A tutorial of Texas A&M traditions
Texas A&M senior Maryann Baker explains Aggie traditions, including "Gig 'em" and what a "2 percenter" is.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Maybe you've never seen the joyous zealotry that goes with Texas A&M athletics. Or maybe you have but weren't sure exactly what it was you were seeing.
I really didn't know until the Big 12 began 15 years ago, although I'd been a sports fan all my life. But once the Texas schools merged with those of the conference I had grown up with, the Big Eight, we Midwesterners had to catch up on a lot of Lone Star State traditions.
And no school has more of those than Texas A&M, home of the "12th Man" in football, the Corps of Cadets, yell leaders and the phrase "Gig 'em!" -- among other things.
This season, coach Gary Blair's women's program is the first at Texas A&M to make the Final Four in men's or women's basketball. And folks here at Conseco Fieldhouse on Sunday for the Texas A&M-Stanford semifinal (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) might be a little puzzled/intrigued by some of what they'll see and hear from the Aggies fans, band and yell leaders.
(And if the yell leaders -- the guys in the white shirts and pants -- make you think of a horror movie involving orderlies from a 1950s mental hospital, then you have an imagination as creepy as mine.)
Please consider this column not an encyclopedic rundown of all Texas A&M tradition -- nobody but a true Aggie could give you that -- but just one Midwesterner's ode to the spirit of Aggieland.
Once the Big 12 started in 1996, Texas A&M came to fascinate me in much the same way as would a distant, rather eccentric relative at an extended family reunion. I mean that in an affectionate way. You can never fully get it if you're not an Aggie, but you can enjoy the fact that they revel in it so much. (Unless you're from that school in Austin; more on that in a bit.)
I actually got my first tutorial on Aggie tradition years ago from my best pal in Kansas City, a native Texan and North Texas graduate who had good friends who went to Texas A&M. At first, it surprised her that the Aggies' many quirky but diligently followed traditions were so unknown to me.
"I guess if you're not from Texas, you wouldn't know," said Aggies junior forward Adaora Elonu of Houston. "I didn't really even know it all at first. I thought the 'movement' that we do with the War Hymn was just cool. So when I came on my visit, I fell in love with it."
The movement that Elonu refers to is when Aggies athletes and fans lock arms and legs and sway side to side in a "sawing" motion. The reason for that? Well, it's not good news for the Texas Longhorn.
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Some background: The Aggie War Hymn that Elonu mentioned is the school's fight song, and it was adapted from a song written by a World War I veteran and A&M graduate named J.V. "Pinky" Wilson.
That song was called "Goodbye to Texas University," which is what A&M loyalists call the University of Texas at Austin (aka Satan's Lair, if you're an Aggie).
The story goes that, in the 1920s, Wilson eventually wrote a new first verse to the song that did not start with the ire for Texas -- or TU as the Aggies call it -- because some thought it would be better not to give the hated Longhorns the lead in the A&M fight song. But apparently that first verse just never caught on.
So the War Hymn is sung like this:
Goodbye to Texas University
So long to the orange and the white
Good luck to dear old Texas Aggies
They are the ones who show the real old fight
'The eyes of Texas are upon you'
That is the song they sing so well (sounds like hell!)
So goodbye to Texas University
We're gonna beat you all to
Rough, Tough, Real stuff, Texas A&M!
Then comes the part that, once you get it in your head, will stick there. I know, having been at the Dallas Regional where the Aggies earned their Final Four berth Tuesday. It's the chorus -- where everyone sways back and fourth -- with the repeated phrase:
"Saw Varsity's Horns Off!"
Huh? Well, that is in reference to the Longhorns mascot, which -- best I can figure from the many stories (some likely apocryphal) that I've read -- was once named "Varsity." Like a very long time ago.
How he became known as Bevo and how that first Bevo later became dinner for both the Texas and Texas A&M teams in 1920 are terrible tales that, as a vegetarian, I'd just as soon not get into. Bevo XIV is currently reigning in Austin, and he is far more revered and better protected than his predecessor was decades ago.
Now, the A&M fans just symbolically saw his (and Texas') horns off, and Aggies apply this animosity for "TU" toward whomever they happen to be playing. So they won't change the words to the War Hymn to "Saw Stanford's Tree Down!" this weekend, but that's essentially what they'll mean. (Stanford's band is likely to chide them for ending a sentence with a preposition.)
Although the Aggies' disdain for Texas is all-encompassing, the phrase "Gig 'em" actually refers to doing something very mean to a frog with a pitchfork or some other weapon. And this began in reference to beating the TCU Horned Frogs.
Most of the Stanford players don't know anything about all this Aggies stuff, of course but two of the Cardinal players do. Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike are from the Houston area and were recruited heavily by Texas A&M.
"I imagine the others are going to be talking about it, like, 'What is going on?'" Chiney said. "And I'm going to say, 'Come on, y'all. That's part of Texas.'"
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.