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Posted by4 days ago
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Posted by2 months ago
Context

For those without intricate knowledge of institutes of higher learning located in Texas and their relationships, a little context:

For those outside of the US, college sports is the closest thing the US has to some of the big sporting rivalries outside the American context. College sports rivalries are often hyper-local, heavy on tradition, and full of bad blood and occasionally actual blood.

Rice University is a very well regarded small, private university in Houston Texas. Originally tuition-free, it was endowed in the will of businessman William Marsh Rice, though his untimely murder and attempted theft of the fund put aside for the school nearly ended it before it had even begun. Today, Rice University is an academic powerhouse but a minnow in the cutthroat world of American college athletics.

Originally the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, Texas A&M has the largest student body of any college or university in the United States. Contrary to what you might expect from clicking on this post and their relative proximity, A&M and Rice do not have much of a historical rivalry. In contrast with Rice, A&M is massive in the world of college athletics, and while its mission is intentionally much less elitist than Rice's it is considered to be a good school for undergraduate education. Located in College Station Texas, which mostly exists only to support the university and to have a railroad stop, A&M is famous for its extensive traditions and the rabid loyalty that current students and alumni both possess. As "Aggies" (the nickname for those affiliated with A&M) like to say: "from the outside looking in you can't understand it, and from the inside looking out you can't explain it." Others would say that it makes them look like a cult, but that's neither here nor there. Actually that's a lie, that's almost exactly what we're here for. There is a long wikipedia article on Texas A&M traditions, and here are a few highlights:

  1. Exclusively using "howdy" instead of "hi" or "hello." This can extend to correcting others when on campus at A&M.

  2. A cannon.

  3. An annual bonfire before the yearly American football (from here on out, simply referred to as "football") game against their rivals at the University of Texas. The bonfire is constructed by students alone, who try to make it as high as possible while exclusively wearing dirty clothes which is also tradition for some reason. In 1999, a partially completed Bonfire structure, standing 40 feet high and using 5,000 logs, some of which were student-logged, collapsed, killing 12 students who were actively working on construction. After a three year delay, a non-university sanctioned replacement called "Student Bonfire" returned and continues the tradition.

  4. A lot of weird slang I don't understand.

  5. Specific "yells" as opposed to cheers. At football games, a number of young men with crew cuts gesture wildly to the fans, who respond by "humping" and leaning forwards to scream something in unison. The night before football games, Aggies gather at "midnight yell" for intentionally(?) bad stand up roasts of their opponents.

  6. Corps. The A&M Corps of Cadets is a student military organization. Members participate in a minimum of three semesters of Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) but do not have to enlist. As a result of this organization, and its outsized presence and influence on campus, A&M is technically one of six senior military colleges in the US (these are not service academies). They'll be important for the rest of this story.

The Theft

With that out of the way! In 1917, Texas A&M played Rice in basketball in Houston. The results of that game (an A&M victory) is not important. What happened next would provoke a series of overreactions, nearly mindblowing in scale. Some members of the A&M Corps of Cadets noticed this lying unattended. No, that's not a sacrificial casing containing a still living person to be burnt to ensure a bountiful harvest, that's the Rice mascot from the year 1917! Presumably to destroy this monstrosity before the weight of our sins brought it to life and it killed everyone present, the Corps members absconded with the 200 pound owl mascot. Perhaps due to its eldritch whispers bidding them to keep the foul creature, the young men calmly walked past the security guard, loaded the """"owl"""" into their car, and shipped him to College Station by train.

To have a big laugh at their counterparts at Rice, and certainly not because the mascot was warping their minds with his vile influence, the Corps of Cadets at A&M inducted the mascot as a Corps member, gave him the rank of general, brought Sammy to lectures, and had him sit in on them marching. The A&M student newspaper had this to say:

"if Rice wishes to claim their bird and ever think they are able to take him safely back to the 'Institoot,' they can find him at 37 Milner Hall, College Station, Texas."

Rice Students Find Their Bird

Rice students immediately formed an official "Owl Protective Association" and hired a private detective to find their mascot, despite, you know, the Texas A&M newspaper directly stating where to find it. Impatient to find their symbol of the Great Old Ones, the OPA drove to College Station themselves in the middle of the night, through pouring rain. Upon learning that their private dick hadn't actually learned anything, they did what any reasonable person would do - they went home. Oh no, just kidding, they started breaking into academic buildings more or less at random. At one point they were confronted by a guard, but they claimed that they were simply freshmen who had been locked inside by seniors as a prank.

Apparently that was good enough, so the OPA "found" (or possibly stole) some army uniforms and started breaking into dorms instead. Supposedly, they did this by entering every single first floor room for every dormitory and claimed that they were drill sergeants making sure the rooms were in "fine military order." Shockingly, this did not end with the OPA in jail, but they still hadn't found the mascot.

After four days of this madness, still nothing.

So then the OPA hired a second private detective, and this one pretended to be a newspaper reporting hoping to do a story on the mascot theft. Eventually, he discovered the mascot's location and sent this telegram to the OPA:

Sammy is fairly well and would like to see his parents at 11 o'clock.

Rice's mascot is still named Sammy. But the detective had bad news too - notably the location of the mascot.

** The Gang Breaks into a US Armory **

Yes, the mascot was being held at the US Armory, presumably because someone remained sane enough to realize that that thing needed to be locked away, preferably for good.

That didn't even deter the OPA however, who had already impersonated US military personnel at this point, so just like, screw it I guess? The OPA tried repeatedly to break into the armory using stealthy methods, but were repeatedly seen by night watchmen. Supposedly, their strategy at this point was to just outrun them to the train depot, lose them there, and double back to the armory. I guess Grand Theft Auto is not as unrealistic as I had previously assumed.

After this happened for like the third or fourth time, stealth was well and truly out the window. Instead of trying to sneak through the locked door, three Rice football team members attacked it with crowbars, while the other OPA members parked their cars in front of the other doors in to prevent entry. They quickly retrieved the object of their blasphemous, unnatural worship stuck it in their car, and drove off, chased all the way by another night watchman, this one firing his gun into the night air. Probably screaming "I'll catch you if it's the last thing I do!"

** The Last Thing They Did **

Immediately, the OPA crashed their cars into each other and broke down just outside of town. The word quickly spread, and the chase was on.

Again though, I want to stop and stress that this entire thing is over a really bad, very heavy, mascot of an owl.

Ok, now where were we... so the OPA needed to get their cars repaired before they were caught by the rampaging Aggie faithful. And my lord were they rampaging. Eight hundred members of the Corps of Cadets were on the search, and the Corps was requisitioning vehicles. Nine members of the OPA who had stayed behind to delay the search were captured immediately, while the rest hid and stashed the mascot in the woods.

In an inspired, and quite possibly literally insane, tactic what remained of the OPA realized the mascot was far too heavy to do anything substantial with. So they emptied out the sawdust inside the mascot, drenched it in gasoline, and lit it on fire. The fastest runners kept the mascot's skin and sprinted away, while the others remained to delay - again!

In their escape, the runners ran across a group of hunters going duck hunting. Perhaps due to the skin of a horrific mascot they were holding, the OPA members were recognized immediately. The hunters, however, thought that this was hilarious, and kind of a funny lark, so they agreed to help the Rice students. First by giving them more information on the now 1,200 member strong search party that was combing the woods for them, and second by sticking some in the toolbox of their car and by switching clothes with the others. The car made it through actual, literal checkpoints the Corps had established after giving one Corps member a ride back into town, allowing him to sit on the toolbox the OPA member was hiding in -

And again, just a reminder: THIS IS ABOUT A MASCOT

One of the hunters who switched clothes walked back into town and was actually arrested, but was released after proving his identity. By this point, the Corps had seized control of the telephone and telegraph lines in and out of town, had all roads blocked, and were searching every train. The OPA communicated by telephone, but in code, as one of the hunters was a doctor, and communication was under the pretense of medical emergencies.

A final plan was hatched, as the two groups of OPA members, those that had fit into the hunter's car, and those that could not, had to be reunited. The OPA's plan to pass through the checkpoints out of town was brilliant in its simplicity: they just floored it and bet no one was willing to die in a car accident over this shit. It worked! They careened through the checkpoints, and the Corps was not quite quick enough to follow.

The next morning, the Rice owl was back in Houston. Or at least part of it was anyways.

Aftermath

There basically wasn't any? The arrested Rice students were released, but not immediately - only after Rice's president had to get involved. Then, people just sort of forgot about it I suppose?

Acknowledgements

I got most of this from u/Owlcatraz, though I'd sort of heard some of it from my time at Rice as well. Some other sources here.

Reminder

This appears to be getting lost in the shuffle in the comments a little bit. Most Aggies I know are great folks, their traditions are almost entirely voluntary, and there are some beautiful ones I didn't include because they're not very dramatic. On the first Tuesday of every month, current A&M students who pass are honored at Silver Taps. At Aggie Muster, students or alums who've died in the previous year are honored.

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Posted by4 days ago
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