One of the funniest traditions I encountered when I came to Texas A&M was the tradition of the “horse laugh.” As an alternative to booing, especially the officials at a sporting event, Aggies have traditionally yelled, “Riffety, Riffety, Riff-Raff! Chiffity, Chiffity, Chiff-Chaff! Riff-Raff! Chiff-Chaff! Let’s give ’em the horse laugh!” followed by hissing from the crowd. It actually makes me laugh and takes the edge off a bad call by the officials.
During the second quarter of Saturday night’s game, A&M wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones was ejected for targeting after a crushing block on an unsuspecting Mississippi State defensive back. It was, to say the least, a controversial call, and the 12th Man was incensed. Boos rained down on the field as the penalty was assessed and Seals-Jones was ejected.
We had a string of disappointing losses in Mike Sherman’s last year, but the crowd never devolved into what I saw Saturday night, including after the phantom penalty on the last drive of the final Texas game. But the same chorus of boos happened after a controversial call in the LSU game last year, and I remember feeling regret over it. Perhaps I shouldn’t feel that way, since the same thing would happen in virtually any stadium in America, pro or college. Still, one of the things I admired about A&M even before I got here was the ability to express disagreement and anger, even disdain, in creative ways. The War Hymn makes clear how Aggies feel about Texas every time it is sung, but the locked legs sawing Varsity’s horns off are as much about school unity as they are about vanquishing a foe.
Saturday night you could hear a little hissing in the crowd, but it was overwhelmed by the boos and the invective, at least in my section of the stadium. Certainly it was a reaction in the moment by a large subset of the 104,000 in attendance, and I am not recommending an unemotional response. And I am probably not the right person to point it out, since this is only my 10th year as a season ticket holder. But it feels to me like we are losing something around here that is important.
This year we have put up a statue of our core values on the west side of the stadium, the same core values that are over the entries to the MSC across the street. Saturday night I saw five of the six celebrated throughout the game, and most of them demonstrated in significant ways: Excellence, Integrity, Leadership, Loyalty and Selfless Service. We paused numerous times during the game to recognize those who demonstrate these qualities—former players, generous donors, Bugle Call, outstanding alumni. The Big Event was celebrated as a national example of student service.
And, to be honest, there were many demonstrations of respect including, I think, the way Mississippi State fans were treated. But Kyle Field Saturday night was not the Kyle Field I have known and respected both as an outsider and as a part of the faculty. And I know that part of that is loyalty—to the team and to Seals-Jones—and part is a perceived lack of integrity in people’s minds from the officials. Part of it is also the desire to create the kind of intimidating atmosphere we encounter at Alabama or LSU, stadiums that are the proving ground for excellence. There is a lot at stake—money and image and recruits, and all the ancillary benefits those things bring to the university.
But in the midst of becoming the mega-university we are quickly becoming, I hope the yell leaders will provide direction to all of us admission-paying adults, and to the student body, on how to be an Aggie when things are the worst for us. It won’t be long before the next “worst call I have ever seen,” and it will be much more critical than the one Saturday night. How will we react then?
I am not foolish enough to believe that my words will move the needle on something like this. But I have a sense that this is one part of Aggie culture that can be quickly lost and, once it is lost, difficult to ever retrieve. And though I don’t wear the ring, I love this place, and all that it stands for.
I miss the hiss.