Thanksgiving marks end of era for Texas football rivalry

Wed Nov 23, 2011 2:15pm EST
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By Erin Mulvaney

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (Reuters) - In the middle of a plot of sparse land near the Texas A&M University campus, a 45-foot-tall tiered pile of timber represents the Aggies' "burning desire" to beat arch-rival the University of Texas in the teams' annual Thanksgiving Day football matchup.

This year's game marks the end of a rivalry that dates back to 1894 between the two biggest universities in the Lone Star State, as A&M is preparing to leave the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference next summer. So the bonfire and other traditions at both universities hold special significance.

The game, which is in College Station this year, is the end of not only a sports rivalry but also a tradition deeply embedded in both the state and universities' identities. Earlier this year, Texas Governor Rick Perry, a onetime A&M yell leader who is now a Republican presidential candidate, joked that he had promised his wife, Texas First Lady Anita Perry, that he would avoid controversial topics such as A&M's decision to leave the Big 12.

"It's really about more than just football," said Travis Springer, a senior at A&M who helped organize the bonfire, which is made from wood collected and chopped by students over several months and is topped with an outhouse decorated in UT burnt orange. Because of a widespread burn ban in Texas, the structure will not be set ablaze for this year's ceremony, but students and fans are visiting the site before the game.

In Austin on Monday night, about 2,000 students decked out in burnt orange crowded in the center of the University of Texas campus holding candles for their own tradition called the Hex Rally. Student groups, cheerleaders, dancers and a school choir led the rally for the football team as the marching band played school songs. Parents put orange-clad children on their shoulders for a better view of the band and dancers.

Former UT football player Ahmad Brooks pointed out that Texas has won 75 of the 118 matchups between the two teams.

"This is one team we have beat more than any other team in America," Brooks said to the roaring crowd of students and alumni, many of whom had their faces painted orange and white. "So, anyway, we're good."

Texas Coach Mack Brown called the night "historic."   Continued...