Editor's note: In honor of Student Spirit Week, ESPN.com asked a Texas A&M student columnist to write about his school's traditions.
From the outside looking in, you can't understand it. And from the inside looking out, you can't explain it.
If Texas A&M students, past and present, ever had a mantra to span the entire existence of Aggie legend, lore and ridiculousness, that would be it. The Aggies are the only cult in the nation subsidized by the government. We are the secret society that anyone in the top 10 percent of their high school class can join, that strange club that your crazy uncle, the one with the big, gold ring, was always a member of -- just please, don't ask us to explain it to you.
Texas A&M University is home to the richest tradition in collegiate history: where students hate their Lone Star rival so much they barely speak its name; where the cheers aren't cheers, they're yells; where the cheerleaders aren't cheerleaders, they're yell leaders, and they're male (we do have a dance team though).
With the first matchup against the hated foe, the University of Texas, on Wednesday (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET), it seems only appropriate to revisit some of the time-honored traditions that make Texas A&M great and, subsequently, that make the school in Austin pale in comparison.
1. Texas University
Already confused, right? "But I thought don't you guys hate wait, what?" That's right, as much as Aggies across the globe loathe Texas University, it is a cornerstone for many of our traditions.
First and foremost, Aggies do not refer to that school as "The University of Texas." Common nomenclature around College Station is either "Texas University" or "t.u." Founded in 1876, Texas A&M was the first state college built in Texas. Coming seven years later, t.u. was founded in 1883, after A&M was in full swing. To claim the name of THE University in Texas is completely pompous and false in the eyes of all Aggies. Now, there are semantics and technicalities that any t-sip (Aggie for "Longhorn") would point out that say differently, but to Aggies it doesn't matter.
The Aggies' war hymn, played at every Aggie sporting event, has verses dedicated to the Longhorns.
Goodbye to Texas University, so long to the orange and the white. The eyes of Texas are upon you, that is the song they sing so well, sounds like hell.
Those words ring loud and proud at different points during the Aggies' war hymn, and at the end of the song, all Aggies lock arms and legs across seats and sway back and forth, "sawing" off the horns of the Texas Longhorns.
In the Aggies' marching band, the instrument known as the tuba is called a "bass horn" because the word "tuba" is spelled with t.u. And on the face of the clock tower in the center of the A&M campus, the Roman numeral for the number four is read as IIII because students once thought IV looked a little too much like t.u.
2. Muster and Silver Taps
Muster and Silver Taps are my favorite traditions at A&M, and the serve the sole purpose of honoring those Aggies who have passed away in the past month or year.
Silver Taps occurs on the first Tuesday of every month (when necessary) to honor any currently enrolled undergraduate or graduate student who passed away since the previous Taps. Around 10:15 p.m., all lights are extinguished on campus, and students gather around the back of the A&M Academic Building in the Academic Plaza. At 10:30 p.m., a volunteer firing squad marches into the plaza and fires a 21-gun salute. Buglers then play a special rendition of Silver Taps, by Colonel Richard Dunn, three times from the dome of the Academic Building: once to the north, south and west. It is not played to the east because it is said that the sun never will rise on that Aggie's life. After the buglers play, the students leave from Academic Plaza in complete silence.
On April 21 of every year, Aggies across the world hold Aggie Muster. The Muster ceremony is meant to honor all former students who died since the last ceremony. Thousands of people gather in Reed Arena on the A&M campus to support their fallen brothers and sisters. During the ceremony, the names of those who have died are read. During this "Roll Call for the Absent" friends, family or members of the same class will say "here" for their fallen Aggies, showing that while they are no longer of this world, they will never be forgotten in Aggieland.
Muster is held in more than 400 locations across the globe, and it is one of the most hallowed and respected Aggie traditions.
3. The 12th Man
The 12th Man is probably the most famous of all Aggie traditions. In 1922, during a game against No. 1 Centre College, coach Dana X. Bible, running low on players, called former player E. King Gill out of the stands to suit up in case the Aggies needed him. Even though Gill never saw the field in the game -- an Aggie win -- he stood there on the sidelines the entire game, waiting to see if his team ever needed him.
Today, the student section is known as the home of the 12th Man. The students stand the entire game, ready just in case their coach calls on them to come down from the stands and suit up. (It never happens, but we are ready.)
4. Midnight Yell
This is a football-only tradition, but it's worth mentioning here. On Friday night before every home football game, 25,000-plus Aggies gather at Kyle Field, the Aggies' home football field, and participate in a Midnight Yell practice in preparation for Saturday's game. In a Yell at Kyle Field, yell leaders -- elected spirit leaders -- lead the Aggie Band and the 12th Man into the stadium. The yell leaders lead the crowd in old army yells and the school's songs, and they tell tales of how the Aggies are going to beat the "everlivin' hell out of our opponent." Finally, the lights go out, and Aggies kiss their dates. If they don't have a date, all they have to do is "lick their Bic." As the story goes, the flames from the lighters make it easier for two dateless people to find a kiss!
5. Gig 'Em
Pinky Downs, member of the Class of 1906 and a member of the board of regents from 1923 to 1933, is credited with inventing the Gig 'Em hand sign. At the 1930 yell practice before the TCU football game, Downs shouted out, "What are we going to do to those Horned Frogs?" Answering his own question, he replied, "Gig 'em, Aggies!" while making a fist with his thumb up. A "gig" is a spear-like tool used for hunting frogs. The gesture became known as the first hand sign of the Southwest Conference.
Those are the major Texas A&M traditions that most of the public knows about and recognizes as about half-insane. There are many others that would probably register in the upper 9s on most people's crazy-meters:
• If Reveille, the mascot of Texas A&M and a female border collie, barks while sitting in a class, the class is supposed to be dismissed for the day. She is the reason why I did so poorly in sophomore accounting. Did I kick her until she barked? Maybe, but you can't prove that.
• The grass around the Memorial Student Center, a building dedicated to Aggies who died serving their country, is sacred and no one is allowed to step foot on it. I have seen members of the Corps of Cadets spear-tackle people who dared to walk across the holy ground.
• Each class (freshman through senior) has its own special hand signal, or Wildcat. If you are caught doing the signal of the class above you (e.g. a freshman doing the sophomore Wildcat), the sophomore can make the freshman do push-ups. If you, a freshman, are caught watching another freshman doing said push-ups, you better believe you will be doing them too.
• Aggies do not boo at sporting events, we hiss. Why? Because t.u. students boo. Enough said.
It has been decades since the machine that is Texas A&M football was asked to share the spotlight with another sport. But in the wake of the football program's recent trials, the basketball team and Reed Arena have had a chance to shine. Aggie fans are the most devoted fans in the country, and when Billy Gillispie and the Aggies exploded onto the national basketball scene during the 2005-06 season, Reed Arena exploded with 13,000 rowdy fans.
Texas A&M prides itself on having never turned a student away from the doors of a sporting event. It's not a written rule but something that sets A&M apart from other universities: recognizing that the students are the lifeblood of the school. Wednesday night's game against Texas could put the unofficial rule to the test.
As of noon Monday, students had started setting up tents outside Reed Arena. By Tuesday, tents lined the sidewalk as students filed into line for the chance to get good seats or standing-room-only tickets.
Last year, when students were allowed to get tickets before basketball games at the Kyle Field ticket office, more than 5,000 students camped outside in the cold and rain, waiting for the ticket office to open. The crowds became so large during the early morning hours that police brought out riot gear and forced students to disperse, fearing injuries and other chaos. While the mob was slightly unruly that night -- and a true sight to see -- it certainly proved the students' dedication and love for their university and its sporting events.
I encourage you to make the trip down to College Station and allow yourself to get lost in the atmosphere and the Aggie spirit. And hey, if that doesn't float your boat, the Dixie Chicken and $1 Pearl Light beer is only a stone's throw away. Might I recommend the cheese fries -- if you can get past the initial clogged artery, they are delicious. Thanks and gig 'em.
Travis Measley is the sports editor of The Battalion, Texas A&M's student newspaper.