It was in the fourth quarter of a Thursday night game against FCS opponent Northwestern State and Texas A&M was up 52-0. Students had class the next morning and others had work, but you’d still be hard-pressed to hear someone sitting next to you inside Kyle Field. The Aggies have a famously loud, large, and passionate student section, dubbed, “The 12th Man.”
College Station is less than a two hour drive away on a two lane highway, which seemingly only exists to connect to San Marcos; there are no cities with a population over 5,000 on the route, and not a Whataburger in sight. Lavish ranches line the road all the way until Texas Route 6, which runs you right into Texas A&M and the surrounding College Station. Kyle Field is a left at the light exiting the highway, but many fans made a right to free parking and shuttles at the nearby Momentum Plaza, a business park that looks like it was built to house the king rather than middle-management employees. Already, the sea of Aggie maroon begins.
Busses were lined up by the dozens lining the bright teal pond with a towering fountain. It seemed that this business plaza was the last place in the state of Texas to maintain lush green grass. As we waited in the sweltering sun, more and more Aggie fans (mostly alumni) arrived and began chatting with each other like long lost friends. An old man with a “Class of 1965” hat approached the group and gave me a grizzly, “Howdy,” the choice greeting of Texas A&M. Somewhere along Texas Route 21, the line is drawn for the Texan accent, which is nonexistent in the central part of the state; I listened to conversations about “Jimbuh Fisher” and about how, “them Aggie boys are gunna play t’night.”
After baking in the Texas sun for half an hour we finally loaded the first class charter en route to Kyle Field. Except, we didn’t. The bus had some troubles at first and it took another fifteen minutes before we finally headed to the stadium. Sitting behind me were parents of Charles Oliver, cornerback #21 for A&M, who joked with me about my lack of maroon and wanted to know just what the hell I was doing down from Ohio. The bus entered campus near Kyle Field, which towers over all of the campus buildings as a reminder of the pride and joy of College Station.
Aggie alumni, fans, and students are a very closely knit group that treats each other like extended family rather than fellow alumni or students. Most talk is of the team from whatever year the group graduated with, and how many of their children and grandchildren attended A&M as well. Being an outsider is tough in this kind of atmosphere, but the folk are notoriously kind and finding a conversation wasn’t very hard at all (usually it found you first). Of the 100,000 that fit into Kyle Field, damn near all of them know every word to every chant and song and tradition throughout the game.
And, boy, are there a lot of them.
Due to the mishap of our bus breaking down and the extended shuttle ride to the stadium, I didn’t get much of a chance to wander campus and the tailgating. However, we arrived just in time to see “the walk.”
The Texas A&M band is not a marching band, but a military band, composed entirely of cadets. Their precision and execution is unbelievable and might just be the best band in the entire country (watch out, Ohio State). Starting in the campus quad, the cadets march in parade around campus to Kyle Field, lined by thousands of fans. Many schools have their popular walk; usually being the team, mascot, coaches, and band; but the walk at Texas A&M’s walk is a big deal. It’s hard not to catch a sense of Aggie pride watching this parade go on.
I followed the parade from the quad to the stadium, where they posted up for a while before going inside. Also outside the stadium was the calvary, complete with covered wagons and more cadets dressed the part. Texas A&M could double for Texas Military Institute or even West Point with the presence of the cadets and cadet families. The tradition is captivating for everyone and ever present.
Kyle Field is the fourth largest stadium in the country, seating over 102,000 spectators, but the structure might just be the largest, most imposing one in the FBS. It towers four decks high, and the steepness of the seats is no joke, either. I was originally assigned to the upper 300 corner, where the drop to the field was almost enough to make someone sick (and lucky for me, I’m afraid of heights). However, with the gorgeous Texas sunset behind the stands and the view of the stadium, I was more awestruck than afraid, especially when the students began their yells; the atmosphere is like no other.
Following the National Anthem, four F-15 fighters did a flyover, piloted by Texas A&M alumni; football just isn’t back until there’s a flyover. The crowd sang a hearty, “Texas, My Texas,” and the students roared three signature cheers and the game was on. For the opening kickoff, Northwestern State was up to receive and the students were so loud that it made your head buzz – they were well above the pain threshold.
The monstrous student fanbase stretches half the stadium in all four levels, completely erasing the opportunity of an “away side.” The opposing band and fans are forced to squeeze into a section surrounded by A&M students, which causes an uncomfortable and unpleasant seat when you’re getting beat into the ground. At times, the noise was so much that it sounded muffled to the uncovered ear. A common jeer for the Aggies is that they want to “BTHO,” or “Beat the Hell Out of” [insert team here, this time, Northwestern State]. Also commonplace in Kyle Field is the discouraging of booing and instead let out a snakelike hiss at bad calls and at the opposing team’s introduction.
To begin the game, Northwestern State called for a fair catch on the kickoff at the 3 yard line, which the entire stadium (myself included) thought was a huge misstep and would mean that the Demons would start at the 3. However, new kickoff rules in place means that a fair catch can be called from anywhere behind the 25 yard line, and the ball would be placed at the 25 like a touchback. So the Demons began their drive at the 25.
The ball didn’t stay there, though, as the ear-shattering yells from the student section forced a false start to begin the game. On the very next play, they did it again. Before playing Texas A&M, players are instructed to watch the ball for the snap rather than waiting for a cadence because when sound levels get to the height that they were, you can’t hear a shout from more than 2 yards away. These two false starts only amped up the crowd and led to a Northwestern State punt just 3 plays later.
The Aggies wasted no time getting things going when running back Trayveon Williams ripped off a 73-yard touchdown, breaking several tackles on his way. Of course, the crowd loved it and didn’t fall under 100 dB until the second half. By the end of the first quarter, my head was spinning and I couldn’t imagine what it was like for the students in the section who were constantly yelling.
So, I decided to find out for myself.
The decks of the student section are (mostly) divided up by class, with the seniors sitting in the lower bowl, juniors in the mid-level, and sophomores and freshman sharing the upper deck (freshman in the corners, of course). I first made my way up to the upper deck, finding just one open spot on the bleachers shoulder-to-shoulder with a dozen other students. Stairs up the deck were nonexistent, as they were completely overflowed with students. The noise in this section was at another level, though it dipped well below the pain threshold, since the noise isn’t being directed at you.
By this time of night, the temperature had cooled down from the original 97º it was at kickoff, but in the uppermost rows of the student section, the temperature never changed. The energy and concentration of people made the place a sauna, but the students were unfazed. After the third round of yells, I was chanting right along with them; the enthusiasm in those decks was contagious.
The enthusiasm did not change going into halftime, as the pride of the Aggies took the field – their military cadet marching band. Even this early in the tour, I’ve seen some impressive bands, including a nationally-recognized Prairie View A&M Marching Storm the past Saturday, and Ohio State’s “Best Damn Band in the Land.” While TBDBITL still stands as the most talented group I’ve seen, the Fightin’ Aggie Marching Band put together the most precise and most impressive performance I’ve seen so far: no tributes, no covers of modern songs, just good, ole fashioned tradition. The band was polished and inter-weaved amongst each other with incredible precision.
Still in the student section, I got to see firsthand how much Texas A&M loves their band. To begin, the crowd let out loud roars and “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” at even the slightest movement (a kind of joking tradition they have), including when the drum major raised his arm. But when the performance was at its peak, the crowd went insane. Not a soul left before or during halftime.
Though the Aggies went into halftime with a 35-0 lead, the crowd’s energy did not die. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, A&M had a commanding 49-0 lead, and opened the fourth quarter with an impressive 52-yard field goal. Some of the older fans had left, so I decided to get a closer look at the action. Even from down in the lower bowl, the student section was deafening. And on a Thursday night nearing midnight wile up 52-0, the crowd was explosive. Remarkably, the Aggies lost the turnover battle (zero takeaways and lost a fumble) and still managed to pull off a dominating 59-7 victory on their opening night.
That opening night, however, was not just a standard opening night against an FCS team, which happens almost every year. It was the first game that the Aggies were lead by new-head coach Jimbo Fisher after signing a $75 million contract this past offseason. A&M faithful were buzzing about Fisher and think that he might just be the x-factor that brings them back to relevance. Though the game was against a minor opponent, the Aggies were polished and showed a lot of promise. The real test comes next week as they host Clemson.
Texas A&M provides one of the most electric atmospheres in the nation, and set a high bar for the upcoming season. I’ll have to return for an SEC matchup in College Station soon.
Location: Kyle Field, College Station, TX.
Score: Northwestern State 7, Texas A&M 59
Televised: SEC Network, 7:30 pm CST
Weather: 97º, hot and clear