Monday, May 10, 2010

Part Two: Transcendent Rivalries

Part Two: Transcendent Rivalries

May 10, 2010

While riding a northbound “L” train on a hot July day, I looked up and noticed that while reading my book and ignoring the comings and goings of passengers, a herd of Cubs fans had joined us on the train at the Fullerton station and were bustling to and fro trying to squeeze into every inch of available space. The train was already packed with White Sox fans, who were present when I boarded in the Loop. All of us were headed north to the Addison stop to witness the annual “Red Line series.” Trash talking immediately ensued with Sox fans poking fun at their north side rivals, most of who were in their mid-20s and already reeked of beer and chicken wings. Of course, the Sox fans left little to desire, as they skulked around in knee-length cut-off jeans and Bobby Jenks jerseys. They too were drunk, of course, though the long train ride had begun to sober them a bit, making them surlier by each passing minute.

When the train doors opened at Addison the car emptied of baseball fans, and I realized that I was witnessing something bigger than a mere gathering of sweaty, drunk, baseball-crazed Chicagoans. In fact, I was experiencing a unique cultural phenomenon that only a few regions of the United States can fully appreciate. In my adopted city of Chicago, I discovered that a massive, densely populated city surrounded by suburban sprawl an hour or more in each direction is a city divided.

In Chicago you have to choose: Cubs or White Sox?

Chicagoland is not one, but two unique cities surrounded by Lake Michigan, suburban sprawl and miles of rust-belt decay. Indeed, the city is divided right down the middle by The Eisenhower—a massive freeway that literally divides the city in half, separating the north side from the south side. And in Chicago, you must choose: Cubs or White Sox. Everyone takes a side. Even those who find baseball an intolerable bore are quick to tell you whether they identify with either the Cubs or Sox. There is absolutely no middle ground except for those who like neither team—like transplanted Cardinals or Red Sox fans—and even they feel compelled to identify with one of the two local teams, usually as a result of geography, strong feelings regarding the designated hitter, or the obligation to side with one’s spouse or significant other.

The stereotypes for Cubs and Sox fans are, in this humble Texpatriate’s opinion, rather easy to define:

Cubs fans are rather patient (i.e. it has been 102 years since the last world championship), easy-going, happy-go-lucky drunks who could care less about baseball and are more interested in enjoying America’s largest cocktail party. They are likely to reside in Lincoln Park or the North Shore, wear faded Big Ten t-shirts and pre-ripped jeans or college-professor-plaid blazers and corduroy pants, drink Old Style and pinot noir, frequent Trader Joes and Whole Foods, and will often wax philosophical about the game of baseball quoting Yogi Berra, Michel Foucault or Norman Mailer. Cubs fans don’t often think of the White Sox except during inter-league play, and only then because they have to find their way to US Cellular Field (aka the Cell Block), which is at least 30 blocks south of their comfort zone. They’re too busy getting drunk in the bleacher seats below the hand turned scoreboard in Wrigley’s debaucherous outfield.

Meanwhile, Sox fans are proud, humorless, bitter, jealous, obnoxious fans who obsess over the Cubs being more popular. They reside in the numbered streets on the south side or Orland Park, wear black denim and profane black t-shirts, drink Budweiser and Jack Daniels, can be found in restaurants in Little Italy or taverns on Chicago’s south side, and when not watching their beloved Sox are addicted to reality TV (think Biggest Loser and Wife Swap). And they hate the Cubs and their hoards of fair-weather twenty-something fans who guarantee a sellout every game. (Full disclosure: I’m a Cubs fan thanks to WGN. Thank God and Sam Houston that cable TV came to the Metroplex in the mid-70s!)

So maybe my Cubs-centric perspective is a bit biased and unfair. In all seriousness, Cubs and Sox fans seem to occupy different worlds. The city is bifurcated not only between north side and south side, but also between those who root for the Cubs or Sox. The psychological imperative of Chicagoans to identify with one team over another transcends the game of baseball—each team represents an ethos and a sense of style with which denizens of the Windy City feel compelled to identify. While illogical, I actually understand this compelling need to identify with one team over another. In Texas, just like Chicago, everyone chooses sides.

In Texas, it’s UT vs. A&M

In Texas, we all must choose between UT and A&M. These two fine universities and the distinctive philosophies they represent provide Texans an immediate and tangible cultural marker with which to identify. Even folks who never went to college—or who, like me, attended another school (go Mustangs)—must eventually choose sides in the culture war. (My Texas Tech brethren may be the exception to this rule, as they have the ultimate inferiority complex.) For a Texpatriate whose image of the homeland is structured around a combination of memory and myth, the differences are amplified and put in stark relief.

When asked to describe the Longhorns or Aggies, most Texans will reflexively gravitate to knee-jerk stereotyping—as I did above about the Cubs and Sox—with rather simplistic comparisons, such as…

UT is a bastion of pot-smoking hippie liberals with long hair and Birkenstocks who enjoy reading Susan Sontag and biographies about Che Guevara. Longhorns are laid-back, music and culture-obsessed intellectuals (aka liberal elites) who—according to just about any Aggie—don’t deserve the football glory that they continue to enjoy each generation.

Meanwhile, Texas A&M is a right-wing military-loving ag school crammed with good ole’ boys and future Marines who enjoy reading Field and Stream and Sarah Palin’s new autobiography. Aggies are humorless, proud, hard working folks who endured a week of Fish Camp brainwashing where they learned to engage in rather silly chants at football games against Big 12 opponents they rarely beat, at least in recent years. (Full disclosure: two grandmothers and several uncles are Texas-Exes, one of my aunts is currently an associate dean at UT, and my maternal grandmother clerked for the fabled J. Frank Dobie. While not a grad, I’m clearly more Longhorn than Aggie.)

However, these stereotypes don’t really hold up too well upon closer inspection. Neither school has a monopoly on school pride, hard work. conservatism, intellectuals, or football-crazed fans, though I am willing to bet that UT is home to more students agitating to legalize marijuana. For Texpats who have esteem for both Aggies and Longhorns, the psyche of Texans is more nuanced and complex. Still, the UT-A&M rivalry is a living, breathing phenomenon and no true Texan can deny it. Indeed, the juxtaposition of UT and A&M is a dichotomy as big a Texas, and it deserves a more thorough—and perhaps a more literary—analysis.

UT vs. A&M…It’s like Gus McCrae vs. Woodrow Call

The embodiment of these two competing Texas philosophies and lifestyles may be best illustrated in Texas literature. In Larry McMurtry’s classic tome Lonesome Dove—the Texas bible to most Texans and Texpatriates—protagonists Gus McRae and Woodrow Call embody all that is good and great about the homeland. Gus is an easy-going, laid back, whiskey drinking, Latin-quoting, good-time cowboy who would rather talk cowboy philosophy and visit frontier brothels than do a lick of work. Call, on the other hand, would rather dig a ditch or break horses all day than spend half a minute talking. Yet, without Woodrow Call, Gus simply wouldn’t be Gus, and vice versa. They personify the state’s yin and yang, (or their Abbot and Costello, depending on your preferred cultural references).

However, while we may be rivals on Friday night or Saturday afternoon at the football stadium, we are all equally proud to be from the Lone Star State. We all know the heroes of the Alamo and the battle of San Jacinto and we can sing the Yellow Rose of Texas and Whiskey River in unison. Still, we are quick to judge one another using college mascot shorthand replete with silly sign language (“hook ‘em horns” and “gig ‘em Aggies”).

Indeed, like Gus and Call, Longhorns and Aggies are clearly different, and it is precisely these differences that complement one another. Using my shorthand, Gus is clearly a Longhorn and Call is quite obviously an Aggie. Any real Texan who thinks for even a moment will acknowledge that fact. Just as I root for UT on Saturdays, I desperately want to identify with Gus, my favorite literary character. However, in truth I am probably more like Call—as are most of the men in my family. There was never enough hard work to satisfy the men and women in the Lively family. I find that like Call, we’re a proud, hard-working lot uneasy in repose.

So…if I am more like Call than Gus, does this mean I’m really more Aggie than Longhorn? Um, well…that’s the kind of self-awareness I’m not quite ready to embrace. And I am definitely not about to start rooting for the White Sox.

Random Thoughts and Conclusions

Rivalries are a healthy manifestation of Texas culture borne at the genesis of Texas and reinforced at the Alamo and San Jacinto. After all, Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin couldn’t have been more different. Yet, what better founding fathers could a republic as great as ours have in these two mythic figures?

Perhaps my analysis is a bit solipsistic and self indulgent, but I am willing to bet that most Texans relate to—and most Texpatriates will no doubt find themselves pondering—such obscure and irrelevant topics as they reflect on the homeland. One thing is for certain, this Texpat obsesses over such trivialities daily, mostly because I have so few fellow Texans around me in Chicago to discuss such topics over a Shiner Bock and brisket tacos.


  1. Interesting read, David. I had to laugh at the stereotype of the UT student being long-haired, pot-smoking,'s just a TAD outdated, my Panther friend! A little more likely these days are uber-competitive overachievers that knew their only way into the state's flagship university was to be in the Top 10% of their graduating class so starting Day One of their Freshman year in high school they didn't skip a beat and kept their eye on the prize. I like the comparison to the Cubs & Sox, tho..... ;)

  2. Dave,

    As a fellow Texpat (as long as you interpret the being born in Texas part very loosely), I'm excited about your new blog.

    One of my favorite personal experiences relating to the UT/A&M rivalry occurred when I was driving from Houston back to UT on the morning of game day as I was pulled over for speeding in Brenham. No question that I WAS speeding as I always was in my little 240Z I had at that time. The State Trooper came over to my car and asked me the obligatory "Son, do you know how fast you were going back there?" "No, sir, I don't". (I like to think even now at age 39 I'd still get Son'ed by Texas police). Then he followed with a more surprising question - "Son, who you pullin' for in the game tonight?"

    Now, mind you, Brenham is relatively close to College Station and I was clearly in Aggie country, so I was mighty tempted to say A&M. But I just couldn't do it and responded with the Longhorns. He just looked at me and said "Son, why don't you just move it along then and keep your speed down, ya hear"?