WACO – “A vodka, straight, please,” I say. The bartender springs into action. This is most unusual because I am on the campus of Baylor University, the nation’s largest Baptist school, noted for no booze, no smoking and – until recently — no dancing. Oh, and known for an on-going scandal about gang rapes and football players. This is the new (2014) football stadium, originally named Baylor Stadium but changed to Drayton McLane Stadium after a huge gift from the alumni who sold the Houston Astros for $680 million. Also, and this I didn’t know, the City of Waco kicked in $30 million. Wonder if College Station or Austin did the same for their universities?
For the money, Baylor has built what may be the best football stadium in America. This place is spiffy enough that there is a fancy social event being held here, at the same time a wedding rehearsal dinner is underway on another level. Maybe there is hope for the Astrodome. Ah, but what about liquor? A bartender explains that only suite renters can have booze. The big donors call in their order a week or two before the game, the booze is taken to the suite and locked up until kickoff. No other alcohol is allowed in, and to think that UT is now selling beer at sporting events. Some may call this “hypocrisy.” I call it “doing business.”
While we’re here, let’s take a look at Texas’ oldest university, which has one of the Lone Star State’s more interesting collegiate stories. Willie Nelson went here for one year, majoring in animal science and joining Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, then dropped out to become a musician and was never heard from again. Interesting note: a Baylor alumni publication put Willie on its cover, but the Baptist elders did not approve of someone who had been married three times and busted for pot four times. I believe the magazine was killed. Other students included Govs. Ann Richards, Price Daniel and Mark White (more Texas governors are from Baylor than any other school). Also, Sul Ross, Sam Houston’s son, Temple Lea Houston (Sam gave the first $5,000 to the school) and my father. I couldn’t afford $5,000 so I donated Dad’s 1926 baseball letter sweater and team photo to the school which was putting in an athletic museum. Later I inquired about the sweater and photo. They couldn’t find them.
Baylor, which opened in 1845 in the long-forgotten town of Independence, is not only the oldest continuously-operating university in Texas but one of the first higher educational institutions west of the Mississippi River. When the railroad bypassed Independence, Baylor moved to that wild town of Waco. The school was named for one of its founders, Robert E.B. Baylor, who helped write the state constitution and favored baring clergy from holding public office. It is a private school in the Big XII, so no legislative cash. Baylor’s motto, appearing on its seal, is Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana (For Church, for Texas) although Bondus Freedonia (Out on Bail) might fit better. The 1,000-acre campus sits on the banks of the Brazos River. UT-Austin sits on the banks of Waller Creek. UH-Downtown overlooks Buffalo Bayou. Its student body numbers about 16,700. Its colors are not black-and-white stripes nor jump-suit orange, but green and gold. Their song is “That Good Ol’ Baylor Line,” to the tune of “In the Good Old Summertime.” My theory is the Bears noticed at a football game with the Longhorns, the Teasips were singing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” That inspired Baylor to adopt “Summer Time.” Actually, according to sources I have copied, in 1906, a student penned humorous words to the tune of “In the Good Old Summer Time” and they became generally accepted among the student body as the school’s fight song. However, in 1931 the wife of a Baylor music professor felt the words “were neither dignified enough nor representative of the total university,” so she wrote new lyrics, which were soon adopted as the official school song.
Baylor has played Texas A&M in football 108 times, beginning in 1899. No more. However, those games produced one of the saddest stories in college football. According to my thorough research, Wikipedia, the 1926 game was in played in Waco and was Baylor’s homecoming. During halftime Baylor homecoming floats paraded around the field. When a car pulling a flatbed trailer with several female Baylor students neared the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets’ section, a cadet raced towards the car and grabbed the steering wheel. The motion caused Louise Normand to fall off the truck, injuring her and inciting a large riot. Students began using metal folding chairs and planks of wood that had been used as yard markers for weapons. Texas A&M cadet Lt. Charles Sessums was hit in the head and, although he initially appeared to recover, he died following the game. The two school presidents agreed to temporarily suspend athletic relations between the schools. They did not compete against each other in any athletic event for the next four years. Baylor and Texas A&M would not meet in football again until 1931.
For years, the Baylor football team was the doormat of the Southwest Conference. The Bears didn’t win a Southwest Conference championship for 50 years (1924-1974). That was a longer time span than between Baylor’s 1924 championship and Custer’s Last Stand. Then there is the tale of yet another apparent at-home Bear defeat. They were down three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and the Baylor fans started leaving. Then the Bears scored, and again, and once more. Departing fans listening to the game on their car radio did a U-turn to go back to the stadium, but met nose-to-nose with later leavers. There was a gigantic traffic snarl. I don’t know who won. Anyway, the Bears will get out of their current mess. Don’t leave the game early, and I’ll drink to that.
Ashby is toasting at email@example.com