Let me just go ahead and admit this: I spent the past two seasons cheering for Texas A&M basically every time I watched them because they had one of the most entertaining players in the country on their team and I couldn't find any real reason not to like them. But those days are over! Manziel has moved on and though Aggies and Gamecocks now share the bond of caring about the Cleveland Browns, we have thrown our support behind two different players vying for the same position (though GABA already figured out who should start for the Browns). The competition between former quarterbacks is, of course, just adding to the blazing fires of the
mostly friendly hate-filled, brand new long-time rivalry between the University of South Carolina and Texas A&M University.
A couple of weeks ago the news that Texas A&M fans were planning on having a Midnight Yell Practice at the SC State House started to circulate among Gamecocks fans. To be honest, my initial reaction was excitement. Midnight Yell is a unique college football tradition that I don't know much about and I thought it would be lots of fun to go see it. However I was informed by other fans on the internet that I should be angry at this blatantly offensive attempt by our new rivals to lay claim to our territory.
I contacted Fletcher Massie of Good Bull Hunting to ask if this was actually a malicious invasion and learn a little more about Midnight Yell so I wouldn't be completely lost Wednesday night. He is a former Yell Leader and was incredibly nice and informative about a tradition that is clearly important to him. Yell Practice is essentially a pep rally, though as Fletcher told me, every detail of it has some sort of tradition behind it. For away games, Yell Practice is usually held at whatever venue can be found to accommodate the Aggies. This often can include places like government buildings, which offer a unique and preferably memorable experience for visiting A&M fans. Fletcher's response to my question about whether there was ever trouble at Yell Practice was answered with this story:
"Any trouble that happens at away game Yell Practices is usually caused by opposing fans. Honestly, it doesn't happen that often. Most schools give us a shrug and say, "eh, do your thing." The biggest problem that ever occurred during my tenure was Yell Practice at the Texas State Capital Building in Austin the night before our game against Texas. Several hundred Texas fans showed up expecting to interrupt us, but the State Troopers corralled them all into a separate area and arrested anyone that wouldn't comply. It probably helps when the guy that works in that building is an Aggie alum. They tried to do their cute cheers and feel important, but essentially got drowned out by our crowd and eventually the lawn sprinklers came on and drove them all away. All that to say that it is not worth causing trouble at Yell Practice. It probably won't amount to much as we're there to support our team, not maliciously attack opposing fans."
Fletcher advised me to just take it in and enjoy seeing a new tradition, even if I didn't understand it all. That is exactly what I went to Midnight Yell Practice intending to do.
When I got to the State House at about 11:30 there were already hundreds of people milling around. I initially saw mostly Texas A&M fans, but after a few minutes I realized that there were a lot of Gamecock fans starting to congregate over on the left side of the steps. I made my way over towards that general area because it felt weird to be in the middle of so many opposing fans in my own city, but I stayed out of the main group of USC fans because I was trying to observe/live-tweet the experience rather than protest it.
There was a lot of yelling long before Yell Practice even officially started. The "GAME-COCKS!" cheer started early on and was used frequently by Carolina fans. The Aggies all yelled together to drown it out, which was effective the first couple of times but stopped working as the number of Gamecock fans steadily increased.
The Aggies have organization/practice on their side, but I think we've got numbers on ours.— Kaci Barfield (@KaciBarfield) August 28, 2014
Around 11:45 the Yell Leaders started trying to get their crowd hyped up, but Gamecock fans were having none of it:
A&M yell leaders appear to be trying to get things warmed up, but kids in Gamecock gear jumping in the middle of it. Getting a tad testy.— David Caraviello (@dcaraviello) August 28, 2014
Police officers finally forced the Gamecock fans to move away from the Yell Leaders; there was a lot of booing, but fans complied. With the Gamecocks and Aggies on the steps mostly separated, Yell Practice finally got under way.
The yell leaders have started doing weird things I don't understand— Kaci Barfield (@KaciBarfield) August 28, 2014
Yell Practice itself was a strange mixture of order and chaos. There was pretty consistent interference from the Gamecock crowd and it was enough to drown out a lot of what the Yell Leaders said and even some of the yells and singing.
Lots of weird arm and hand things from Aggies. More NSFW chants from USC fans.— Kaci Barfield (@KaciBarfield) August 28, 2014
I think I hear Sandstorm— Kaci Barfield (@KaciBarfield) August 28, 2014
It was clear that the Yell Leaders and the Aggies have this tradition down to an art though. All of the yells seemed perfectly coordinated and had the full force of all the visiting Aggie fans behind them.
As a large group, the Aggies seemed mostly unaffected by the chants and cheers from Gamecock fans and Yell Practice went on in spite of the distraction. On an individual level, a lot of the A&M fans were upset or annoyed.
Really angry TAMU fan to my left: "This is supposed to be our thing!"— Kaci Barfield (@KaciBarfield) August 28, 2014
U-S-C chant again. Older Aggie in front of me: "USC sucks!" Such hatred in his voice. He's very drunk and some woman is telling him off.— Kaci Barfield (@KaciBarfield) August 28, 2014
Despite the frustration from a lot of Aggie fans and the fact that about 90% of the Gamecock fans there were drunk college students, things never got really out of hand. When Yell Practice ended the Aggies were sent on their way with a little more singing and another round of the "Game-Cocks" cheer.
There are going to be a lot of people on both sides that are mad about what happened last night. ("How dare you invade our State House!" "How dare you interrupt our Yell Practice!") I'm glad we have something to really fuel our new rivalry though. I went with a genuine desire to learn more about an interesting tradition and experience it for myself and I wasn't disappointed. Midnight Yell Practice is cool. Yes, it's weird. But the wonderful thing about sports is that they let us do weird things in large groups of people and at some point we forget how weird it is and just know that it means something to us. Even though I enjoyed Yell Practice as an objectively cool tradition, I also loved that so many Gamecock fans turned out and made it into a bigger event. I didn't personally feel like I was honor-bound to defend our territory, but it makes complete sense to me that so many people did. There were a few times that things got a little tense, but last night was really just two huge groups of people being passionate about a sport that brings us all together, even when we're rivals. I loved every minute of it.
This is my favorite non-football football event I've ever attended. We gonna do this every 2 years? Please?— Kaci Barfield (@KaciBarfield) August 28, 2014