Campus Life

Rivalry, Respect And Remembrance Of Bonfire

University of Texas honored Texas A&M and did so at Kyle Field in front of nearly 87,000 people. It was the largest number of people ever to witness a football game in the state of Texas.
By Tura King, Texas A&M Marketing & Communications November 21, 2011

As rivalries go, it’s one of the longest and most heated “that annual Thanksgiving Day game” but there was one time when the University of Texas honored Texas A&M and did so at Kyle Field in front of nearly 87,000 people. It was the largest number of people ever to witness a football game in the state of Texas.

That time came in 1999 following the Bonfire accident that resulted in the death of 12 Aggies and the injury of 27 more.

To say the mood at the game was somber would be an understatement. Just days before, the Texas A&M football team had worked with others to lift logs off the collapsed Bonfire. Many wondered if they had the focus and the heart for the game.

The Texas band is always upbeat with orange banners and flags waving and music that is planned to excite the fans. But at that November game in 1999, in honor of those Aggies who had died, the band raised Texas A&M flags and played “Amazing Grace” and “Taps” before removing their hats and leaving the field in silence.

“May the Longhorn spirit and the Spirit of Aggieland never die,” the announcer said at the end of their performance. In the silent stadium 12 white doves were released and four F-16s, piloted by Aggies, roared overhead with one breaking away and climbing toward Heaven in the “missing man” formation.

A Longhorn Point of View

“Every now and then, sibling rivals are shocked into the realization that, at day’s end, they are siblings first, rivals second,” noted Cora Bullock in an article published in the University of Texas’ Alcalde magazine that year.

“My feeling was total disbelief that something so steeped in tradition would be the center of such a horrible tragedy,” said Kimberly Gundersen, then head of the University of Texas Ex-Student Association’s student relations program. The student chapter began to question the wisdom of holding the Hex Rally. Like Bonfire, the rally is Texas’ traditional ceremony hosted before the annual Thanksgiving game with Texas A&M.

The Texas students decided to change the rally into a “Unity Gathering” and memorial. Instead of Hex Rally flags, the flag of the state of Texas was used as a symbol uniting the two schools.

Bullock described the memorial service in her article.

“The red candles Longhorns use to hex A&M would have to remain in their boxes until next year, as the University Relations office placed a rush order for white candles, the common color of the age-old rivals. Student Government supplied the white ribbons seen on campus, and people wrote messages to the Aggies on the Texas Blazers spirit group’s giant wooden sympathy card, traditionally bearing good luck messages for the UT football team. The ‘Unity Gathering’ to mourn the dead drew 10,000 people, including busloads of Aggies.

‘The Spirit of Aggieland,’ chimed the Tower’s bells 12 times, and then finished with ‘The Eyes of Texas.’ A bugler played ‘Taps’ while Aggie and Longhorn students and alumni spread the glow of the candles across the plaza and down the South Mall.”

The Texas student organization sold 600 Hex Rally T-shirts, raising $4,000 in two days for a memorial fund at Texas A&M.

The Final Score

The football game? The Aggies decided the best way to memorialize the 12 who had died was to do their best. Texas defensive end Cedric Woodward said, “They played their hearts out.” Aggie senior Randy McCowan said something in his heart told him the Aggies were going to win no matter what.

And they did. The final score that day: Texas A&M 20, Texas 16.

Media contact: Tura King, Texas A&M News & Information Services.

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