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100 Things Texas A&M Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Rusty Burson
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2013 Rusty Burson
All rights reserved.
Salute Gen. James Earl Rudder for the Best Decision Ever
If World War II had never taken place, it's conceivable that James Earl Rudder could have been hired as the head football coach at Texas A&M. After all, Rudder, a 1930 graduate of A&M, had already earned his first collegiate head coaching job at John Tarleton Agricultural College (now Tarleton State) by the time he was 28 in 1938.
Perhaps Rudder could have succeeded Homer Norton as head coach in Aggieland in 1948 instead of Harry Stiteler, who "led" A&M to its only winless season in school history and lasted only three years in College Station. Perhaps Rudder could have prevented A&M from falling upon such unfortunate football times, as the Aggies were just 28–56 –7 from 1946–54.
Maybe Rudder, with his legendary leadership skills, would have been so successful at his alma mater that the Aggies would have never needed to lure Paul "Bear" Bryant from Kentucky.
We'll never know, as World War II did occur, and Rudder became one of the most revered military heroes of the D-Day invasion. As commander and trainer of the Second Ranger Battalion, Rudder's Rangers stormed the beach at Pointe du Hoc and, under constant enemy fire, scaled 100' cliffs to reach and destroy German gun batteries. The perilous mission resulted in a higher than 50 percent casualty rate, and Rudder was wounded twice during the fighting.
He later became Texas Land Commissioner and served as the 16th president of Texas A&M from 1959 until his death in March 1970.
He never officially coached a game for A&M. But he certainly deserves the top spot in any book that documents, celebrates, or pays homage to the evolution of Aggie football. For that matter, Texas A&M wouldn't be Texas A&M as we know it today without Rudder's ground-breaking influence and leadership.
During Rudder's administration, the university doubled its enrollment, expanded its research programs, and improved academic and faculty standards. And one extremely controversial Rudder decision laid the groundwork for future growth and — among other things — athletic success, as Rudder transformed the university by making the military requirement optional and opening admission to women.
Until Rudder's landmark decision in the mid-1960s, A&M was all male, all military, and all but forgotten in the minds of most prospective students and student-athletes in Texas. By 1962, for example, A&M's enrollment barely topped 8,000, as high school students throughout the region chose instead to seek admission to coeducational state universities such as Texas, Texas Tech, and Houston.
Rudder could envision an increasingly bleak future for the university, and instead of allowing his alma mater to dwindle into obscurity, he forced radical changes during the recess of an Association of Former Students (AFS) board meeting on January 25, 1964. According to Homer Jacobs' book, The Pride of Aggieland, it was on that day that Rudder approached John Lindsey, president of the AFS board, and handed him a torn piece of paper with a handwritten note that essentially stated, "Admit women on a full-scale basis."
Although the wives of students and daughters of A&M faculty had been allowed to take courses since the college's earliest days, the idea of a full-fledged coeducational institution had been fought vigorously by students and former students for generations. Lindsey knew the note Rudder had handed him would likely whip the attendees into a volatile frenzy. Nevertheless, Lindsey made his announcement.
"Gen. Rudder gave me a resolution to admit women all the way," Lindsey said to the group following the recess. "He wants it and needs it. Gentlemen, this is the best thing for our university — and now I'm going to call on a vote."
Lindsey later described the scene to Homer Jacobs: "I said, 'Those in favor say aye,' and there were some ayes. I then said, 'All opposed say no,' and there were a lot of them. But I said, 'The ayes have it,' and that was that. Many of the men were yelling for another voice vote or ballot vote, but I refused."
With that "vote," Rudder had all he needed for the board of directors to provide the green light to admitting women. At first, the growth of the female student population was extremely slow, but by 1974–75, one-fourth of the student body was made up of women.
Not coincidentally, the 1974 and '75 football teams at A&M finished in the Top 20 of the final Associated Press rankings for the first time since Bear Bryant had departed the school in the late 1950s. Recruiting the top male athletes to A&M suddenly became much easier with female students on campus. Quite frankly, women made winning on a consistent basis a possibility at A&M.
Sul Ross: The Man Who First Saved A&MC
When the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas opened its doors on October 4, 1876, as the first public institution of higher learning in Texas, there was a little town north of campus called Bryan, which had been established in 1859 and incorporated in 1871. College Station didn't officially exist until 1877 when the Postal Service named it a railway stop. So it would be fair — and accurate — to say A&M was built in the middle of nowhere.
The location for A&M was chosen primarily because the school would be situated roughly in the middle of Dallas, Houston, and Austin. But lawmakers in Austin were not necessarily looking out for A&M's best interests.
Even though A&M opened its doors a few years before the University of Texas, A&M was considered — by design of lawmakers — as an annex to UT. All along, lawmakers planned for the school in Austin to feature a diverse and broad-based academic curriculum, while A&M would be limited to only agricultural and mechanical studies.
By the time UT was officially founded in 1883, A&M was a fledgling school. Rumors swirled across the state that the school was on the verge of being shut down because of poor management and other issues. It was not until 1891, when a former two-term governor of Texas named Lawrence Sullivan Ross arrived as the school's president, that A&M found its niche.
Ross declared that, in order to survive, A&M's central mission would be military training. Classes soon took somewhat of a backseat to military training, and A&M began to establish its legacy as the all-male, all-military outpost that welcomed brave, common men of meager means without reservation. In those earliest days, students went to the University of Texas to focus on their core classes; young men went to Texas A&M to become part of the Corps of Cadets.
Everything at A&M became centered around military tradition and training. With no female companions on campus to distract them and little else in the immediate community, the cadets stayed on campus, marched together, drilled together, trained together, attended classes together, and ate together. Many of A&M's traditions started during Ross' time as president, and from the time he assumed control of the university in 1891 until he died on January 3, 1898, at the age of 59, the university experienced tremendous growth in its enrollment and its facilities.
He saved A&M from extinction and, perhaps most significantly for the sake of this book, the Aggies began playing football in 1894 — during Sul Ross' tenure as president.
Ross is still having an impact in the community. Students place pennies at the feet of the "Sully" statue of Ross in the academic plaza, hoping for good luck on exams. The tradition stems from the story of when Ross was president of A&M and was always willing to help students with anything, even tutoring for class. When the students offered to pay him, all he would accept was a penny.
According to a 2009 article in The Battalion, the pennies are collected every weekend by the Texas A&M chapter of Circle K International, a community-service and leadership-development organization. The pennies are then donated to the local Boys and Girls Club of America.
So put a penny on Sully for good luck ... or to support the Boys and Girls Club.CHAPTER 2
Wear a Bow Tie in Honor of Dr. Loftin
On January 18, 2013, Texas A&M officials announced that the historic end of the Aggies' 2012 football season — the school's first in the SEC and one that culminated in Johnny Manziel winning the Heisman Trophy and A&M trouncing Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl — translated into $37 million in media exposure for the university. That figure, based on research conducted by Joyce Julius & Associates, covered a two-month stretch that began on November 10, 2012, the day of the Aggies' road victory over eventual national champion Alabama, and concluded on January 6, 2013, two days after the Cotton Bowl.
One week later, an in-house study was released, revealing that the Texas A&M University System generated an estimated $4.3 billion for the Bryan–College Station community in 2012. That was a $540 million increase over 2011 and a $2.2 billion increase since 2002. University and city officials concluded that much of the increase in the contribution to the local economy was linked to A&M's move to the SEC, as attendance at athletic events increased by about 98,000 in 2012 from the previous year.
In other words, the move to the SEC has already been financially beneficial, and it has generated an unprecedented amount of national media attention, praise, and positive publicity for a university that in previous years and decades was often in desperate need of a marketing and public relations shot in the arm. And the best news from A&M's standpoint is that those financial figures and media impressions are merely the tip of the iceberg. The Aggies' future in their new league — which will include increasing brand value, licensing and sponsorship opportunities, the SEC Network income, and so much more — is as bright as the summertime sun in Central Texas.
The bold transition from the Big 12 to the SEC may ultimately prove to be the second-best decision in the university's history in terms of its positive effect on the long-term future of A&M, and the forward-thinking man most responsible for pulling the trigger on that much-debated move is Dr. R. Bowen Loftin, the 24th president of Texas A&M and the visionary with the trademark bowtie.
Loftin, who first served as interim president beginning on June 15, 2009, is a 1970 physics graduate of A&M who holds an M.A. and Ph.D. from Rice. He's an articulate, personable, unassuming, and highly intelligent man who has the rare ability to relate to regents, professors, and today's students with a distinctive flair that is both professional and amiable. Most significantly — at least in terms of how it relates to this book — Loftin understands and embraces the far-reaching power of a strong athletics department that serves as the university's public relations front porch.
He also possesses the self-confidence — in himself and the increasingly powerful university brand he represents — to take a stand against moves that might not be in A&M's best interest. That was obvious in the summer of 2010 when Loftin and university Board of Regents member Jim Wilson, among others, tapped the breaks on the Pac-10 expansion train that was being driven by University of Texas president Bill Powers, Longhorns AD DeLoss Dodds, and Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott. Behind closed doors, Texas officials had essentially arranged for Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado to be included with the Longhorns in a landscape-altering move that would have created the Pac-16.
Instead of merely latching on to the Longhorns' coattails — as the rest of the aforementioned schools seemed more than willing to do — Loftin, Wilson, and other A&M officials tossed a wrench in the fast-moving "Powers play," announcing that the Aggies would first explore all options, including a possible move to the SEC, before blindly hitching one of the most proudly conservative universities in the country with left-coast/left-wing schools like Cal-Berkeley, UCLA, and so forth.
As it explored SEC membership, A&M temporarily saved the Big 12 and derailed the Longhorns' initial plans.
The following summer, as Texas celebrated the Longhorn Network and distanced itself financially from the rest of the Big 12, Loftin re-engaged SEC commissioner Mike Slive and laid the groundwork for what Loftin coined as a "100-year decision." After Loftin navigated the school through legal hurdles in the summer, A&M officially became the 13 member of the SEC in September 2011.
Thanks to an aggressive marketing and brand-awareness plan that was crafted and guided by Jason Cook, the vice president for marketing and communications and one of Loftin's best hires, A&M capitalized on the move to the SEC by winning public relations battles in the media, strategically shaping its own messages, and taking the university brand to new heights.
Loftin punched all the right buttons and made the necessary calls throughout the transition to the SEC, and he ultimately paved the way for the incredible success of the Aggies' first football season in the SEC when he made the extremely difficult final call on firing former head coach Mike Sherman after A&M finished at 6–6 in the 2011 regular season.
If Sherman had not been fired, Kevin Sumlin would have likely left the University of Houston to fill the opening at Arizona State, and Manziel may have played receiver at A&M or possibly served as the backup quarterback to Jameill Showers, who was more of a pure dropback pocket passer that Sherman liked for his traditional offense. There would have been no Heisman, and there likely would not have been the success that the Aggies enjoyed in 2012.
Nor would there be quite as much optimism regarding A&M's future. So when you are planning your wardrobe for the next big SEC game day in College Station, consider wearing a bowtie in honor of the president who has made it all possible.CHAPTER 3
Give to the 12th Man Foundation
One of the primary reasons Kyle Field has received national acclaim for its phenomenal atmosphere on game days is that Aggies do not merely come to a game to watch the action; they attend a game hoping to impact it with their passionate support.
Since the mid-1890s when football first began at A&M, Aggies have often viewed their game-day role in the stands more seriously than fans from other schools. That's why they attend yell practice the night before a game; that's why they do not boo their own team; and that's why students still stand symbolically throughout the game, united, as the 12 Man. Each Aggie is trained to do his/her part at Kyle Field.
If those fans would take the same approach to their financial support of athletics, however, the Aggies would likely have many more championships to celebrate.
Excerpted from 100 Things Texas A&M Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Rusty Burson. Copyright © 2013 Rusty Burson. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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