When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was play college football in Austin. I mean, I’m a Texas boy, and the Longhorns were way bigger than the Aggies back when I was growing up. They owned the state of Texas. I didn’t even know too much about A&M until I started getting recruited in high school.
That’s when I started to love A&M and hate Texas.
First, there were the campus visits — more specifically, the games. The atmospheres couldn’t have been more different. When I went to a game at Texas, it felt like nobody was really into it. Like the crowd was waiting for someone to make a play before they could get loud. Then, I went to a game at Kyle Field, and it was 90,000 fans going absolutely crazy for three straight hours. It didn’t matter if they were up 40 or down 40. It felt like my hometown of Lufkin, Texas, where people were out supporting the team no matter who we were playing. It was a real support system — an extension of the team.
Kyle Field was the loudest place I’d ever been — so loud the stadium would actually shake. That was my kind of place, more so than that stadium down in Austin.
Also, I felt like A&M had real tradition. Midnight Yell. The 12th Man. The Bonfire. I liked that stuff.
I think when Texas beats A&M they have a building downtown that lights up or something … that’s about it.
But the real deal-breaker was when Texas told me I couldn’t play tailback for them. If I wanted to go to Texas, I had to play fullback. But A&M said they’d give me a chance to run the ball, something I guess I wasn’t good enough to do at Texas.
I flipped pretty fast after that. After years of picturing myself playing college ball in burnt orange, I went to the place that wanted me to be me and had the kind of atmosphere I wanted to play in. That was A&M. And you better believe that during the recruiting process I had built-up some resentment toward Texas. When I chose A&M, I said to myself, I wanna stick it to Texas every time we play. Whenever we played the Longhorns, it was personal.
My freshman year in 2005, we lost to Texas at Kyle Field. I broke off 100-plus yards on the ground in that game — against the team that said I couldn’t play tailback — but they definitely got the last laugh with the win and eventually went on to win the BCS National Championship. It was the sixth straight time A&M lost to Texas, and when next season came around, I was determined to help break that streak.
There’s really one play that sums up my relationship with Texas. A play where all that anger I had built up came to a head and boiled over. It was in that 2006 game.
We were already up 6-0 in Austin when I slipped out of the backfield and up the left sideline. Our quarterback, Stephen McGee, dumped it off to me, and I had nothing but open field in front of me. I got about 10 yards of steam behind me before I met cornerback Tarell Brown.
I was a big boy for a tailback — about 250 pounds. That’s why Texas wanted me to play fullback. I had about 50 or 60 pounds on Tarell Brown, plus that 10 yards of steam. And when I finally met him, he put his head down and I put my head down, but I was the only one who came up. He went flying straight back and down to the turf. Two of his boys had to come clean up and gang-tackle me down.
It was like all the frustration I had for Texas just exploded out of me in that moment when I hit Tarell. And I knew at that moment — even though it was only the first quarter — that we were winning that game.
We did win that game — in Austin — 12-7. You could’ve heard a pin drop in that stadium. The Texas fans were shocked. The only time they even got loud near the end of that game was when Michael Bennett knocked Colt McCoy out of the game late in the fourth quarter. Everyone was booing and screaming that it was a dirty hit — even though Colt and other Texas guys said after the game it was clean — but that’s just football. When Colt left the game and the backup threw a pick on the next play to seal the loss, Texas fans were salty. I think they were just mad they lost.
A&M fans aren’t like that. They’re gonna be there, win or lose, through rain, sleet, snow or whatever. We don’t just take pride in winning. We take pride in being Aggies.
That’s my greatest Lone Star Showdown memory. The streak was broken. I showed Texas they were wrong about me — that I could run the ball. And when I got back to College Station, I hopped straight into my Cadillac, drove back to my hometown and ate the best Thanksgiving dinner of my life.
That’s probably what I miss the most about the rivalry. The Lone Star Showdown was always on or around Thanksgiving Day, and when I was growing up in Texas, we watched that game every year.
When A&M and Texas play, it’s literally a civil war. Families — and in some places, entire towns — are divided. I literally had friends and brothers on the other sideline when we played Texas. My half-brother, Jermichael Finley, played at Texas. Even though we went to different high schools, we played basketball together and hung out a lot, so we were pretty tight. I’ve got other friends who played at Texas, too. Before I hit the truck stick on him in that 2006 game, I knew Tarell Brown from playing against him in high school. We still keep in touch today and talk about those rivalry games. Seeing him and the other guys back home always brings back those memories.
But no matter how tight we were, Jermichael knew that for those three hours, we weren’t brothers. Same with Tarell and everybody else. When that whistle blows, it’s war. Brother vs. brother, friend vs. friend.
At the end of the day, we’re all just a bunch of Texas boys. I still got love for them. But we could go back to being friends and brothers after the game. For those three hours, it’s about those Fightin’ Texas Aggies vs. tu. It’s about bragging rights. It’s about the recruiting edge.
But mostly, it’s about state of Texas and one its proudest traditions. Texas is a football state — that’s what we do.
Thanksgiving in Texas isn’t the same without the Lone Star Showdown. To be honest, I don’t know why it ever went away. A&M moved to the SEC. So what? Florida vs. Florida State is considered one of the best rivalries in college football. They play every year, and one team is in the SEC and the other is in the ACC. When it comes to in-state rivalries between elite football programs, conference affiliation shouldn’t matter. Sometimes it just makes too much sense to not happen.
But don’t take my word for it. Talk to the 100,000-plus people who’d stand in line for days for tickets if we brought the Lone Star Showdown back. Talk to the families all over Texas who’d love to have their favorite Thanksgiving tradition back.
It’s been four years, but this rivalry isn’t dead. Yeah, Texas is 76-37-5 all time against A&M, but I don’t care about what happened in 1901 or way back whenever. I joined the A&M family in 2005, and the way I see it, the rivalry is 4-3 since then, Texas with the slightest edge.
Since leaving A&M in 2008, I’ve spent a year in the Indoor Football League, one in the Arena League and the last few years in the NFL. These days, because of the NFL schedule, I don’t make it back home for too many Thanksgivings. But I know that when the time comes that my NFL career is over and I do go back to Texas for a Thanksgiving with the family, it won’t be the same without the Lone Star Showdown on the menu.
Let’s bring it back.