Sep 20, 2013

Whitley Writes: Aggies Impressive On And Off The Field In Week Three

Kevin McDonald has been to plenty of college football stadiums. But he’d never seen anything like Kyle Field at Texas A&M, and his scouting report might give Orlando pause.

If the Aggies make it to the Capital One Bowl, is the city ready for Midnight Yell? Will fans be ready to stand the whole game if they get seats behind the Texas A&M student section? Are they ready to link arms and sway during the Aggie War Hymn?

Officially, bowls can’t play favorites when it comes to prospective teams. But who’s kidding whom?

Any bowl would love to have Texas A&M, if for no other reason than to expose locals to its football culture. Yes, every school has traditions. Few have as many or practice them as religiously as the Aggies.

“I was amazed,” McDonald said.

He and Frank Frana III were the Capital One Bowl scouts lucky enough to draw the Alabama-Texas A&M game. Even if it hadn’t turned into a shootout for the ages, it would have been quite a show.

It started with the Midnight Yell, which is just what the name implies. At midnight before games thousands of students gather for a pep rally. Despite the hour, nobody ever complains to campus police about the noise.

Once the game starts, here’s hoping you don’t get stuck with the students. Most of them never sit down. Blame E. King Gill.

He was a guy who tried out for the 1922 team. Gill didn’t make the final cut, but he was in the stands for that year’s Dixie Classic in Dallas. Injuries were piling up, so coach Dana X. Bible asked Gill to come down from the stands and suit up in case he was needed.

“I wish I could say I went in and scored the winning touchdown, but I did not,” Gill recalled. “I simply stood by in case my team needed me.”

Thus was born the 12th Man. Other teams have co-opted the concept, most notably the Seattle Seahawks. But the Aggies have been doing it for almost a century. Students also kiss their dates when Texas A&M scores. That tradition probably didn’t start until 1963, when the school’s first females enrolled.

Now they are everywhere, including the Corps of Cadets, the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band and the yell leaders. Those are five students who direct the crowd’s cheering via hand signals. One gesture everybody seems to practice is a friendly wave.

“I always thought Nebraska had the best fans,” McDonald said. “But Texas A&M may have them beat.”

As an ex-player, he’s an expert on fan behavior. McDonald signed with Clemson as a kicker and played in the 1987 Citrus Bowl. He remembers the Tigers won 35-10, and that he was in awe of Joe Paterno. But his lasting impression was the bowl’s hospitality. He couldn’t believe it when the team buses got police escorts around town.

“I thought this must be what it’s like to be president,” McDonald said.

He eventually transferred to Alabama, then he settled in Orlando where he’s a vice president with Source Medical, a surgery sales company. McDonald’s experience as a player prompted him to join Florida Citrus Sports. Last year he was honored as the organization’s Chairman Of The Year for his work with the organization’s Hospitality Committee. He’s come full circle, leading a team of volunteers in delivering the same outstanding hospitality he received a player back in 1987.

“As far as I’m concerned it’s the best ticket in town,” he said. “Between the scouting and charities and being involved in the bowl game and game day all the other networking, I’ve created a lot of friendships.”

That was easy to do in College Station. The Aggies may have lost 49-42, but their fans hardly acted like losers.

“Texas A&M fans were purposely seeking out Alabama fans and congratulating them and thanking them for coming,” McDonald said.

Now that’s not something you see at every SEC game. Will we see it on January 1 at the Capital One Bowl?

It’s way too early to tell if Manziel, the 12th Man and the entire Aggie show will end up in Orlando. If they do, brace yourself when New Years strikes. There’s no noise quite like the Texas A&M Midnight Yell.

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