Thursday, November 15, 2012

T-Town


I was truly lucky this weekend, as I had the chance to see the Texas A&M Aggies dismantle the Alabama Crimson Tide’s hopes of an undefeated season in person. My younger brother is a student at Bama, so this wasn't my first time to Tuscaloosa, nor was it my first time to see a game at legendary Bryant-Denny Stadium.

But as you know, this time was a little different.

My Aggies were there to play #1 Alabama, and A&M was riding a wave of momentum into town.

Because I had already been to Bryant-Denny, the whole atmosphere probably didn't resonate with me like it did with most Aggies on Saturday, but I don’t mean to take anything away from Alabama. They have a good thing going there.

I got there on Thursday night, taking the last flight out of NY-LaGuardia to Birmingham, where a one-hour ride to Tuscaloosa awaited me. The late arrival precluded us from really going out that night, so we were plenty fresh for the full weekend experience beginning on Friday.

We began at City Café, a treasure tucked away in historic Northport (think downtown Bryan) that bathes itself in crimson and pictures of Bear Bryant. The place oozed Bama. To get a rise out of the staff, we asked if they went to Auburn. When they looked at us like we had three eyes, we told them we were Aggies. They quickly gave a small chuckle and said, “Roll Tide” and dismissed us like you would your JV scout team opponent.

We played golf Friday morning at Ol’ Colony Golf Course, which is the home of the Alabama men’s and women’s golf teams. It’s a public course that only cost us $45 to play and ride – and it was a treat. Students can play for $20 during the week. (Take note, Briarcrest, Bryan Muni, and A&M Golf Course. You are all terrible and overpriced.)

That night, after too many games of beer pong and flip cup, we descended upon the strip of bars in Tuscaloosa, known as… you guessed it, the Strip!

We tried to go to Innisfree, a local pub, but were so repulsed by their nerve to charge a $20 cover that I nearly threw up. (Well, that may have happened anyways, but it wasn’t because of a cover charge. Roll tide! Wait, no, gig ‘em!)

Gillett’s is the Dixie Chicken of Tuscaloosa. It’s the drinking institution that you just have to see, so we walked there, only to be asked for $30 to enter. ARE THESE PEOPLE INSANE? That buys me a case of beer at the gas station in the front of your bar. Adios, Gillett’s. You aren’t worth it, no matter the weekend.

The next day was Saturday. Oh, game day, how I love you.

There is nothing like waking up with a pounding headache on Saturday morning, only to wash it away with a pot of strong coffee, a hot plate of scrambled eggs and bacon, and a healthy serving of ESPN College Gameday (by the way, let’s give some credit to crazy old Lee Corso. He picked the Aggie upset.)

We then made the trek to campus, where we made a pit stop at the Aggieland Outfitters tailgate before moving on to the real thing – the Quad, and the sorority houses. Yes, I’ll repeat that. The sorority houses.

At the Quad in T-town, Bama fans take my prize for best tents. They have these blown-up monstrosities that look like bounce houses that they use as tailgating tents. They are awesome. I’m buying one, or making one, or stealing one. I have to have one next year.

The Quad is great, with its big trees and green grass and large bells and red bricks (what a thought!) and all, but the belle of the ball is the houses that shelter the oh-so-lovely Bama sorority sisters.

Their sorority houses line the two streets on the east side of Bryant-Denny Stadium. Some of them literally look at Bryant-Denny. It’s incredible. Not only is the location choice, but these houses also serve large catered lunches on gameday. My brother’s lady friend is a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, who apparently aren’t keen on the idea of giving bids to anyone less attractive than a dime. I can’t overstate the amount of hots that were running around this house.

So not only was it the perfect weekend to tailgate, cute sorority girls were hosting us at their house, serving us delicious ribs from the famous Dreamland BBQ.

The game was still two hours away!

And then maybe my pregame highlight – the Aggie Band marching right by the sorority houses on their way into the stadium, with dozens of Aggies following in their path. I don’t know about you, but hearing the band play before the game starts gives me chills. Every time.

The Pulse of Aggieland makes my pants go cray. 

We got into the stadium about an hour before kickoff, which gave us plenty of time to soak in the pregame stadium experience, which included an awesome tribute to Bear Bryant’s Junction Boys. You know the Aggie faithful loved them some Junction Boys.

The pregame routine at Bryant-Denny includes one of the better pregame videos. Alabama’s 14 national titles speak for the Tide, especially in video form. They could probably fill an hour with highlights from national championships alone. It is humbling for an opposing team’s fans to watch that.

The game itself was the best sports moment of my short life. I’m a pretty big supporter of the Texas Rangers and I was fortunate enough to be in Arlington when the Rangers finished off the New York Yankees in the 2010 ALCS. I never thought that would be topped, but Johnny Manziel and the Aggies did just that.

Saturday afternoon and Saturday night were one of those days where you try to slow everything down and note every detail to remember it forever. Everything is moving so fast, and everything is so fun, that it’s tough to really take it all in.

We sat in the Aggie block in the south end zone, which was a good thing. There was a chain-link fence lining our section, protecting us from the Bama fans. Seeing that had me more than a little concerned about the reason why such a fence is in place. The Aggie block stood strong together and yelled our asses off for 4 straight hours. I’m not sure if that was evident on the broadcast (I’ll find out tonight when I re-watch it) but we feasted on the energy our team gave us on Saturday.

Just like the team, we were disrespected, and we had to stick together, if for no other reason than fear. Bryant-Denny Stadium is not a friendly place. It was loud as hell in there, and the fans live and die by the Crimson Tide. This was on full display when the two twenty-something girls behind me were screaming so loud that their shrieks were bouncing off the inner walls of my head, and then sobbing so noticeably when McCarron’s pick killed Bama’s hopes that I couldn’t help but look at them and giggle.

Our whole section bonded that night. If you’ve been to a big win, you know what it’s like. High fives and hugs abound, with Aggies everywhere finding new best friends, if only for a few hours. We all stayed at the stadium long after the game ended, singing the War Hymn, taking pictures, and reliving the high moments.

This is what a beaten stadium looks like.
After the game, the best word to describe the atmosphere is crushed. Parents, kids, students, alumni, and Updykes everywhere couldn’t believe what they had just witnessed. Some were too drunk, putting off their sorrows for Sunday, but most were totally and completely crushed.

That’s when it hit me. Texas A&M had just rolled into one of the toughest places to play in America and spoiled the #1 team’s undefeated season. Kevin Sumlin had just planted his program of the front porch of college football, sending us all the message that his team had heard and taken to heart all season long: these aren’t the Aggies we have grown up watching. These are Sumlin’s Aggies, led by Johnny F***ing Football, on a mission to destroy the will of everyone they play.

They’re here. May Saturday night be the first of many that we as Aggies get to be a part of crushing others’ dreams, instead of ours. May this weekend be the spark that takes this program to new heights, only thought possible by the most optimistic of us. May this weekend be the signature win that becomes the norm, the custom, the… tradition. 

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