There are a good number of college football programs/schools that have rich traditions, Texas A&M may take the cake of all the schools we’ve profiled so far. Being a Texas A&M Aggie is a way of life….it might even be a religion. The rules, programs, and traditions may take a lifetime to master fully. Here at TheCrunchZone.com we’ve had a few weeks to go through the many list of things that are unique about Texas A&M and its alumni/fans. I quite enjoyed researching Texas A&M culture and this research could have easily extended well beyond this writing. But here’s a quick look at what we found:
Texas A&M & Quick History
A&M has a HUGE enrollment of 64,373 of which 49,545 are undergraduates on its 5200 acre main campus. Located in College Station, TX and boasts and endowment of approximately $11.1 BILLION. TA&M is a top 20 research institution in the United States and is also a Senior Military College. A&M was founded in 1862 with admission to white males only, all of which were required to participate in the Corps of Cadets (more on that later). In 1963 women were admitted followed by African-Americans in 1965.
A&M also greatly contributed to the troop population in both World Wars. In the 1920s oil was discovered on university land. The school was able to negotiate to receive one-third of the revenue from the oil stake which allowed the school to continue to expand during the Great Depression. During the relief efforts Texas A&M was a haven for many refugees of New Orleans
Texas A&M is also one of the few land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant universities nationwide.
Corps of Cadets
Military participation at A&M became voluntary in 1965, but throughout its history the Corp of Cadets are known as the “Keepers of the Spirit” and vigorously protect traditions at Texas A&M. The Corps of Cadets is the largest uniformed student body of any non-service academy institution and many become military officers. Being in the Corp does not obligate its membership to the military but a high number of Cadets do enter service. Many of the Traditions at Texas A&M revolve around the Corps of Cadets.
The 12th Man
As you know, 11 players are on the field for any given play during a football game. Aggie Football fans refer to themselves as the ’12th Man’ symbolizing their support and impact of their presence during the game. Texas A&M students stand for the entire game on their seat, the only exceptions are if a player is injured or when the band plays the ‘Aggie War Hymn’ or ‘The Spirit of Aggieland’.
The tradition of the “12th Man” began at the Dixie Classic (known today as ‘The Cotton Bowl’) on January 2, 1922 vs. Centre College (Danville, KY). A&M was the underdog and suffered so many injuries in the 1st half that Coach D.X. Bible summoned student E. King Gill from the stands, a current student who had left the football team to play basketball to suit up. Though he didn’t play, his readiness & willingness to participate symbolized the support all Aggies have for their team and has since fostered an environment of similar support for A&M fans everywhere. Texas A&M went on to beat Centre 22-14.
Former A&M coach Jackie Sherrill actually created a squad of football players in the 1980s made up entirely of walk-ons. Typically Sherrill’s ’12th Man’ squad was for kickoff coverage. R.C. Slocum altered the ’12th Man Squad’ after he took over for Sherrill in the 1990s. Slocum’s version allowed for one walk-on player to wear the #12 jersey and participate on Special Teams.
The University has vigorously defended its trademark of “The 12th Man” and were able to get the Buffalo Bills & the Chicago Bears to cease and desist. The Seattle Seahawks ignored their request and in 2006 an agreement was finally settled upon. The Seahawks had to play $100,000 initially and $5000 per season to use the term. The Seahawks are not permitted to sell merchandise with ‘The 12th Man’. The agreement ends this year.
12th Man Towel
Created in 1985 Aggie fans use a ’12th Man Towel’ to wave over their heads. Jackie Sherrill’s 12th Man unit actually used the original towel on the field which played heavily into its overall adoption.
A mugdown (noun) occurs after every scoring play for A&M. Mugging Down (verb) means that you kiss the date that you came with. So if you see thousands of Texas A&M fans making out after an Aggie TD, that’s just what they do….they are Mugging Down.
Reveille & Ol’ Sarge
The Aggie’s official mascot is a purebred rough collie named “Reveille”. The 1st Reveille was a mixed breed dog found on the side of the road in 1931. The current Reveille is Reveille IX and is considered a “Cadet General” wearing 5-stars (the highest ranking in the Corps) and cadets must address her as “Miss Reveille, ma’am”. Reveille is known as “The 1st Lady of Texas A&M”.
There are many traditions surrounding Reveille. She accompanies her handlers throughout campus. If she wishes to sleep on a cadet’s bed that cadet is required to sleep on the floor. If she barks in class, that session is cancelled. The sophomore Mascot Corporal that is selected to care for her is chosen each Spring Semester must bring Reveille with him everywhere, to class, out on dates, and home for the holidays.
Former Reveilles that have passed on have received full military funerals at Kyle Field, thousands attend. Reveilles are buried at the entrance to ‘The Zone” where they have a special scoreboard for the departed to keep track of the games.
Unofficially, “Ol’Sarge” is a mascot of the Aggies. “Ol’Sarge” appears only in graphics and is a tough looking drill sergeant.
The Aggie Ring
The Aggie Ring represents achievement by an A&M student/alumni. An Aggie Ring can only be ordered when an A&M student completes 90 hours (45 hours being from A&M directly). There have been very few changes to the ring design over the year and all are nearly identical. The last change to the ring came in 1963. The oldest Aggie ring comes from the class of 1889, but the design used (for the most part) today dates from the class of 1894.
Students wear the ring with the class year facing them to signal that their time at the university is not completed. At graduation, new graduates turn their rings around. There are a great many symbols within the ring, but displaying the Aggie Ring is the most visible way to identify a graduate of Texas A&M.
An unsanctioned tradition involves students ‘dunking’ their new rings in a pitcher of beer and that student chugging the entire pitcher catching the ring in his/her teeth. Many students choose to perform this ritual at the Dixie Chicken.
Texas A&M began as an all-male military school so there were no cheerleaders. Instead, A&M adopted the tradition of ‘Yell Leaders’. These guys have developed a series of hand signals, known as ‘pass backs’ that tell the student section which ‘Yell’ or cheer is coming for the student section to chant in unison. Once the signal is passed through the crowd the Leaders give the signal to ‘hump it’ where the crowd leans forward and places their hands on their knees to maximize the noise. There are traditionally 5 ‘Yell Leaders’ – 3 seniors and 2 juniors.
Starting in 1913 the corps would come together to practice the “Yells”. As a result A&M cheers are often quite overwhelming and specific due to their precision. Yell Leaders walk back and forth because one particularly famous Yell Leader “Peanut Owens” had feet that were too big to fit on the steps of the YMCA building where the corps would hold “Yell Practice”. He paced to keep his balance and other Yell Leaders adopted it.
The night before games (typically Fridays for Saturday games) Aggies gather in huge numbers at Kyle Field or a specified location for away/bowl games to practice yells. There are also jokes and insults about the opponent. Up to 50,000 people have shown up for the Midnight Yells for A&M home games.
Mugging Down at Midnight Yell
You can’t get your mugdown on at the A&M game if you don’t have a date. So A&M students who have struck out through the week eagerly await Midnight Yell. While there single Aggies bring a lighter and wait for the lights to go down at Kyle Field. Once dark the lighters are lit, known has ‘flicking your bic’ and pairs quickly begin to form.
“Whoop” is a word of approval for seniors and juniors at the end of a yell.
Following each yell students make a noise and a hand motion known as a wildcat. Each class has a separate wildcat: Freshman yell “A-A-A-A”, Sophomores push back on the seniors and yell ‘A-A-A-A-A’ while waving their hands up and down in front of the torso with their index fingers extended and thumbs perpendicular, Juniors yell “A-A-A-WHOOP!’ while wrapping their left hand over their right fist and both index fingers extended and pointing towards the ground, Seniors yell ‘A -WHOOP’ while interlocking their fingers with their index fingers extended and pointed into the air. At the same time, the left foot is raised and tucked behind the right knee. The fingers are interlocked rather than covering the right hand so that the Aggie Ring is visible.
Known simply as “Bonfire”, the burning of large quantities of wood during Thanksgiving weekend remains in place today, in an abbreviated version following a 1999 disaster. The Bonfire is essentially another Midnight Yell were speeches are made and yells are performed.
The 1st bonfire was built in 1907 and was small. In 1909 the tradition moved to campus, and was originally meant to celebrate the annual football game between Texas & Texas A&M. Aggies refer to the University of Texas as t.u. and amend their popular yell BTHO_ to “Burn the Hell Out of t.u” and “Build the Hell Out of Bonfire”. In 1935 a farmer reported than his entire barn had been deconstructed and carried off for fuel for the bonfire. The University then made the bonfire a school sponsored event and it gradually grew over time until it set a world record in 1969.
The University of Texas made several attempt to subvert the efforts of the bonfire by igniting it early. In 1933 & 1948 students from UT rented airplane and made the effort to drop firebombs onto the stack of wood. Both were unsuccessful. In ’48 the plane ran low on fuel and the wooden portions of the plane ended up as a part of the bonfire itself. In 1956 Longhorn fans attempted to plant explosives, and in 1970 a police officer attempt to set fire to the site several days ahead of time.
The 1999 Bonfire disaster occurred during construction when it collapsed killing 12 Aggies and injuring 27 others. Because of the deep tradition at A&M and the ‘Aggie Spirit’ felt within the Texas A&M family this was a very somber time for the school. 90,000 people showed up to silently burn candles at the site where the Bonfire was set to occur. 1999 was one of only two years that the Bonfire did not burn, with the other being in 1963 following the assassination of President Kennedy.
A memorial was constructed at the site of the 1999 accident (Polo Fields). A much smaller version continues today with each log touching the ground in a wedding cake design.
Replant is a student-run environmental service project to replenish the trees cut for the Bonfire. Hundreds of trees are planted each years by student volunteers at parks, schools and other public lands. All trees are donated by the National Tree Trust.
“Howdy” is the official greeting of Texas A&M University. Aggies feel that they are the friendliest university in the world and using this to greet visitors assures the school that no one on campus feels like a stranger. Students are encouraged to greet everyone on campus that they pass with a “Howdy” and a smile. It is also a way for a public speaker to gather the attention of a crowd and the crowd is expected to return the “Howdy” back in unison.
Gig ‘Em is the universal sign of approval for Aggies. It started at a Yell practice before a game vs. TCU in 1930 (The Horned Frogs). The sign is a fist with a thumb extended up, meaning that they were going frog hunting. Gig Em has extended throughout every day vernacular at A&M and can be applied as a sign of encouragement for other Aggies.
Century Tree is a unique, beautiful tree on the Texas A&M campus. Legend has it that if you walk under the tree with another person you’ll be with that person for the rest of your life. If you walk under Century Tree alone, you’ll be alone forever. Many Aggie proposals occur under Century Tree as any proposal beneath it will result in a marriage that lasts forever.
Aggies typically avoid the tree at all costs (because who can make life decisions like that strolling through campus?).
The Spirit of ’02
The Corps celebrates A&M Touchdowns by firing “The Spirit of ’02” which is a recovered 3-inch M1902 Field Gun. This edition was issued between World Wars and is believed to be hidden to avoid being scrapped during WWII. Students found “The Spirit of ’02” in a ditch while cutting wood for Bonfire in 1974. It has been fired to celebrate TDs since 1984.
Elephant Walk began in 1926 with seniors walking through campus single file with a hand on the shoulder of the person in front. Traditionally the walk was reserved for the week of the football game vs. Texas (they don’t play anymore), but now is the last regular season game of the season. The Elephant Walk symbolizes the end of seniors ‘usefulness’ to the 12th man and passes the torch to the junior class. Seniors in their last semester are known as ‘dead elephants’.
The Senior Class also announces the class gift at the Elephant Walk.
Pennies for Sully
“Pennies for Sully” is a tradition A&M students exercise during exams. Former president Lawrence Sullivan ‘Sul’ Ross would personally tutor students and would accept only a ‘penny for their thoughts’ as payment. For good luck, students place pennies around Ross’ statue in Academic Plaza. During exams his statue is covered in pennies.
It’s rare for A&M fans to ‘boo’ as it is strongly discouraged. Instead, angry Aggies will ‘hiss’ their opposition of officials. A exaggerated version of this is a ‘Horse Laugh’ which the Yell Leaders organize and ends with a stadium wide ‘hiss’.
Ran Out of Time
A&M culture dictates that if the Aggies were outscored in the football game, they ‘Ran out of time.” Because A&M never loses according to its fans.
There really is so much more. The school has an entire vocabulary all of its own. Words permitted only by class, the boot line and so many other things that really attending A&M would take its own 4-year course to learn. I quite enjoyed researching this piece as someone who enjoys football & school traditions. If Aggie catches wind of this and would like to make a correction or addition, I’d be happy to amend. email@example.com