It was one year ago that I started interviewing for the position of publisher of the Gonzales Inquirer. The owner of the newspaper — Texas A&M grad Brandi Chionsini — and I had many conversations a year ago when I was working for USA Today, the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News, the Lansing State Journal and other Gannett Corporation dailies back in Michigan. When it became clear that I was her choice for the position, she asked me to come out and visit. I agreed.
I was in town the weekend of Come and Take It in 2017, but I kept a low profile and just walked around the community asking subtle questions about Gonzales, the newspaper and this part of Texas. The only event I saw was the chicken flying contest. But I liked what I saw of the community and felt I could make a difference here.
When Brandi eventually offered me the job, I accepted the position with one caveat: she had to take me to a Texas A&M football game at Kyle Field. “Why is that a condition?” she asked.
I told her I was a huge football fan and had heard all about the tradition of high school and college football in Texas. I told her I grew up admiring the Michigan Wolverines who have won more football games than any other school in history and who play in the biggest football stadium in the country. A number of years ago A&M talked about becoming the largest facility in the land until the U of M Athletic Director announced Michigan could expand to over 170,000 and would always be the biggest facility in the country.
End of discussion.
I have been to Notre Dame, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa, LSU, Purdue, MSU, Arizona State, Stanford, Washington, Cal, Minnesota, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and other venues, but I was always intrigued about the 12th Man and Texas A&M.
On my first day on the job, Brandi met with me here in Gonzales. Over the course of the day, she sat me down and pulled out a schedule from her purse.
“Okay,” she smiled. “I promised you an A&M game, so here is the 2018 schedule. Pick whatever game you want to go to.”
Now how cool is that? The boss delivering on her promise before I had to bring it up.
I perused the schedule and quickly discerned the best game on the schedule. Alabama wasn’t coming to College Station, but the then-current defending national champions were.
“Let’s go to the Clemson game,” I grinned. And so the deal was done.
Saturday was pay up time.
Brandi, my co-publishers from Sealy (Karen Jacobs) and Madisonville (Tony Farkas) and I met in College Station to attend the game. I got there early in the morning to check out the campus, and then went to a scheduled interview with Dr. Clay Hanks, a gentleman who is a direct descendant of one of the Immortal 32 (that story will run closer to Come and Take It). I knew I was in Aggie Country because when I pulled up to Dr. Hanks house a big Texas A&M flag was proudly flying in his front yard.
The first football stop, however, was for pre-game festivities at the Dixie Chicken. Brandi told me the Dixie Chicken was a Texas A&M tradition before football games so we had to go there. We did. Vini. Vidi. Vici.
Let’s just say everyone had a good time before walking over to the stadium.
When we got to Kyle Field, all I can say is I was totally impressed with and entertained by what I saw.
We walked over to the 12th Man statue that sits outside of Kyle Field so we could watch the march of the Aggie Band and the Corps of Cadets. When I heard the strains of the Theme from Patton and saw the Corps in their uniforms, it raised the hair on my arms. It was spectacular.
Then we went into Kyle Field to look for our seats. To our dismay we were sitting smack dab in the middle of the Clemson fan section. My apprehensions were premature, however, as many of the good people we were sitting next to were from Texas and had children attending school in South Carolina.
But boy, was I ever entertained by the loud cheers, the roar of the students and cadets, and the Fighting Aggie Marching Band. Then came the great halftime performance of the marching band and its precision marching! What a thrill! Texas A&M fans do not have to take a back seat to anyone in the land for what happens in Aggie land on home football Saturdays. Michigan has the Big House and the Go Blue banner, Ohio State dots the “I” on script Ohio, Florida State has a cool pregame ritual, but A&M has the 12th Man. One of the best traditions in all the land. Awesome!
It was a great game to watch; unfortunately Clemson was the beneficiary of two huge blown calls by the officials in the fourth quarter and A&M lost 28-26. Although the final score was disappointing the experience of being at an A&M game was one of the best football experiences of my life.
Finally, based on one of the cheers I learned on Saturday, here is a wish for the game next weekend against the Crimson Tide: BTHO of Alabama.