|by Scott Rhymer|
I, along with many other Clemson fans, had heard the reputation of the Aggie fans and how well they treated their guests. But being from the south, where college football is treated with as much passion as a religion, I was more than a bit skeptical that fans could be passionate and respectful all in one.
So as I gathered my luggage and headed for my rental car. I was out to find the bad and the ugly among the fans of Texas A&M and not because I am evil or on some twisted death-wish march. I searched for the bad because I truly believed that there was no such fantasy land in college football that these fans claimed existed.
4:25 p.m. For the first time in my life, I set foot on Texas soil. I’m paying for my rental car when the clerk, seeing my Clemson hat, says “Good luck against the Aggies. I’m a big Texas fan”. Understanding how a rivalry works, I pat him on the back and tell him, “We’ll do our best.” As I walk away, the clerk yells over my shoulder. “By the way. What in the world happened at the end of that Georgia Tech game?” I’ve made my first enemy, and he is a Longhorn.
5:05 p.m. They say everything in Texas is big and I quickly find out some evidence to that statement. Houston traffic makes Atlanta’s traffic look like Pelzer, South Carolina. As I finally make my way past the Houston metro area an hour and a half later, I see my first real Texas cattle ranch. I would then see one about every five miles from this point on.
6:40 p.m. After quickly checking into my hotel in College Station, I set out to ride around the campus before eventually driving up to Kyle Field. The campus at Texas A&M is huge, much bigger than I expected. Kyle Field is a massive stadium, comparable to Death Valley. The difference is the Texas terrain which is flat as a table and makes the stadium tower over the campus. It’s a very impressive site.
7:30 p.m. After my quick tour of the campus, I head to the Dixie Chicken. Every Aggie fan will tell you that the Dixie Chicken is the place to be on Friday nights, and I quickly realize what they mean. The place is jammed full of patrons, but its reputation is such that hundreds of Clemson fans are also in attendance.
7:35 p.m. As I mosey up near the bar area, I am quickly offered a drink by an Aggie fan named Justin that has noticed my Clemson hat. “Welcome to College Station, let me buy you a beer”, the 40 year old asks. I accept, asking for a Lite beer. He laughs and sternly tells me he is going to buy me a Texas beer. I quickly find out that the beers in Texas are big too. And strong.
8:00 p.m. As I try to stomach the Texas beer without showing my dislike of it, I strike up a nice conversation with Justin and he tells me what he thinks will happen in the game tomorrow night. He’s nice and affable, but I sense that he is on a mission that does not necessarily include me. After a few minutes, he tells me to enjoy my stay and proceeds to buy another Texas beer to another Clemson fan that has meandered into the bar area. The other Clemson guy dislikes the Texas beer as much as I do. But Justin seems pleased that he is making our experience memorable, if not necessarily tasty. Justin would continue this ritual with every Clemson fan that made their way near his table throughout the night.
8:30 p.m. The next Aggie fan I meet, “Big Ron”, tells me to meet outside the Dixie Chicken promptly at 11:30 for the walk to Kyle Field for Yell Practice. Of course I had heard of Yell Practice, but I’m a little puzzled because I just assumed it was for Aggie fans only. Big Ron laughs, saying “Did a Texas Longhorn fan tell you that nonsense?”
11:30 p.m. Thinking I had won the opportunity to walk with Big Ron to Yell Practice as a special honor, I head out to the front promptly at 11:30 for my trip to Kyle Field. As I walk outside, I quickly see Big Ron. But I also see about 35 Clemson fans standing with him. Seems my special invitation to Yell Practice was not so special after all as Big Ron had just about emptied the Dixie Chicken with any and every Clemson fan willing to go with him.
12:00 midnight To say Yell Practice is impressive is an understatement. 25,000 folks have poured into Kyle Field to go over the yells for tomorrow’s game. All of the Aggie fans carefully listen to the Yell Leaders as if they are about to tell them winning lottery numbers. Dennis Franchione makes a brief appearance to tell the fans that they need to be loud tomorrow because Clemson uses a no huddle offense. During the singing of the Aggie Alma Mater, the Aggie fans next to me insist that I join in and place my arm around them while swaying back and forth.
As impressed as I am with the huge crowd so late at night in a town so far from civilization, I am more impressed when my new Aggie friends tell me that 50,000 will show up before a Texas or Oklahoma game at Yell Practice. That is simply amazing to me.
12:40 a.m. I’m still pumped from the Yell Practice, but my walk back to the hotel is well over two miles. About half way back a SUV pulls up and offers me a ride. The car is filled with six guys all wearing Aggie apparel. I squeeze in and they promptly drive me to the hotel as if I were their best buddy. All six think the Aggies will win tomorrow, which is no surprise because all fans think their team is going to win. They invite me to their tailgate spot the next day, but the directions they gave me make no sense and I know then that I won’t see them again.
8:30 a.m. I leave my hotel to pick up Pete Yanity (Clemson’s play by play announcer) and Jeff Bright (Clemson Sports Network Engineer) from the resort where the team is staying. The map makes the drive look about 40 minutes, but in reality is at least an hour away. Compounding the problem is that I get lost twice, having to pull into two separate cattle ranches to ask for directions. The cattlemen at both ranches are very helpful and patience with me. To say I was embarrassed to stand there in a Clemson shirt and hat asking a cowboy how to get to a fancy golf course resort is selling the moment short.
1:00 p.m. After wrapping up the Pregame Show, I head out to soak up the College Station tailgating atmosphere. I pop from parking lot to parking lot and rarely go more than 10 minutes before a group of Aggie fans ask me to come over for a bite to eat. Aggie fans obviously know how to tailgate. At each spot, all types of meats are being grilled and the sides are too many to name. Much like Clemson fans, Aggie tailgaters congregate in large numbers. I’m pleasantly surprised at how gracious they are at inviting me over. The tailgating atmosphere reminds me more of Clemson than any ACC school, which I realize is not saying much because ACC schools don’t tailgate anything like Clemson does.
2:30 p.m. In the third parking area that I visit, I notice a group of about 40 tailgaters with almost 2/3 of them being Clemson fans. I decide to stop by, assuming it is a Texas area Iptay club of some type. I was wrong. These 26 Clemson fans had come to College Station in five conversion vans from Columbia. Their self appointed leader, Mark, tells me that one of their vans had broken down in Mississippi. They had to leave all tailgating equipment with the disabled van, bringing only clothes and coolers packed with drinks and meat. Mark goes on to tell me that upon arriving in College Station, they walked to this parking lot, quickly met a group of 10 Aggie fans who promptly told them to join them and use their grill and cooking utensils.
3:30 p.m. After scarfing down a burger at the mixed tailgate, I make my way towards the stadium. Along the way I get several “Howdy’s” from the Aggie fans and three invitations for some food. I politely decline each offer, ready to get inside Kyle Field.
4:30 p.m. I watch the processional of cadets into the stadium. It is an impressive site, with all the folks that are in the stadium standing during the entire 45 minute entry. Even the Clemson fans, scattered throughout the stadium, stand while they watch.
Gametime The game is not a good one for our Tigers. The Aggies inflict a pretty decent whipping on us and it seems we can do no right throughout the day. At halftime in the concourse area, Aggie fans quiz me on what a game in Clemson is like. They are also very curious as to what I think about Aggie fans and the way they are treating us as visitors. It is obvious that Aggie fans take pride in their game day experience and how they treat their visitors.
On the way out after the defeat, there is no taunting. A few Aggie fans come up to me and wish me a safe trip back. One even comes up and tells me good luck next week against Florida State and that he’ll make the trip to Clemson next year.
As frustrated as I am by the loss to the Aggies, the disappointment quickly fades as I begin to understand what a great trip this has been.
The entire experience in College Station, minus the outcome of the game, was outstanding. There was no animosity. No hatred. No bitterness.
What it did include was passion for the game of college football. It included a great tailgating atmosphere. It included a great football stadium with a loud crowd that pulled for their team to win.
And it included some great college football fans that certainly justified the outstanding reputation that they have developed.
All of which leads me to September 3rd when the Aggie football team and their fans will descend upon Death Valley for a game against our Tigers. Clemson has always been regarded as a great place for visiting fans to come and see a game. Clemson fans, by and large, are as accommodating and gracious as any in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But after my trip to College Station, there is no question that Clemson fans can be even more gracious. Aggie fans have set the standard, and we now have an opportunity to repay the treatment that so many of us received last year in Texas.
So when you see Aggie fans in the Clemson area in the days leading up to the game, go out of your way to make them feel at home. If you see an Aggie fan at the Esso Club, buy them a drink and tell them where the best restaurants are located. Let them know what to do on game days and where to go. Make sure you tell them to get into the stadium early enough to see the Tigers run down the hill.
But, above all, treat them as they treated us last year in College Station.
Treat them like a friend.
Other Articles by Scott Rhymer
Scott Rhymer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org