match.

I find it hard to believe there is a place more deep-rooted in tradition than Texas A&M.  It isn’t just the fabled 12th Man.

There probably isn’t another non-academy school with a deeper military academy background.  During World War I almost half of their graduates served in the military.  In World War II there more more military officers that graduated from A&M than the Naval and U.S. Military Academy combined.

A&M honors their fallen alumni in a variety of ways.  While walking to Kyle Field for the Midnight Yell, I was instructed to remove my hat as we made our way through the Student Center.  It’s a small gesture of respect for those who lost their lives serving our country.

Symbolism is present throughout campus.  It’s most evident at the Bonfire Memorial.  The Midnight Yell featured a bonfire for 90 years until a tragedy in 1999 took the lives of 12 students.  The History Walk toward the memorial features 89 stones that create a granite timeline.  The Spirit Ring structure is a circle that features 12 portals.  Each portal faces the hometown of a student who passed away in the tragedy.  It honors the fallen and represents the spirit of the 12th Man.

Learn more about the Bonfire Memorial

What makes A&M a special place isn’t the symbolism and the tradition, it’s the people.

Kentucky fans everywhere were greeted with a “howdy.”  If you were hungry, they fed you.  If you were thirsty, there was a cooler of beer or a tap for you to enjoy.  People were so nice, it made one skeptical.  “Surely, there’s a catch,” went through my mind on more than one occasion.  Every UK fan I spoke to had never been treated so kindly on the road.   Most SEC football fans are nice to Kentuckians before football games because they are confident they will win.  A&M fans are nice because it is the right thing to do.

Friday night I sampled the College Station night life.  As I searched for a few friends at the Dixie Chicken, the first thing I heard were UK fans cheering.  To be frank, the “C-A-T-S CATS CATS CATS” chants were borderline obnoxious, even for a UK fan, yet the locals were just happy the BBN was enjoying their time in College Station.

The Texas A&M fans were fantastic, but what made the trip an overwhelming success was the presence of the Big Blue Nation.

Throughout the weekend you could not look in either direction without seeing at least one Kentucky fan.  Some were Texas natives, happy to see the Cats closer to home, but most made the 16-hour road trip to see the Cats in a new venue.  For a select few, the trip to Kyle Field meant they had seen Kentucky play in all 14 SEC stadiums.

As game time drew near, thousands gathered at the Cat Walk.  It was the most fun I’ve ever had during a UK football road trip.  It was the best kind of chaos.  Susan Lax has worked in media relations at UK for 23 years.  She could only compare Saturday’s Cat Walk to the Music City Bowl where tens of thousands greeted Rich Brooks, Andre Woodson and Co.

Inside the stadium, the team could feel the BBN’s presence.  When the 12th Man quieted in-between cheers, Kentucky fans roared.

Unfortunately, the UK Football road trip to College Station did not end with a win.  Still, the experience is unlike any other environment in the SEC.  If I wasn’t a Kentucky fan, I’d be the first to drink the Texas A&M Kool-Aid to become a part of the 12th Man.

Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR

10 responses to “Give me the College Station Kool-Aid”

  1. 14195611

    Its wonderful to hear about people who are passionate supporters of their own team who, at the same time, are kind and hospitable to those who support the opponent. Give me some of that College Station Kool Aid too!

    1. Luether

      This is how it should be everywhere…

  2. UKinIN

    Too soon, Nick.

  3. Hobbit

    Have to agree. Never been treated so well by so many. Everywhere we went there were thanks for coming, kind offers and lots of good games afterwords. Their program, which was fabulous, had EIGHT pages of traditions, and friendliness was one of the biggies. Their band is comprised of all cadets and they all live in the same dorm. Their cadet program prepares students for all five branches of the service. Love and service to country is truly admirable and super impressive to view in the cadet march. From this point on, as long as my Cats aren’t playing them, I’m an Aggie fan.

  4. bwise

    That was my group in the video lol and to be honest we were around the same Aggie fans all week (since Wednesday) and they were 100% ok with the 1 time we chanted that lol, thanks for the shoutout though.

  5. Ag81

    Your article moved me to respond. There’s a saying around here, “From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. From the inside looking out, you can’t explain it”. I hate it, frankly. You got it. We can explain it. The only thing missing is the “why”.

    Many universities have core values, and A&M has six. The one that drives the behavior you experienced is the value of “Selfless Service”. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing graduates from the classes of 1922 to present from A&M, and while A&M has evolved from an all-male military institution with a few thousand students to a world class Tier 1 Research university with more than 65,000, the values that were espoused in 1922 are the same values we hold dear today. It used to be that those values were taught while we were students, now students they come here with many of those values and they are refined.

    You saw innumerable and noted many examples of “Selfless Service”. Perhaps the most dramatic example is a totally student-run program called “The Big Event”. On a Saturday morning in the Spring, more than 20,000 students gather at 7:00 a.m. to go out in to the community to thank the residents of Bryan/College Station by helping them do projects around their houses, painting, cleaning, fence building, gardening, you name it.

    Y’all, like everyone who visits our humble home, are welcome any time. And, if you ever need anything, anywhere in the world, find an Aggie. We all wear identical rings, they’re easy to spot if you know what to look for. We’ll give you a helping hand. It’s who we are. Y’all come back soon. We look forward to it.

    1. BLUEsky

      Great post Ag81, and thanks for sharing. Rest assured there are plenty of folks in the BBN that share the same values.

      I wasn’t at the game, but what I am reading about the experience is just plain inspiring. Perhaps there is hope for our society after all.

  6. Alleykat16

    To be honest I’ve never heard a CATS fan say the C-A-T-S cheer was boarder line obnoxious that’s just plan rude. But they do have a great fan base unlike some of ours that think our most noticable cheer is obnoxious. GIG’EM

  7. mgilkey13

    I have to echo everything Nick says. I’d never been to Texas A&M, though I knew about the “12th Man” and I was stoked about this trip. Having been to most of the major SEC venues, and dozens more out of conference, I have to say that Texas A&M was the most welcoming experience, and right at the top of the best overall atmospheres to any CF stadium inside and out
    , that I’ve ever attended. (Oxford, Tuscaloosa are right there).

    We were constantly (and sincerely) welcomed to the town, stadium, etc. and, sit down for this, people ENGAGED in conversation!! Can you believe in the year of our Lord 2018 they actually SPOKE with strangers instead of annoying them and he king fantasy football or Facebook?? What’s more, then every single group we encountered offered/provided food/alcohol at a grand sum total of zero dollars. All day long and into the late late night. I literally did not pay for lunch or a single drink for me or my wife all saturday. And I offered every time but was refused.

    Also the loudest stadium I’ve ever been in as well as the most respectful to opposing fans. Because I’m a loud, unabashed fan, and I was loud too when the Cats defense made their plays and was in a heavily populated maroon and white lower level section with literally one other UK fan anywhere in sight – my lovely wife. But though we cheered loudly for the CATS and we were surely silently shunned – say that five times fast – but not a single negative remark was made to us at all the whole game, and then we were even thanked for being there. It was a parade of handshakes, but not like Pleasantville weird. Even in OT the guys besides us simply asked, “What do you think will happen?” Complete respect.

    I for one will return to A&M and will add them to my “teams to root for that aren’t named Kentucky” list (which isn’t nearly as long as this post has become). I hope all of BBN can make it down at some point. I will def be back.

    For those in Aggieland, thanks for the hospitality- that’s what college football is supposed to be all about!

  8. kpfaught25

    This is one of the best pieces I have read from an opposing view. Thank you for portraying our values and traditions so well. I come from a long legacy of Aggies and have been drinking the Kool-aid since birth. My great-great grandfather graduated in 1916 and I graduated in 2016, making me a 5th generation. I am beyond proud of my school and want to take everyone I can to College Station to experience this exact thing. Please do not stop coming, we love to have you guys! You are always welcome in Aggieland.