Texas A&M is miffed, but Alabama football and Auburn know there is a bright side to reunion with Texas
All relationships are different. There are different ways to show love, from big, warm hugs to quiet but rewarding conversations. And there are different ways to show hatred, from settling things with your brother in a backyard brawl to simply packing your bags and walking away from whoever it is you can’t stand.
The word “hate” is probably too strong, since there is enough of the real thing all around us and college football is something of a unifier, no matter which team you pull for. I’ll concede that sometimes the combination of emotionally overwrought fans and alcohol has tragic results. Institutionally speaking, though, most colleges are pulling in the same direction and “hate” is a contextual concept to describe something different.
On the other hand, the SEC is about to have what must be two of the fiercest intrastate rivalries in college football: Alabama-Auburn and Texas-Texas A&M. The fact that Texas and Oklahoma are both coming aboard was made abundantly clear on Monday when Texas and OU declared their intentions to move on as soon as possible.
That just extends what has been a rough row to hoe for Texas A&M for the past week. If the Aggies were left out of the discussion loop, it could be interpreted as a necessary anti-leak precaution or a breach of trust, but, either way, the shock was the same. Roughly 10 years ago, Texas A&M made the decision that enough Texas was enough and it didn’t care if it ever saw the Longhorns again.
That decision proved beneficial for the Aggies. Had Texas A&M won an SEC football title in that time, maybe “beneficial” could be changed to “wildly successful.” It gave A&M its own identity out of the steer’s shadow. Coupled with the power of the SEC, it made College Station a far more attractive recruiting option, especially as Texas stumbled through a series of ill-advised coaching changes.
So imagine the Texas A&M contingent’s surprise when it walked into Hoover last week and was greeted with a hearty “Guess who’s back?”
But consider this: the state of Alabama knows its rivalries. We may not be as big as Texas, but that just pushes people closer together and makes the snake venom more concentrated. Alabama and Auburn went roughly 40 years, starting in 1907, without playing at all. Fifteen of those years, they didn’t play even though they were in the same conference. Don’t think Alabama didn’t just start having influence when Nick Saban arrived. Finally, the state legislature made them play.
Sure, there were still some Alabama fans who found it beneath them and plenty of Auburn fans who hated playing in Birmingham every year. But the two sides soldiered on, bygones not being exactly bygones but more like jet fuel. And it all worked. Some of the classic college football games of the past 50 years have been between Alabama and Auburn. (Plenty of people argue that the Kick Six was the greatest, while Alabama fans who hear that mumble something unintelligible and go back to counting national championship rings.) It’s included on every list of great rivalries and is part of the cultural fabric of the state.
I wrote Sunday on how many of its former league partners found Texas insufferable and still do. But Texas A&M has grown. Look on the bright side, if you can see it over all those stacks of money that expansion will bring in: the classic rivalry is back, a joy that most college football fans have missed for a decade of Thanksgiving weekends. Don’t complain about that. Embrace it.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt.