Thursday, December 2, 2010

Grand Funk Railroad -- "Hooked On Love" (1970)

I hope some day the light of love 
Shines bright upon your face
I don't care who you are
I love the human race

I didn't choose this song to accompany this particular post.  It's just coincidence that it worked out that way. 

To say that the sentiments expressed in the two lines quoted above do not capture the mood of the crowd at the November 17, 1973 Rice-Texas A&M football game may be the mother of all understatements. 

Part Seven -- The Second Half and the Aftermath
Rice led A&M 17-0 at halftime in their 1973 game -- thanks to three long passes by its quarterback, future NFL star Tommy Kramer -- but the second half of the game was a different story.

The '73 Aggies ended up with a losing record, but they were bigger and more physical than Rice.  Their three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust wishbone offense was unstoppable in the second half, and they ground out three long touchdown drives and took a 20-17 lead with less with two minutes left.  The situation looked hopeless.

But mirabile dictu, the ensuing kickoff was returned for a touchdown by Rice's Carl Swierc (he was later drafted by the Miami Dolphins), and the Owls stole the game, 24-20.  Never have I seen a less deserved but more satisfying victory by a team I was rooting for.

When the final gun sounded, all hell broke loose.  Hundreds of angry Aggies went after the MOB, which was escorted by the police to the stadium's exit tunnel for sakekeeping.

Here's the rest of the story as it was told by Steve Jackson, editor of Rice's student newspaper, the Thresher:

An hour later, after the Aggies' narrow 24-21 defeat, the stadium emptied – except for the MOB, the Aggies beside, and their fans above. The Rice flags were torn from the stadium poles. [NOTE:  There were two sets of flagpoles at the top of Rice Stadium -- the flags of all the SWC schools flew from these flagpoles.] . . . [A] ring of gesticulating, uniformed figures surrounded the MOB, which was by now also ringed with police. Several A&M students were restrained by their fellows from rushing the band.

Finally, instead of leaving the stadium, the band was escorted by police – and the Aggies – across the field and into the tunnel until the stadium was cleared. But a few hundred stayed. Most of the Aggie fans left, angry or hurt. And in the tunnel, a shell-shocked band settled to wait. Separating them from the campus were a metal gate and a crowd of angry Aggies.

Inside, Bert Roth was feeling old, distraught, nervous. He is principal of a Houston elementary school. He is also the MOB's director. "I should have known this was going to happen." . . .

Rice Stadium
About 350 people were gathered outside the gates at the south end of the stadium. Possibly 40 were uniformed Corps members, the rest of the group was divided, more or less evenly, between A&M students and older fans, mostly alumni. Some 500 more wander between the gate area, the nearby buses, and the van beside which the Aggie band was lined up in a hollow square around their equipment, waiting to go home.

The atmosphere outside is almost carnival. The crowd is angry, yes, but it is a cheerful anger. They fully expect the band to come out. Some want to "give these kids a good talking to." Some want to fight. If the band won't come out, the Aggies may come in.

The MOB leaves the tunnels and climbs into the east stands. Their attitude is still one of disbelief. "This is America," says one. "This is 1973. And here we are, surrounded in our own stadium by Aggies!" His audience shrugs.

A half-dozen uniformed Corps members scale a drainage pipe west of the gate. They make it look easy as, one by one, they catfoot along the stadium wall and leap inside. Emerging from behind a concession stand in the band's rear, they encounter a large Houston policeman. The verbal exchange is inaudible. The Aggies vault back onto the wall, hang over the edge, drop five feet; all but one avoid the mud.

A Corps member peers between the gates, sees a few MOBsters. He gives a signal and the crowd outside breaks into a chant. The dozen policemen present exchange glances and move between the gate and the crowd. The chant ends. "All right, there's nothing you can do here. Why don't you all go home now?" No one goes. . . .

The stalemate goes on for some time.  Back to the Thresher's account:

By 5:30, there are only about 200 Aggies outside the gates, but they continue slowly moving in closer to the cordon of Houston traffic police. The police are now telling the crowd to leave; no results. One woman shakes her finger at a burly cop: "We're paying your salary, not these kids." The light is failing fast. The officer in charge makes a radio request for "all the assistance here you can send." Two squad cars, lights flashing, appear almost immediately. . . .

"What are the cops doing here?" A small contingent of Rice students arrive. Behind them come another dozen prowl cars – no sirens this time – on the far side of the crowd. Clearly, they mean business. The Aggies begin to disperse. The stadium lights come on. It is 5:50.

It is another half-hour before the gates open and the Food Service trucks back in, one by one, to pick up their loads of MOBsters and drive them, police cars before and behind, back to the colleges.  [NOTE: In 1973, there were eight residential colleges at Rice.  Each had its own dining hall.  Food was prepared at a central kitchen and transported to the college dining halls in UPS-style vans.  These vans were used to carry the band members from the stadium back to the residential colleges and main campus.]  No incidents. It's over.

Not exactly -- there was plenty of editorializing and letters to the editor over the next few weeks.

I remember being full of righteous indignation over the whole affair.  In my view, the Aggies had grossly overreacted to the MOB's rather mild (to me) parody.  Hadn't they ever heard of the First Amendment?  Maybe they were just sore losers.

Others didn't see it that way.  I remember a letter to the editor that appeared in one of the Houston newspapers.  It was from an older woman -- someone who was probably about the age I am now.  As I recall, she said two of her brothers were A&M graduates who had fought and were either wounded or killed in World War II.  She was incensed by the MOB's  portrayal of the Aggies as goose-stepping Nazi wannabes, and viewed Rice students generally as a bunch of spoiled draft dodgers who were living in comfort, doing nothing more difficult than reading books and writing papers, and enjoying plenty of sex, drugs, and rock and roll while others were doing the dirty work in Vietnam and elsewhere.

Houston Post columnist Mickey Herskowitz skewered the Aggies in a column that purported to have been written by Reveille, the Aggie mascot.

Looking back, I think we were both right.  With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, I can see how the MOB's halftime antics might have seemed insulting and offensive.  The MOB made fun of all the SWC schools and their marching bands, but that was different.

Take the University of Texas.  Their band claimed to have the world's largest bass drum -- "Big Bertha" -- which had to be transported on to the field in a wagon that was pulled around by four strapping Longhorns.

The MOB once did a show featuring a very small bass drum that was placed in a little red Radio Flyer wagon like the ones most of us played with when we were children. 

Making fun of a bass drum is not the sort of thing that inspires a riot.  (Although it might have inspired the UT fans to chant "What comes out of a Chinaman's ass?  Rice, RICE, RICE!")

What the MOB said about Texas A&M and its band was a whole different thing.  That doesn't mean that I think that the Aggies were justified in going all vigilante.  They ceded the high moral ground by doing that.

Don't think that the whole affair was quickly forgotten.  Here's a letter by former MOBster John Gladu to the Houston Post that was written 20 years later in an attempt to pour oil on troubled waters and quash some of the false rumors about what happened in 1973.

Some people believed that Rice students had burned an American flag that day.  But the most persistent rumor was that the MOB's jokes about Reveille, A&M's canine mascot, were out of bounds given the dog's recent death.

As Gladu's letter explains, this is completely untrue.  Reveille III was alive and well when the 1973 game was played -- she lived until May 1975.  The MOB (and Rice students generally) may have a lot to answer for -- but making light of the passing of a beloved dog isn't one of them, I'm happy to say.

Here's the song:

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from iTunes:

Hooked On Love - Grand Funk Remasters: Closer to Home

Here's a link to Amazon:

No comments:

Post a Comment