By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. – It was a historic day in both College Station, Texas and Columbia, Missouri, as Texas A&M and Missouri played their first official league games in the Southeastern Conference. In the span of eight hours, new league rivalries were born and a combined 158,000 fans in two states watched their first glimpse of SEC football. But, hard lessons of playing in nation’s premier conference were learned, giving both programs a taste of their future in the SEC.
Despite being 750 miles apart, the games played on Saturday in College Station and Columbia had a similar feel. The historic magnitude made both atmospheres electric, the anticipation for this moment having grown for a year in both fan bases. All the excitement, all the surreal feelings and all the hopes of victory for the new family members pointed to this Saturday, when they’d finally see their teams play in the SEC.
The question of “can they compete” was answered, in the narrow window of one game. Commemorative coins were made and Commissioner Slive was in attendance (for both). The stage was set. A new era was here.
Once the actual games began, the normalcy of football took over. In both contests, the events were a microcosm of SEC life, both in the good it can provide and the difficulty of being a part of this family. The SEC isn’t for everyone, and what Missouri and Texas A&M learned this past Saturday are lessons they will carry for the foreseeable future.
First, the good.
Fan support is synonymous with SEC football, and in that regard both programs have proven they belong. After having over 40,000 in Kyle Field at midnight yell practice before the game, 87,000 packed in the same venue to watch their Aggies play Florida. Watching the TV broadcast, A&M’s environment was very SEC, all the way down to creative signs their fans brought to ESPN’s College Gameday show.
Missouri didn’t disappoint either, proving a capable host and packing in over 71,000 in a sellout of Faurot Field. Their famous “hill” was adorned with supporters, and the chants of “MIZ-ZOU” rang loud from student section. Georgia fans shared their admiration for the new brethren, telling me on Twitter that Tiger fans were extremely welcoming as they travelled into Columbia.
But, the SEC debuts for Missouri and Texas A&M were a reminder of what lies ahead for both programs. After strong starts, both teams struggled as the game continued. The true strength of the SEC is its depth, and the ability for the top teams to survive the entire gauntlet of the schedule. One game can be defining in this league (see Alabama-LSU last year), but in order to prove your worth you must be able to conquer the entire docket.
Texas A&M ran into a Florida buzz saw defense during the second half of their game, and Missouri lost the battle of attrition with Georgia.
The historic firsts are now over, and the rest of the season awaits. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and Missouri’s Gary Pinkel now have a blueprint of what to expect, a way to prepare their teams for the matchups that lie ahead.
Saturday, the new “SEC” was on display. As Tiger and Aggie fans now know, that’s a good thing…and a difficult challenge.
Welcome to the family guys.