COLLEGE STATION, Texas — When John David Crow dashed into the south end zone at Memorial Stadium for a touchdown in the first quarter of Texas A&M’s game against Texas in 1956 he couldn’t understand why the crowd was already so frenzied.
Back in the huddle a Texas-born teammate explained to the running back that it was the first touchdown the Aggies had ever scored in that end zone.
It was in that moment the Louisiana native began to understand the magnitude of this rivalry.
“I said, ‘My gosh, you mean to tell me we’ve never scored on this end of the field?’” he recalled. “That got my attention on the rivalry.”
The Aggies went on to a 34-21 victory for their first win at Memorial Stadium, which opened in 1924.
More than 50 years later that game remains one of the top matchups in the history of this rivalry that began in 1894 and will end indefinitely on Thursday. It will be Texas A&M’s last Big 12 game before moving to the Southeastern Conference next season.
When Crow, who won Texas A&M’s only Heisman Trophy in 1957, and the Aggies went to Austin for that game in 1956, they’d lost four in a row. The win was a rare bright spot in the early days of the rivalry and the Longhorns would win the next 10 in a row.
“It was an electrifying crowd for a young guy that came out of a little ol’ town in Louisiana,” said Crow, who was born in Marion, La., which now has a population of just over 800. “I came from Louisiana and at that time I knew about LSU and Tulane, that was a big rivalry. It just wasn’t as big a thing to me then. It obviously has grown in my mind to become a very, very big game.”
Famed coach Paul “Bear” Bryant led the team to that win in Austin. Crow said the notoriously hard-nosed coach didn’t say much to the team before the game. Years later, when Crow worked as an assistant to Bryant at Alabama, he learned why.
“He would say: ‘If a player can’t get themselves up for those games, then you can’t get them up for the game,’” he said. “‘If they’re not going to prepare themselves and work harder when we are going to play those kinds of games, then we recruited the wrong type of people.’”
Crow believes the same rule should apply this week and doesn’t think that Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman or Texas coach Mack Brown will need to do much encouraging to get their teams ready to go.
“You should be able to throw the ball out there and just say: ‘OK, let’s go play,’” he said. “And that’s all you have to do. I don’t think there will be many pep talks and all of that stuff.”
Some current A&M players said they’ve thought about the thousands of players, including Crow, who were a part of this game before them and the responsibility they have to end with a win for all of them.
“There’s been so many great players for both teams,” receiver Ryan Swope said. “There’s so much tradition. There’s so much history in this game that for it not to end on a win would be too bad. It’s just a very personal game.”
The 76-year-old Crow likened A&M’s move to the SEC with the former all-male military school’s decision to admit women in 1963. At the time many people were unhappy with the move, but it certainly turned out to be right for the school.
“I look at that as where would we be today if we hadn’t have done that? Probably we would be nowhere,” he said. “I don’t think we’d even have a university. If it was, it would be a very, very small university. So I look at it as another way for us to move on. We’ve got another chapter.”
Crow, who worked as an athletic administrator at A&M from 1985-1993, said none of the games from that span really stood out to him. He believes the 1956 game and the 1999 game, played eight days after Texas A&M’s bonfire collapsed, killing 12 people and injuring many more, were the two most memorable games in the history of the series.
He’s sure that this year’s game will be added to that list because of the uncertainty of whether these archrivals will ever meet again.
“I wish we could have continued playing the University of Texas,” he said. “Maybe not at the end of the season, maybe not at Thanksgiving, but sometime in the season to keep that historic rivalry going.”