Requiem for a rivalry

AUSTIN, Texas -- A routine grounder to short.

A simple throw and put-out at first.

And it was over.

Time of death: 7:14 p.m. CT

The cause was much deeper than just one out in one game between Texas and Texas A&M. After more than a century of being inexorably tethered, a mixture of petulance and pettiness has torn these two programs asunder.

But for four days, across 110 miles in four stadiums, in front of record crowd after record crowd, what had always been the Aggies and the Longhorns was on display -- spirit, heart, determination, venom and respect. These two series -- one in softball, the other in baseball -- had it all. So too did the rivalry that brought together the state's two largest universities.

That's what had made it so unique, so perfect for a state with such independent beliefs that it dubbed itself the Lone Star. Each school truly believed, at its core, that it was the best. On days it was, and when it wasn't, the other school was right there to remind them.

Those reminders were everywhere in this state from the Whoop Stop outside Dime Box, Texas, to the longhorns affixed to the hood of Scott Wilson's burnt orange 1972 Cadillac, which has torn up the backroads of Texas and America to more than 1,200 home and away baseball games. No one, maroon or burnt orange, was ever safe anywhere. Not even inside the walls of their home.

"It's always meant something," Ross Stripling said. "I can remember even when I was little my mom and my dad yelling at the TV when they were playing each other. Whatever the sport was."

On Saturday, mom Tammy, a UT grad, and dad, Hayes, a third-generation Aggie, were yelling for Stripling as he threw 122 pitches at Texas' Disch-Falk Field to beat Texas, 12-4 in the next to last game the teams are scheduled to play in the foreseeable future.

"It's a big honor to represent Texas A&M and to think that my grandfather was a Yell Leader in the 40s and know what it meant to him to beat Texas," Stripling said. "It was big deal to him, and it still is now."

It's always a big deal in this state. That's why Taylor Hoagland turned a little harder and a little quicker on not one, but two balls at McCombs Field in Texas' 4-3 win over the Aggies on Sunday evening.

"If you are going to go out, do it big," she said.

After all, everything is bigger in Texas. That includes the egos.

It was the recalcitrant nature of two men -- Texas A&M athletics director Bill Byrne and his Texas counterpart DeLoss Dodds -- that, in the view of fans, are to blame for what has happened to the rivalry.

The Aggies wanted out. The Longhorns refused to let them back in once they were.

"It's very frustrating from a fan's perspective," said Brian Rutherford, a '96 A&M grad. "We don't know what all goes on behind the scenes and what is said back and forth, but it is frustrating that they can't just suck it up and be big kids and play each other."

What is especially galling is that when watching these two teams together on the same field, it is clear the best is being brought out in each. That should always be the goal in every game. But in the rivalry, the goal was more often achieved.

That much was clear as Texas' Jonathan Walsh went through a cloud of dirt and around the outstretched arm of Texas A&M's Troy Stein to slide in for the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth Sunday. And as Texas' Torie Schmidt hit a walk-off two-run double as the Longhorns rallied from five down against the Aggies on Saturday. And when Texas A&M's Amber Garza, who had two home runs the entire season, hit two in one game against Texas as she accounted for six RBI in the Aggies 9-0 win.

"The thing is, our athletes don't have anything to do with this, and they're the ones that are out there playing their hearts out and creating the kind of atmosphere, and for that to be taken away from them is disappointing," Texas A&M softball coach Jo Evans said.

But it's gone now. After just a dozen years in softball (the teams finished 20-20 fittingly enough), 109 years in baseball and 118 in football, the death knell that sounded in the fall rang a final time over this spring weekend.

"It's going to be missed," Texas catcher Jacob Felts said. "A lot of our fans probably aren't sad to see A&M go, but to me personally, I feel like it is almost a part of Texas culture playing Texas A&M."

That's the thing -- the fans are sad to see it go. Despite the vociferous whoofing back and forth, each fan base knows it is not whole without the other.

"They can go to the SEC and get their a** kicked for the next 10 years like we've been kicking their a** for the last 100 years," said Texas fan Randy Jackson in one breath.

"Hopefully the higher-ups will get off of what is going on and we can get back to playing football on Thanksgiving and playing baseball too," he said in the next.

But the olive tree required to produce the branch necessary might not yet even be a sapling yet. Texas has unequivocally stated its schedule in football is full for at least the next seven years. And it is football that pulls the train at Texas. The Aggies, at least on the surface, are more amenable to d├ętente.

"We made it clear from day one that as we moved toward the transition of the SEC that we really wanted to keep up this long-standing rivalry between the two largest and greatest universities in the state of Texas," Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin said. "I'm saddened that we can't make it happen. I'm hopeful over time there will be a way to make it go back to the way it was in terms of our ability to play every year in nonconference."

One day that might happen. Even someday soon these teams could meet in the postseason. But it won't be the same. That game will come and go. No longer is Texas an everyday part of the Aggies' life nor is Texas A&M a constant part of the Longhorns'.

"It's like a long, long marriage and you lose your spouse," Loftin said.

And now that the rivalry is gone all that is left to say is it will be missed.