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Love, Mortality, and Aggie Football

I didn’t grow up watching Aggie football. My parents both went to Oklahoma, and neither of them were ardent fans of college football anyway. I remember watching college football each year on Thanksgiving, when we visited my mom’s family in Oklahoma City. My grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were die-hard Sooners. At least once, my grandfather (whom we called Ghido) took us to a game in Norman. All I remember about the game is that Ghido, who was a prominent attorney and later a judge in Oklahoma City, seemed to know every person at the stadium. I came to realize over the years that he seemed to know everybody wherever he went. He was one of those rare individuals who could walk into a room of strangers and quickly turn them into friends.

Still, Ghido loved his family above all else. He especially loved his grandchildren. There were nine of us, and each of us believed we were his favorite.

In a sort of ironic twist, it was my love for my Sooner grandfather that eventually cemented my love of Aggie football.

I came to A&M in 1994, following in my older brother’s footsteps. We were the first Aggies in our family, so when A&M played Oklahoma that September, I made sure to be at the game. OU entered the game ranked 15th; A&M was 16th. Since A&M and OU were not in the same conference at the time, the matchup had only been recently revived. OU won the game in 1993. In 1994, A&M had their revenge and beat OU 36-14.

When I got home from the game, I decided to call Ghido and harass him a little bit. My grandmother answered the phone. When she told my grandfather to come to the phone, I heard him say, “Tell Matt I’m not here.” She told him that he’d better come to the phone right that minute and talk to her grandson, a demand with which he complied (he was really never able to tell her no). I gave him a hard time for a few minutes, and in his gracious way, Ghido said, “You guys have a good team and a good coach. But these things always go back and forth.”

A&M won the next three times they played Oklahoma, but as Ghido predicted, the series swung the other way in 1999. A&M and OU were both in the Big 12 by then, so we played each other every year. OU absolutely decimated A&M, 51-6, in Norman that year. Ghido called me to remind me that “these things go back and forth,” but then followed it up by saying things were sure to turn around for us.

Over the next ten years, A&M only won once, leading me to think that “back and forth” was no longer an accurate description of the rivalry. Ghido never forgot to call me when his team won. Not a single time. I think he even began to feel a little bit sheepish about the calls, since he was on the winning end of a very long streak. And yet he always called nonetheless.

Over time I realized that the phone calls weren’t about football. They were about him and me. They were about a young man from Generation X and a old man of the World War 2 generation, who stumbled upon a shared interest, an inside joke that cemented our love for one another. I grew to love his calls after the game every year, even when the Aggies lost. I’d wait by the phone and look forward to hearing his voice gently razz me about our team. And I know that on the few occasions I got to call him, he eagerly waited by the phone, although he’d always pretend that he was trying to sneak out of the house before the phone rang.

In 2006, my wife and I were living in College Station again, having moved back from Dallas in 2004. It occurred to me that I’d never actually attended an A&M-OU game with Ghido, even though we had watched one or two of them on the same television. So I called to invite him to the game that Fall. He was 85 years old at the time. My grandmother had passed away a few years earlier, and I had a feeling that our time with Ghido was running short as well. I didn’t know if we’d have another opportunity to see the game together in person.

My grandfather sat with me on the west side of Kyle Field, the old “former student” section. He was a bright red speck in a sea of maroon. Ordinarily, a fan of the opposing team sitting right in the midst of home team fans would face some ribbing, maybe even some hostility. But this was Kyle Field, home of the friendliest fans in college football. And, as I’ve mentioned before, my grandfather had a way of winning people over. By the end of the first quarter he was friends with everybody sitting within speaking distance. Since we ended up standing through most of the game, my fellow Aggies periodically checked on Ghido. “Are you doing okay?” they’d ask. “Need any more water? Can we get you anything from the concessions stand?” He stood for the entire game, with the exception of halftime, although I could tell it took a toll on his knees. He just didn’t want to miss a minute of the action.

The Aggies ran out of time that day, losing 17-16 to Oklahoma in a nailbiter that turned into a heartbreaker. As always, Ghido said something like, “You guys have a good coach. It will turn around again eventually.”

As I’d feared, that was the last time I would attend a game with my grandfather. He died in 2012, just after A&M entered the SEC. Oklahoma won their final matchup in the Big 12. Other family members tell me that he talked about attending that game in 2006 for years, how he and his Aggie grandson shared a rivalry that somehow turned into an alliance. To this day, it’s one of my favorite and most poignant memories.

Less than two months after Ghido died, A&M played OU in The Cotton Bowl, and this time the Aggies won 41-13. After the game, I reached for the phone, and then remembered he was gone. For seventeen years, we’d talked to each other after the game. This time, A&M’s victory was bittersweet.

Moses wrote in Psalm 90 that “the years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength, eighty” before we “fly away.” My grandfather had 91 good years before he flew away. 

These days, when I watch Aggie football, I often reflect on the bond it created between me and my grandfather, and on the fleeting nature of life on this side of eternity. I remember what my grandfather taught me through those yearly phone calls, that the people we love matter so much more than any game. I remember that our days pass quickly, so we’d best use them wisely.

Another great sage, King Solomon, says to “remember your Creator in the days of your youth.” Because time flies. Three or four hours and the game is over. Seventy or eighty years and so is your life. And then eternity beckons. As a pastor, of course, my calling is to point men and women to the reality that Jesus is risen, to the truth that eternal life is found in knowing Him.

I’m an avid Aggie football fan these days. But I’ve transformed in more important ways since that first game I watched in 1994.

I now understand from experience that time is short. I know in a deeper way how much people matter, how significant our time is with those we love. I remember that eternity awaits us all, so the wise among us prepare for it.

Lessons God drove home through Aggie football and phone calls from my grandfather. Unlikely teachers, but the greatest wisdom often comes from unlikely sources.

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