by Bud Finlayson
Launching the Dream, and Revelation in Aggieland
When I graduated to the fifth grade, we had an opportunity to play some genuine organized football. It was only flag, instead of tackle, and we wore no pads or real uniforms, but it was the point in life that every young athlete growing up in Tyler couldn't wait to reach. We all hoped to launch a long and successful gridiron career, to experience the spirit of representing our school's name in battle against kids across town, and to prove our football prowess. We dreamed of playing in front of spectators cheering us on, but most of all to get a shot at the city title. For us, flag football had all the sights, sounds, feelings and excitement of big time football.
The school itself had nothing to do with our team, other than give us her name. A friend's dad volunteered his time to coach us. Of course I showed up for tryouts, and when I made the team I felt like the biggest stud in the world. It was the first positive sign that I was on the right track to achieve my dream. That night I hardly slept as I planned my climb, all the way up to being an all pro.
I ended up positioned at tight end and over the season failed to be the team standout as I envisioned, but my lust for the game became more powerful with every outing. Defense became my real love. I learned that I enjoyed bumping heads and often drew penalties for roughness. It was easier to grab a speedy half-back's flag, by slowing him down first with a good hard lick. The contact gave me sheer pleasure from the dominance of might over a weaker foe. I craved for more, but was hindered by the non-hitting regula-tions of flag ball. We had a winning season, us Birdwell Dodgers, and we saw great hopes for a city championship in our 6th grade year. (Only 6th grade level ball had championship playoffs.)
That next year we did go into the playoffs, only to lose in the final game to Clarkston Elementary, our bitter rivals. We did collect runner-up honors, but the loss came hard to us. We all wept and I was angry with God, because I thought he was on our side and he didn't let us win. It was my first dealing with a heart-breaking loss and it felt terribly unfair. During the regular season though, I had caught a touchdown pass and a 2 point PAT, that got my name in the paper twice, giving me something to boast about that year. I still felt handcuffed in my play, without the freedom to let loose and hit somebody. Next year would be different, though. I would be entering Jr. High, and that meant full contact, full pads; where they separated the men from the boys.
In November of my 6th grade school year my Dad treated me to a college ball game which turned out to be one of the biggest thrills of my life. It was no ordinary game, it was the Texas Aggies against the Texas Longhorns, one of the biggest college rivalries in the nation. In Texas it threatened the popularity of Thanksgiving as it used to be held on that tradi-tional holiday. Turkey and the A&M-Texas game went together like ketchup on steak. At our family gatherings, Thanksgiving dinner was served according to what time the game started. My great-grandma would holler, "Come and get it" at least 2-3 hours before the kick-off. After stuffing ourselves, and as the women cleaned up, the men would settle around the TV set, or radio if the game wasn't televised, and let our food digest.
That year 1967, would be different for I was going in person. Most of those contests had been less than exciting over the past years because Texas usually won easily. It was a rare thing for A&M to come out on top. But that year the Aggies, boasted of another rarity, a winning season, and some figured the Longhorns just might get dehorned that afternoon. Also, the winner of that game would earn the right to play in the Cotton Bowl, the highest of honors, being Southwest Conference champs. It had been a long time since A&M had gone to the Cotton Bowl, so their fans were anxious for a victory, and that included me.
Officially I was born a University of Texas fan, since both parents were alumni. However, my best friend had converted me into a hard-core Aggie over the past year. My Dad remained loyal to his alma matter, and was a "T-sipper".(so called by anyone who was not a UT fan) It was the underdog Aggies vs. the favored Longhorns. It was the country boys vs. the city slickers; the humble, hard working, hick farmers vs. the flashy, sophisticated, upper-crust snobs of society. My Dad and I were at peace with each other, unlike most opposing fans, blood kin or not. He admired A&M for its heritage. Originally being a military school, its students still carried on the tradition of discipline, respect, and clean cut living; whereas Texas had recently turned into a more liberal institution, with anti-war protesters and free speaking flower-children, hippie type, students; as did many campuses during the late '60's. So my Dad approved of me backing the Aggies, while he cheered for the U.T. that he once knew as a student in the 1940's.
College football games can be high spirited events, with loyal alumni eager to boast superiority, and hundreds, maybe thousands wagered on their team to prove it. Also there were the students and kids like me, turned on by plain ole' pride. We all packed into a sold-out Kyle Field on the Texas A&M campus that day to witness the outcome. Since the game was held in Aggieland I wasn't outnumbered by the orange and white clad fans of Texas.
The game turned into a tough defensive battle, keeping everyone on their feet for most of the game, as it stood at a 7-7 deadlock. When A&M scored a field goal and led by 3, the Aggie fans began to wonder, with fingers crossed, if indeed a victory was possible. Could the bad-luck Aggies be getting a break? -- The Aggie military band struck up their famous Aggie War Hymn, and the whole stadium quivered, as did my goose-bumped skin, from the singing of thousands of hearty voices. I screamed my throat raw and nervously followed the game as the underdog Aggies held on to win.
The place was in an uproar. Skin-headed Corps-men jumped with elation, like children, throwing their caps and hugging their comrades. The maroon and white shirted Aggie players swarmed onto the field, accompanied by ecstatic fans, sobbing sweethearts and more happy Corps men. Most players piled on each other with glee, while others hoisted Gene Stallings, the triumphant coach, upon their shoulders and carried him for a victory ride. I became swept off my feet by a huge woman who was seated next to me during the game, and whose son played on the Aggie squad. With tears flowing down her cheeks, she embraced me tightly and danced in circles. "I can't believe it!.. I can't believe it! We have won!" It was going on like that all around me, and on the field. We were a giant family together celebrating "The thrill of victory" while the speechless U.T. backers, heads hung low, were truly suffering "the agony of defeat." The uplifting high I experienced that day had rarely been matched by anything I knew. I was dead sure I wanted more of it, and I would get more playing football. I decided then, that I would devote my life to the game. As the disciples followed Jesus, I would follow football.
End of Chapter 2
CHAPTERS 1 2 3 4
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8 9 10
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