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For travelling Bruin fans willing to endure the kind of punishing late-summer heat and humidity that only East-Central Texas can dish out, a few words are necessary to help understand a set of game-day goings-on that visitors from Westwood may regard as, well, just plain strange.
For much of its first 100 years, Texas A&M was an all-male military academy. It remains one of only six recognized senior military colleges in the nation. Its military underpinnings contribute to a dense set of customs, doctrines, signals and forbidden words that will likely mystify visiting Bruins. Here’s what you need to know:
No Boos, Just Hisses
During the Aggies' first season in the Southeastern Conference, a group of visiting LSU fans at Kyle Field were heard to remark how polite the Texas A&M fans were. "They never boo," said one appreciative Tiger fan. What she didn’t know is that Aggies don't boo; they hiss to show disapproval.
Yelling From The "Hump It"
Aggies don’t cheer. Nor does the school have cheerleaders. They have yells, and all yells are initiated collectively by the school’s five all-male yell leaders – two juniors and three seniors. Dressed in all-white on game day, they are hard to miss. They are elected each year by the student body.
The yells they will lead have names like, "Gig ‘em," "Farmers Fight," "Old Army," "Horse Laugh" and "Locomotive." After hand signs are delivered by the yell leaders and "passed back" by Aggies in the stands, fans then assume the "hump it" pose, which, requires them to place their hands just above their kneecaps, bend at the knees and lean slightly forward. They will then perform the yell in unison to the bane of Bruin offensive linemen focusing on the snap count.
Convocation of Cadets
The school’s 2,500 cadets stand in one of two sections of Kyle Field. The cadets are known as the school's Keepers of the Spirit. Seniors can be recognized by their distinctive boots. Fish, the Aggie version of plebes, can be recognized by their sparse uniform insignia and lack of hair. They have no privileges and generally elicit a feeling of empathy from observers. Upon graduation, about 50 percent of cadets commission as officers into branches of the armed forces. All cadets stand for the entire game with one exception: They may sit when the opposing team’s marching band is on the field.
If UCLA wins the game Saturday, it will only be because Texas A&M ran out of time. Official doctrine dictates that Aggies do not technically lose.
If the Aggies win the game, the Corps’ 900-odd freshmen will be allowed to chase down the yell leaders from the north end zone, hoist them aloft and carry them to a fountain for dunking. Along the way, some of the more daring fish will attempt to tear off the yell leaders’ belt loops as trophies.
An Immense Band
The Fighting Texas Aggie Band is the largest military marching band in the world with about 400 bandsmen. All are cadets. Non-band cadets emit "ooh" and "ahh" vocalizations at halftime when the trumpeters in the first rank unfurl banners suspended from their instruments in all manner of choreographed ways. Official doctrine decrees that the band always "wins" halftime, regardless of the game’s outcome.
Greetings and Other Calls
The official Texas A&M greeting is, "Howdy." When it is observed that students are failing to greet fellow Aggies and visitors with sufficient howdies, an opinion piece is cobbled together by a yell leader and submitted to the Battalion, the A&M newspaper, imploring students to, "Get out the Howdy." As A&M is also an internationally recognized life-science and engineering university, it would not be considered unusual for a Hungarian Nobel Prize-winning professor to be heard greeting a Taiwanese or Chilean colleague in this manner. "Whoop!" is the Aggie vocalization of approval. Only juniors and above are allowed to utter it.
While both Bruins and Aggies have the concept of "Midnight Yell," the similarities end there. For Bruins of a certain age, it meant a collective primal scream during finals week, now punishable by a fine. In College Station, Midnight Yell is a combination pep rally and roast held the Friday night before a home game in Kyle Field or the Thursday night before an away game at the E. King Gill statue at the northeast corner of Kyle Field. Here, Aggies practice hand-sign identification and the yells themselves for the upcoming game. The yell leaders also regale the assembled with fables that question the sanity and good judgment of the opposing team's adherents. Then the lights go out. That is when Aggies kiss their dates.
The mascot of Texas A&M is Reveille IX, a collie. She lives with the cadets and is the highest-ranking cadet, outranking even the corps commander. She attends classes with her cadet handler. If Reveille barks in class, tradition has it that the class must be dismissed.
When Texas A&M Scores
Tradition calls for Aggies to kiss their dates when A&M puts points on the board. In the 59-0 blowout of the Aggies by the Crimson Tide in 2014, Cupid was kept at bay – also kept at bay was any semblance of an A&M defense.
The University of Texas, A&M’s historic in-state rival, is known in Aggie parlance as "t.u." (always spelled in lowercase letters). Aggies refer to its students as "tea-sips," suggesting derisively that the latter would rather engage in polite discourse than roll up their sleeves and do the work necessary to propel the state of Texas to greatness. The Aggies first played the University of Texas on the gridiron in 1894 in Austin. They haven’t played them since their final game in the Big 12 in November 2011 when the Longhorns beat A&M, 27-25, on a game-winning field goal as the clock ran out. This still smarts in College Station.
‘War Hymn,’ Not ‘Fight Song’
The "Aggie War Hymn" is never referred to as a "fight song." And it is always followed by "Saw Varsity’s Horns Off." In the latter’s lyrics, the protagonist exhorts Aggies to saw the horns off Varsity, the Austin school’s former bovine mascot (the current Longhorn mascot is Bevo). Aggies, along with no small number of confused fans of opposing teams, stand shoulder to shoulder, legs interlocked, going through a united swaying motion, representing the sawing off of the horns. This is the vertigo-inducing motion that brings about a general sense of nausea to any player unlucky enough to be gazing into the stands.
There are other Aggie traditions with names like the 12th Man, Bonfire, Silver Taps, Aggie Muster and Elephant Walk, but Bruins need not concern themselves with these as the ball is kicked off on September 3 at 2:30 p.m Central (12:30 p.m. Pacific).