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Texas and Football

TEXAS AND FOOTBALL:  A Centuries Old Love Affaire

A delightful nip in the air grows colder and my cheeks tingle as the sun begins to disappear behind the stadium. My frito pie smells heavenly. The mostly maroon crowd is jubilant. The band is warming up and the Herdsman are leading the buffalo into the end zone.  It’s inevitable; fall and football. Nothing feels better than sitting in the stands of my alma mater.

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Last fall wasn’t so great. The WTAMU coach was fired two weeks before the season opener. Social media exploded with impassioned comments from students, alumni, and football fans. I remember someone commenting, “People just don’t understand. Football is not what this school is about. It’s not that big a deal.” Knowing that this person grew up in another state, I wasn’t surprised at her opinion.

Here it is over a year later, another season come and gone, and I’m still thinking about her remark.  Is football that big of a deal?

Hometown Friday Night

On Friday nights Texas kids are most likely at their home-town football fields and with clarinet in hand I was there too cheering on the Dimmitt Bobcats. Mom and dad were there, working their shift in the concession stand. We learned this ritual from my grandparents, who were football fanatics. Besides watching my mom’s brothers play high school ball for Lockney, they told of my Uncle Jerry’s fetes, on full scholarship, playing for WTSU in the late 1950’s. My Uncle Ken walked on as a freshman for Texas Tech back in the day, and our family holidays always included watching a game at some point. As it goes for several generations, if you’re from Texas, football engrosses most every family in some way.

Hometown Royalty

Game highlights are discussed in coffee shops and at employee break rooms throughout the state. It’s the one common topic that can bring communities together and where the home-town quarterback is the closest thing to royalty there is. Everybody talks football and it’s no wonder. In 1950, the Texas Interscholastic League reported that Texas had 862 high school football teams competing that year, more than any other state.

West Texas Normal College and Football

As for my alma mater, football began at West Texas Normal College in 1910. The college won 6-0 against a team from town with college President Cousins’ own son, Ralph Cousins, scoring the first ever touchdown. In 1920 sixteen football players were awarded letters on a maroon sweater trimmed in white with the college insignia, WTN. The next year they hosted a football training camp in Palo Duro Canyon.

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With that kind of legacy, I wonder at how many kids were able to further their education because of football. Thousands, I’m guessing. Not just at WT, but for players at colleges and universities across the U.S. playing this game was, and still is, a big deal. Football can provide opportunities and open gateways to a better life.

A Century of Sports

In 1910, football wasn’t the only athletics organized that first year on the WT campus. Teams for both guys and girls were formed in basketball, tennis, and baseball. As most of us know, a student body tends to rally behind their school’s athletes. During my years at WTSU, I proudly donned black pants, white button-down, and maroon vest to be a part of the Buffalo Belles. We cheered and rang our beribboned cowbells at every game. We were from different towns, different states and even different faiths, and yet the sport of football brought us together.

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As an alumni I was disappointed and saddened when the WT program was suspended in 1990 under Barry Thompson, but it didn’t last long. I was there when the stadium pulsed with pride, excitement, and chaos as the student body tore down the goal post after a 52-51 victory over Eastern New Mexico in 2005 for the wagon wheel. What a game, and way to go Buffs!

Fall Means Football

As far back as I can remember, fall means football. So in case you’re not from Texas and you can’t understand what this is, you should know that the game has been around in these parts for over 100 years. And most certainly, FOOTBALL is a VERY big deal.

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About Thunder

The first buffalo was purchased in 1922 from the Charles and Mary Ann Goodnight’s herd, and WT is one of only two universities with a live buffalo mascot. The Herdsman, formed in 1977, is the spirit group that provides the care, protection and training of the WT Buffalo mascot.

Photos by N. Bright.

REF: More than Brick and Mortar by J. A. Hill, 1959.