How 9/11 begat most unusual OSU-Texas A&M football game
How 9/11 begat unusual OSU-A&M game in 2001
Kyle Field rocked and the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band blared. But College Station, Texas, was atypically not ready to devour the opponent.
Even college football fans had a new definition of infidel.
Twenty years ago Saturday, terrorists flew jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and another air attack was thwarted by passengers over Pennsylvania.
America was changed. Even on the football field.
Eleven days after 9/11, the Oklahoma State football team took the field in College Station. American sports had mostly gone dark. Major League Baseball didn’t play for a week. The National Football League skipped all its games scheduled that week; college football did the same.
But on Sept. 22, amid the trepidation of air travel and gathering in massive coliseums, the gridirons returned to life. A different life.
Ricklan Holmes, a Cowboy cornerback in 2001, remembers a foreign feeling on the Kyle Field grass that morning, before the 11 a.m. kickoff.
“A feeling of togetherness,” said Holmes, now the head football coach at Tyler (Texas) High School. “Yeah, we were getting ready to play Texas A&M, but the atmosphere was not as rivalrous as normal.
“More a brotherhood than anything. Our fans, their fans, football teams coming together. ‘ I’m here for you, you’re here for us.’”
Holmes said the Cowboys and Aggies chatted on the field during pregame warmups. Not pregame taunts. Genuine conversations. Excited at being back. Concern over anyone directly connected to the attacks.
Texas A&M famously striped the stadium with shirts for fans, creating a red, white and blue spectacle that drowned Aggie maroon or Cowboy orange.
“The red, white and blue, all the shirts, the intensity there at Texas A&M, was unlike anything I experienced,” said Rashaun Woods, then a Cowboy sophomore and later an OSU star. “Just a phenomenal, phenomenal, phenomenal day … everyone was in unison to honor the people that died that day.”
Dave Hunziker is in his 21st season as the OSU football radio voice. He turned 35 on 9/11. That OSU-A&M game was his third Cowboy football game. He arrived at Kyle Field before 8 a.m. that day and bought souvenir T-shirts, commemorating the red-white-and-blue blanketing of the stadium.
“I remember a strange mixture of emotions,” Hunziker said. “This rallying together and coming together, but the sadness of what had occurred was very heavy. It had a unique feel to it, unlike any I’ve ever experienced.”
A strange ambience permeated everything about the trip. The Oklahoman’s four-man crew covering the game took American Airlines flights to Dallas, then to College Station. Those flights had fewer than 10 passengers, with row after row of empty seats. Woods said he felt the anxiety. “You were just hoping, but not sure, that was going to be the end of it,” Woods said of terrorism in the skies. “There wasn’t a whole lot of reassurance.”
Hunziker vaguely remembers increased security measures at both the airport for OSU’s chartered flight and at Kyle Field. But he remembers having no reservations.
“I was excited,” Hunziker said. “I knew it was going to be a moment in history, tragically, but a moment in history, but being there in particular.
“Looking back, there’s a part of me that’s surprised at not having reservations, but I didn’t have any.”
And Texas A&M, with its military heritage and constant commitment to such tradition, was a vintage place to stage a patriotic rally around a ballgame.
“It was turbo-charged,” Hunziker said of the atmosphere. “Given that it’s Texas A&M and there’s such a feeling of American pride on that campus, and the reverence for the military and the corps, outside of the service academies, you would not find a place with that type of atmosphere.
“There was certainly a feeling of you might have knocked us down, but we’re bouncing back up … we won’t stay down. It had that feeling to me, for sure.”
And then the game started, and a blessed feeling enveloped Kyle Field.
Normalcy. Passes and tackles and kicks and penalties and turnovers. That was Les Miles’ third game as head coach; he famously ordered a fake punt on fourth-and-13 from OSU territory, with punter Scott Elder running the ball. It failed miserably. The Aggies won 21-7.
“Once you get out on the field, it’s hard to think about anything else,” Woods said. “You’re trying to think about winning the game.
“Getting back to normal so to speak, or wanting to be back to normal, was kind of the goal. It’s hard to explain being so long ago, but you wanted some normalcy.”
The Cowboys had sought normalcy on the practice field and in classrooms, but they would return to their dorms and apartments, and the 9/11 news would remain. The search for survivors. The military response.
“You had a feeling of shock,” Holmes said. “Then you had a feeling of frustration. Then you had a feeling of confusion, because you’re trying to figure out, how do we get back to where we are and move past this hurt, knowing a lot of lives were lost?”
Then came a trip to College Station, a walk onto Kyle Field, a ballgame against Texas A&M. A little bit of normalcy arrived, in the most abnormal game any of those Cowboys ever played.