Twenty minutes before kickoff of LSU-Texas A&M there are no tickets to be found in College Station.
This is alarming.
And incredibly rare.
Given the size of the stadiums and the relative lack of enforcement against the practice, there are generally lots of tickets for sale on the street before big SEC games.
But not for the A&M-LSU game.
I only see one man with a pair of tickets and he wants $300 each.
No one has more than two together.
So I make the decision to buy a single for $150. (Face value is $100 on the ticket so this doesn’t seem too bad).
My seat is on the west side of the stadium, section 111. I’m in the sixth row from the field and everyone is standing.
14. No one will sit down in my section of the stadium for the remainder of the first half.
Kyle Field is a raucous and intimidating place to play football, the kind of home field advantage where you can’t just feel the cheering, you can feel the underlying pain that will fester with a loss. It’s an intense kind of fandom where the student section across from me stands the entire game, older fans stand and cheer every bit as loudly. This is a massive game for A&M, a chance to notch a signature win in the Aggies inaugural SEC season.
My seat is old school, a metal bleacher with no back support, a small number affixed to where I’m supposed to be sitting. As Americans have gotten fatter these seat numbers have become more like suggestions. Half the time you get to a stadium bleacher seat now and can’t even find your number, it’s already buried under the stupendous haunches of someone in your vicinity. This is magnified at A&M because you can buy seat backs that are too large for the space alloted for your seat.
Basically, A&M’s stadium is like the anti-Longhorn Network, a place everyone wants to be, but not everyone fits.
15. Today’s game is a Maroon Out and everyone with the possible exception of me and LSU fans is wearing maroon.
(By the way, we need a study of the winning percentage for (insert color here) outs. My hypothesis is that the home team actually has a lower winning percentage than on regular game days.)
As soon as I get to my seat a woman in Aggie overalls turns and looks at me.
“You’re dressed neutral,” she says, spitting out the word neutral like it’s the darkest and most malignant curse she can imagine.
16. I’m sitting next to a teenage giant with braces.
He’s like 15 years old, 6’6″, and completely unable to control his body movements. (It’s a well-known fact that the 14 and 15 year old male is the most awkward any human species can ever be. The cruel irony of the 14 and 15 year old boy is that you are convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you are the coolest people on Earth. This is proof God has a tremendous sense of humor.)
Oh, and the gawky teenager has a 12th man towel.
Which he’s erratically waving like a man in the midst of an epileptic seizure.
This is hellish.
On top of that, he spends the entire first half, and I’m not making this up, attempting to wave to someone in the north end zone.
Is there anything more annoying that a person who wants to wave to someone else in the crowd? Especially in a cell phone, texting era when it’s never been easier to communicate with someone else? There are 87,429 people in the stadium today. Does anyone doubt that you’re one of the people in the stadium? Is this an amazing accomplishment? And if you actually see each other in the stadium and wave, is this worth the effort? It’s not like you’ve just escaped from Iran and will soon be reunited with each other. You’ve probably just left the same tailgate.
Anyway, people waving to other people in a crowded stadium is incredibly annoying to me.
17. Johnny Manziel is already approaching Tim Tebow cult-like status for Texas A&M fans.
I know because I remember the feeling of being in Florida during Tebow’s freshman season.
And A&M feels the exact same way now for Manziel that Florida did in 2006.
A fanbase having complete and total faith in an athlete is an incredibly rare phenomenon. Even really talented athletes rarely attain this status. Only a handful in SEC history attain it as freshmen. Herschel Walker, Tim Tebow, the list is tiny. And right now Manziel is close, achingly close to joining that list.
Coming into the game Manziel had been more impressive statistically than either Tim Tebow or Cam Newton had been in the first six games of their Heisman trophy campaigns.
Manziel has the miraculous ability to make others play the game at his own speed, an incredible rarity for a freshman. Plus, he’s already a world record holder for buying time in the pocket, a Tecmo Bowl-esque signal caller who seems capable of running around in circles, figure eights, and sprinting backwards while sidestepping onrushing defenders until miraculously uncorking a beautiful spiral over the tired defense to a wide open receiver.
But most of Manziel’s competition has been second-tier thus far.
How will he stand up against a top SEC defense?
18. Early on Manziel’s A&M team moves the ball just like the Louisiana Tech game has added a quarter.
A&M takes the opening drive and Manziel completes four passes en route to an easy touchdown.
After a missed extra point, A&M fans are bathing in a penumbra of Johnny Football sainthood. He’s the chosen one, the quarterback who has arrived at the perfect time, as A&M joins the SEC, to announce the arrival of a new Southern football power. It’s not just that Manziel is crazy good, it’s that he, Kevin Sumlin, and A&M’s entrance into the SEC are like the holy trinity of Aggie football, all ascendant at the exact right time, poised on the precipice of greatness, the kind of guys who are never going to give up another second half lead.
It’s not just that Manziel is really damn good, it’s that he’s really damn good at the perfect time.
A&M scores on three of its first four drives to take a 12-0 lead.
Right now the Aggies are completely dominating the Tigers. Indeed, with just under five minutes to play in the half, A&M is up 12-0 and facing a third and six at its own 35. Get a couple of first downs here and the half runs out, A&M takes a double digit lead into the locker room — I know, I know, but most teams prefer this Aggie fans — and you’re thirty minutes from a signature win.
Except Johnny Manziel throws an interception and LSU takes over with 4:42 remaining in the half.
A fourth down conversion later, touchdown LSU, it’s 12-7 and the air comes out of the crowd.
How deflated is the crowd?
The teenage giant next to me isn’t even trying to wave to anyone in the north end zone.
19. Playing LSU is a bit like wrestling an anaconda.
Early on when the initial pressure begins, you think, is that it? I’m not afraid of this snake. (Note, this is potentially a bad analogy because I’m actually terrified of all snakes).
Is that all LSU can do?
We’re going to dominate them.
And then the snake starts to squeeze a bit.
And you think, wait a minute, that’s not so bad, I can still withstand this.
And then the squeezing gets tighter and tighter, and meanwhile Les Miles is running some crazy fourth down pitch play that inevitably works and all the momentum in the world that coalesced in the opening of the game is vanishing quickly.
Next thing you know you look down at your arm and think, why is my arm purple?
Then you pass out.
Playing LSU is like this.
20. Before the half ends, it’s 14-12 LSU.
A&M fans around me are stunned.
Hadn’t the Aggies been dominating for the first 25 minutes.
Weren’t they well on their way to BTHOLSU?
21. At this point I leave Kyle Field to go watch the second half in The Dixie Chicken.
Yeah, yeah, I know, this violates a cardinal rule of fandom, but I’m sitting by myself and my friends, who couldn’t find tickets, are all outside at the tailgate. Plus, the eleven in the morning start has meant that I haven’t gotten to walk around the campus very much.
I decide to check out the Dixie Chicken and watch the rest of the game with A&M fans inside a bar. Add to that the fact that I want to walk around the A&M campus more and get a sense for the place.
So we reconvene at the tailgate and make the hike to the Chicken.
22. The Dixie Chicken is a dusty, old west feeling bar with deer heads over all the wood paneled walls.
It’s dank, musty, and massive, with at least three different bars, bunches of pool tables, brick floors, and the ancient vibe of a bar that has been around since Texas was still an independent country.
The bathroom has a urinal trough, that staple of elementary school years that exists almost nowhere in the country anymore.
Like all college bars you get the sense that it’s been the jumping off point for millions of ridiculous decisions, most of them bad.
Needless to say it’s an awesome bar.
We grab pitchers of beer, lean up against the pool tables and survey the scene around us, gobs of LSU and A&M fans without tickets stare up at the screen as A&M attempts to defeat the LSU anaconda.
But it’s not happening.
Johnny Manziel throws two more interceptions and LSU fans begin to taunt, “Johnny Foot-ball,” deriding the patron saint of A&M football. (Don’t worry, they did the same thing to Tim Tebow. It won’t become a true rivalry with LSU until Manziel’s cell phone number is posted online during game week).
LSU scores 24 unanswered to put away the game.
As we lean up against pool tables watching the game a drunk LSU fan — are there any other kind? — wobbles over and whispers a confession into my ear, “I had no idea Johnny Manziel was white. He’s got more rushing yards than Cam Newton!”
23. We watch the remainder of the game from the Chicken, while idly contemplating what the biggest brawl to ever break out there might have looked like.
Lauren, a fifth generation Aggie, fields a call from her dad, a fourth generation Aggie, lamenting A&M’s inability to hold a lead. (This is a call that will be placed by approximately a million Aggie fans before the day is finished).
With three straight road games coming up, the difference between an 8-4 inaugural SEC season and a 9-3 inaugural season is probably the game at Mississippi State.
Win that one and A&M will be in a prominent bowl game and finish with a winning record in the SEC in its first season. Which will be fodder for Aggie fans in the endless loop of Texas-Texas A&M aggression that will play out over the long offseason. (Unless a Cotton Bowl match-up can happen. Fingers crossed on that one).
But that’s in the future, for now it’s time to leave Aggieland and head back to Houston.
I’ll be back soon, promise.
24. It’s time for a confession: I love the state of Texas and am ecstatic A&M is now in the SEC.
As a very young kid, I was obsessed with the Alamo. (Later, I went to Civil War sleepaway camp at Gettysburg, so it’s amazing any girl ever agreed to sleep with me). I read everything about the Alamo and for my sixth birthday my dad granted a birthday wish, a trip to San Antonio to visit the Alamo. While we were there — staying in the Menger Hotel near the Alamo — I’m probably the only six year old who has ever woken up his dad early in the morning by screaming, “Dad, they’re playing the duegello!”
That’s the Mexican bugle played by Santa Ana’s army.
On the trip I bought a Lone Star flag that flew over the Alamo and hung it behind my bed for several years.
From that moment on the state of Texas has occupied a mythic status in my mind, a place I always visit and feel at home.
I’m not a Texan, but when Tim Riggins sipped a beer, looked out over the rolling countryside and said, “Texas, forever,” I knew exactly what he meant.
Perhaps it was the Tennessee, Texas connection in the Alamo with Davy Crockett or the San Jacinto ass-kicking delivered by Tennessee’s own Sam Houston, most likely it was a distant relative named William Barrett Travis drawing the line in the sand for the Alamo defenders.
Texas was founded by the most risk-taking, fast-talking, hard-living wildest Southerners on earth. People who looked at the Natchez Trace trail, at backwoods Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana and thought — “This place is too civilized for me.”
I’ve loved the state of Texas ever since I was a little kid.
Sometimes you just visit a place and fall in love with the way it feels. I feel that way every time I visit the state of Texas.
So I’m ecstatic that the state is now a part of the SEC family and that I’ll be making regular pilgrimmages to the Lone Star State state to marinate in Aggie yells and big time college football.
25. Inevitably I get asked to rank all sorts of environments for people who haven’t made trips to every SEC locales.
I’ll have updated rankings of all 14 SEC towns, stadiums, and, yes, girls by the end of the year, but in the meantime, how to classify College Station.
When I visited Mizzou earlier this year I compared Columbia to Athens. Asked to compare College Station to another SEC school, I’d go with Auburn. It has the same vibe, the same feel, as if the entire community on a college football Saturday solely exists to put on a football game.
You’re driving along a rural road, make a few turns, and suddenly a massive party has broken out around a football game.
It’s a jaw-dropping sight.
On a larger scale, now that I’ve been to all 14 schools you can classify SEC schools pretty easily in three broad categories.
“Urban” locales: Urban is being defined broadly here, as in, you feel like you’re in a city as opposed to a town.
Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN)
LSU (Baton Rouge, LA)
University of Tennessee (Knoxville, TN)
University of Kentucky (Lexington, KY)
University of South Carolina (Columbia, SC)
“College” towns: these are places with walkable downtowns closely adjacent to the campus, not quite cities, but what, I think most people would expect from a quintessential college town.
University of Georgia (Athens, Ga.)
Ole Miss (Oxford, Miss.)
University of Missouri (Columbia, Missouri)
University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa, Alabama)
University of Arkansas (Fayetteville, Arkansas)
University of Florida (Gainesville, Florida)
Rural college towns: not quite as big as college towns, but still with the distinct vibe of university life.
Auburn University (Auburn, AL)
Texas A&M (College Station, Texas)
Mississippi State (Starkville, Miss.)
Now, you can quibble with my distinctions here when it comes to the final two categories, but in general, I think they’re accurate. And it’s not like Texas A&M is in the middle of nowhere, if you drive fast enough you can be back to the outskirts of Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city, in a little over an hour from Aggieland.
But what you can’t quibble with is that A&M’s holy football trinity of the SEC, Johnny Manziel, and Kevin Sumlin are going to lead Aggie football to heights of prominence unseen before.
The future is so bright in Aggieland, that Coach Kevin Sumlin coaches in sunglasses.
It ain’t just a sliver of east Texas in the SEC, it’s the whole damn lone star state.