AUSTIN, Texas -- Getting people to agree to spend their Thanksgiving night in a football stadium isn’t always easy. When that game isn’t Texas against Texas A&M, it’s a little harder sell.
That message was sent, not-so-loud but clear, last November when Texas played TCU in front of a relatively tame Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium crowd. The paid attendance figure still said 99,950, and coach Mack Brown still said afterward the atmosphere was “great.” He was being too kind.
The first Thanksgiving game without the Aggies was a bit of a flop. Texas is trying to rekindle its holiday tradition, this time against Texas Tech, and make this an annual game that still matters.
“We told our players that if you want to have an exclusive game on Thanksgiving night, you need to make it something everybody in the country is going to be excited about seeing,” Brown said Monday. “It was that way for many, many years. It wasn’t that way last year.”
Which merits a question worth asking this week: Do the Longhorns miss Texas A&M? Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat doesn’t speak for all his teammates, but he does.
“We miss playing A&M. That’s a big rivalry,” he said. “But we have a great rivalry with Tech as well. They’re an in-state team. We battle back and fourth with them.”
Some Texas players take Texas Tech more serious than the rest. Right guard Mason Walters grew up near Lubbock in Wolfforth, Texas. This game matters to quarterback Case McCoy, another West Texas native.
“I am not a Tech fan,” McCoy said. “I’m from that neck of the woods and I’ve walked those streets. Most of my high school [went] there. This is a game you don’t have to worry about me being fired up for.”
McCoy will always be remembered as the guy who beat Texas A&M in perhaps that rivalry’s last matchup in a long time. Of course he cares about that game, and the tradition will forever matter to him.
But Texas is trying to establish a new tradition, a home game every year on Thanksgiving. Even if the opponent alternates annually, he still values the opportunity to play on a big stage on national TV.
“I came to Texas, for a large majority, for the rivalry games,” McCoy said. “I came to play on Thanksgiving and I came to play on the Red River Rivalry. The Thanksgiving game has changed. It’s a different team now, it’ll be a different team every year. But it’s still a chance to play on Thanksgiving when nobody is.
“You come for games like this. Last year it was just a weird feeling not playing A&M and trying to get that same vibe.”
And the side dishes served with that game are still being tweaked. The Aggie Dinner on Sunday has become Senior Dinner, this year’s edition featuring more than 30 letterwinners. The Hex Rally was continued in 2012 but canceled this year due to inclement weather.
Throwing out long-held traditions is hard. Starting new ones isn’t much easier. But to Texas players, it’s still Thanksgiving and it’s still football. Hard to go wrong with that combo, no matter who’s coming to DKR for the holidays.
“It’s a game we’ll be fired up for,” McCoy said. “It’s a game that, you know, I’ll talk about a lot of games the rest of my life and this will be one of them."