Column: Rivalry Will Be Missed

The conversation will inevitably crop up today, whether at a College Station tailgate, in the stands at Kyle Field or in line for the concession stands. And it will start like this: "Your school is responsible for killing the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry."

It doesn't matter which fan base it is. Texas fans feel that Texas A&M abandoned the rivalry the second A&M left the conference, and more specifically, the Longhorns' conference schedule. A&M argues that it still wants to play the rivalry game, but that the Longhorn brass won't clear any space in its future schedules. And neither argument would be wrong.

Make no mistake: this separation is about what is best for both schools. Texas A&M conducted studies that showed the Aggies would be better off, both from a financial and a publicity standpoint, if they joined the SEC. The move appears to be what's best for the Aggies. Texas, meanwhile, does have a filled schedule through 2018, and while the Longhorns could buy out an opponent, doing so would allow Texas A&M a chance to prove that the Aggies, and not the Longhorns, are the superior in-state destination for recruits. Texas A&M needs the game more than Texas does. Not playing it seems to be the best for the Longhorns. And of course right now, both seem like emotional decisions that either school might wind up regretting in the future.

But forget all of that. I'm a traditionalist, and as a traditionalist, it's easy to weep for one of the best — and arguably THE best in-state — rivalries in all of college football. You're talking about Bear Bryant and Darrell Royal. The Wishbone and the Wrecking Crew. John David Crow and Ricky Williams. The game boasts five national title winners and teams, players and coaches that helped to change how college football was played.

Even beyond that, what makes the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry so special, and what I believe makes it the most superior in-state rivalry in the country, is the fact that it is so overwhelmingly filled by Texans. On fourth-and-goal from the one, the players on both lines are battling former high school rivals, and in some cases former teammates. So many of the Lone Star State's top high school prospects make their way to the Texas-Texas A&M game that it might as well be a "Where Are They Now" of former All-State teams.

There's a recruiting aspect to that as well. It's always a fun debate to look back a few years after recruiting class and to figure out whether your school should have taken Player A or Player B. And year after year, this rivalry provides an illustration to any debate. Will the Longhorns' recruiting carry the day? Or will this be the year that the Aggies' evaluations will pay off? It's pretty easy to look at a Longhorn wide receiver, and an Aggie wide receiver from the same class, and either marvel at your team's ability to snag the better player or lament that your staff couldn't pluck, or mis-evaluated, the player on the opposing squad.

All are great debates and make for a fascinating and relevant rivalry, and that's without even discussing the cultural differences between the two fan bases.

It's the university equivalent of a caste system, and that's the beauty of football. Once a year, on, or around Thanksgiving, the Longhorns and Aggies take the field as rivals. As equals. Off the field, everything else matters. On the field, none of it does. Not the Longhorn Network. Not the Aggies heading to the SEC. Superiority is determined by grit, determination and execution.

All of the politics become a backdrop on Thursday to blocking and tackling. Classic football concepts for a classic rivalry. A rivalry which, no matter which side you root for, will be missed.

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