As of June 2012 the population of College Station, Texas, on any given day was roughly 96,921.
The most Aggies – and maybe a Cornhusker or two – to ever squeeze into Kyle Field was 90,079 in a 2010 matchup with then-Big 12 rival Nebraska.
You do the math.
This is a sports column, actually, so we’ll do it for you: Come football Saturdays on the Texas A&M campus, the generally unassuming college town swells to practically twice its size. Fans of all shapes and sizes arrive from every corner of Texas in order to, for one afternoon, come together as one and cheer on their football team as a member of the collective.
They form what is the spirit of “The 12th Man.”
For visiting teams, especially those entering Aggieland for the very first time as the Gators will be, dealing with this riled up, emotionally invigorated home crowd can be overwhelming at times. Just ask a few guys from last season’s Texas Longhorns team. If anyone is going to truly understand quite how deeply one’s football roots run in the Lone Star State, it is going to be a few players from the state’s cornerstone institution.
Even they were a little surprised after managing to sneak out of College Station with a 27-25 win.
“It’s very hostile.” Longhorns offensive lineman David Snow observed, “Their fans don’t like us, and regretfully so, our fans don’t like them. It’s really just hostile. That’s the only way to really explain what it is. You have that many people hating you in one place, all synched in with the same chants. It gets pretty loud.”
Texas safety Blake Gideon agreed, but also offered a few words of encouragement to any fans and players listening – we’re looking at you, Driskel and Co.
“Well, I think obviously Kyle Field plays a lot into that. They play very well at home. You know, the 12th man is very well advertised. I think they do a great job of making noise when they need to and really getting definitely quiet whenever they need to. It’s a tough place to play, but if you’re a college football fan then it’s a great atmosphere. And if you’re a competitor and you like that us-against-the-world attitude, then it’s a great place to play.”
Just like a tourist that has gotten him or herself onto “The Price is Right”, now that the Gators are actually in the building, they are not expecting to lose. However, there is still plenty of work to do before the victory is assured. In the case of the contestant on the long-running daytime television show, there is plenty of educated guesswork to do before taking home that brand-new Kia or winning that trip to Bermuda.
Let’s put a Texan twist on this: For Brent Pease, who will be in just his second game as the Gators’ offensive coordinator, this is not his first rodeo.
“We played there twice. The thing I do remember is in the third quarter and there all swaying, you can’t look or you’re going to get vertigo. Those stands start moving. There into it and they get their little yell people going. It’s a great atmosphere to play in and it’s steep. The stadium is very steep. It’s something you can’t get caught up in. It’s a distraction you’ve really got to block it out as a player and coach.
“We’ve got to really be able to handle the noise and we have to be prepared in how we do it.”
That means long, sustained drives offensively, mixing in efficient passes with a grind-it-out running game featuring senior running back Mike Gillislee.
That means drawing from experience gleaned from having previously faced the nation’s elite in within the hostile towns of Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa.
A&M’s all-time record at home in Kyle Field is 384-152-19, and newly-hired head coach Kevin Sumlin reported that his fan base has been drooling over this weekend’s matchup practically since the day he got hired.
“If anything, this has put us on the same page with our fans. Two weeks ago, it was about how do you keep your team focused going on the road to Louisiana Tech when all the fans were waiting to play Florida.”
That means, finally, showing these newcomers what SEC football, and the Gators brand in particular, is all about.
That means ticking off loss No. 153 in front of 90,000 yelling, screaming Kyle Field faithful.