The Spirit of Aggieland always burns brightly in the hearts of Aggies everywhere, but out on Old Hearne Road past exit 2818 Tuesday night, a symbol of that spirit was set ablaze.
People had been gathering around stack since about noon and by Tuesday night, hundreds circled Bonfire for the opening ceremonies. Warren Barhorst, one of the original 12th Man Kickoff Team members, served as 2019 Burn Night speaker.
Chapter one: Chapter 1
"My job tonight is to teach you guys about the making of the 12th Man Kickoff Team in the tale of Tim Brown's towel and how Bonfire and the Spirit of Aggieland made it all happen," Barhorst said to the crowd.
It may be hard to believe, but some of us around here don't know the tale of the 12th Man, or about the Tim Brown tale. But Barhorst didn't disappoint as he talked to everyone gathered about one of the most famous pieces of Aggieland lore.
Barhorst was a TexAg senior back in 1988 when he played for the Aggies in the Cotton Bowl. Five years earlier, Texas A&M Coach Jackie Sherrill wasn't getting the wins he wanted, Barhorst said, and that's when Bonfire Red Pot James "Fumes" Fuqua approached coach and invited him out to Stack. Coach Sherrill spent time building Bonfire to learn more about what Aggie tradition really means.
"Coach once said he didn't have a defensive end that was as tough as a Red Pot," Barhorst said. "Fumes told coach it might be a psychological boost to our football team if we had a bunch of Aggies out there whose only purpose was to take someone's head off."
Coach Sherrill considered what the Red Pots had said, Barhorst added, and set out to find a group of tough players who could cover kickoffs.
"It was the '88 Cotton Bowl and we were up against the Fightin' Irish of Notre Dame, led by Heisman trophy winner and later NFL Hall of Famer, Tim Brown," Barhorst said. "In the kickoff huddle, Chet Brooks said to the team, 'if you tackle Tim Brown, take his towel. He'll go nuts."
Only moments later, Barhorst helped tackle Brown, and snatched his towel. "I borrowed his towel," Barhorst said with a smile to the crowd. "Aggies don't steal." Brown followed Barhorst to the bench after the play and tackled him from behind and screamed at the Aggie to give back his towel.
"Both the benches cleared and an all out brawl started," Barhorst said. "Coach Sherrill has told me many times over the last few years that his ultimate goal with the 12th Man Kickoff Team was to connect the student body to the football team." Years after the towel incident, people still name it as their favorite tale of the 12th Man legend.
In a twist of irony, Barhorst was actually not given credit for the play, he said, but he's not the least bitter about it. "It was not my play," Barhorst said. "I play for the 12th Man. But, we must remember," he added, "that without Bonfire, there would be no 12th Man player, no 12th Man Kickoff Team and no tale of Tim Brown's towel."
Chapter two: Chapter 2
Yell Practice was also held during the opening ceremony to Burn Night. As Yell leaders surrounded Bonfire, the crowd joined in an enthusiastic rendition of The Spirit of Aggieland.
A reading of The Last Corps Trip then was done, with the crowd cheering and joining in on the verses "they let out a mighty yell' and "that's the Cadet Corps that's known both far and wide."
As soon as the piece was finished, the names of the 12 people who died in the '99 Bonfire collapse were read. After each name the crowd responded 'here' and a moment of silence was made after the roll call was finished.
Chapter three: Chapter 3
Stack leaders circled Bonfire with blazing torches as the entire site went dark. Bonfire was then lit and the crowd cheered, yelling 'Whoop!'
"It's everything I expected and more," Head Stack Ashton Vara said as Bonfire burned brightly in the background. "This is an organization [Student Bonfire] that has really shaped my college career. I definitely plan out coming out next year and years after that."
Keeley Green is a Green Pot who has been working on Bonfire for the last three years. She said it's the tradition that keeps her coming out to stack. "Knowing that I get to hand them a great experience is what keeps me coming." She also said Bonfire shouldn't be done alone; having the support of your family is a big factor.
"You are working out here crazy hours and exhausted all the time," Green said. "Having that constant encouragement from your family really means everything. I think its cool on Burn Night that we get to showcase them. These are the people that brought us here that have supported us through all of this." She said she will definitely be back for Bonfire 2020.
For many people who are not Aggies but transplants to Bryan-College Station from all over the world, Texas A&M is a legend that appears holds no borders. It's now easy to understand how the Spirit of Aggieland works. As the symbol of each Aggie's burning desire to strive towards excellence blazes, it's tradition remains unmatched.
If you would like to see our full Bonfire 2019 series, head over to our YouTube channel. We've got a ton of extras there and make sure to subscribe to stay up to date with your latest news and headlines.
KAGS BONFIRE 2019 SERIES:
- BONFIRE: A century old tradition carries on in 2019
- 'It still matters': 20 years later, Aggies, community continue to honor those lost in Bonfire collapse
- Unbroken circle: Aggies gather at Bonfire Memorial to honor the 12 lost in '99 collapse
- Aggies honor those lost at '99 Bonfire site, set to honor S.C. QB and his family Saturday
- Texas A&M to hold remembrance ceremony for 20th anniversary of Bonfire collapse
- BONFIRE: Stack may have changed, but Aggie tradition carries on
- BONFIRE: A look back at more than a century of the Aggie tradition
- New Exhibit Highlights Aggieland Traditions