10 Years Ago - Red, White, & Blue at Kyle Field
At 12:29 a.m. on Sept. 12, 2001, a visitor to TexAgs.com tossed the match that would ignite the wildfire.
I am repeating what ag2003 stated in another post:
"I think it would be a great act of US pride if we wore red, white and blue for the OSU game."
In my own opinion, TO take it one step further and to really make a nice statement would be to coordinate:
3rd deck: Red
2nd deck: White
1st deck: Blue
Gig'em and God Bless.
In the 10 days that would follow this late-night post on a burgeoning Aggie website, the patriotism of a nation, the pride of a university and the power of the Internet would become historically intertwined.
It was a confluence that perhaps could only be found in College Station, and it was certainly some of Texas A&M's finest hours.
Ten years ago, a massive and complex grassroots effort to blanket Kyle Field like an American flag came to fruition in what will forever be known as the Red, White and Blue Out game.
While the nation mourned the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there were countless tributes to the country and the victims and heroes of 9/11. And they were all poignant in their own way.
But no act of togetherness and camaraderie on such a grand and public scale could match what unfolded at Kyle Field on Sept. 22 for a college football game between Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.
The stadium was filled with red, white and blue T-shirts-some 70,000-with the words "Standing For America" emblazoned on the front. Kyle Field's three-deck layout allowed for a spectacular display of America's patriotic colors.
Approximately $180,000 was raised for the New York Fire and Police relief funds, and memories for thousands of Aggies were indelibly stamped with the sight of their usual marooned-out stadium having switched colors, if only for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon in the fall.
But the Red, White and Blue Out game will be remembered for more than just its final patriotic display. It was a 10-day exercise in business logistics, community involvement and the Aggie spirit cranking into overdrive.
And 10 years later, those intimately involved in the organization of the event wonder to themselves like most fans who clamored for a $5 T-shirt:
How in the world did they pull this off?
THE FAB FIVE
Eric Bethea was going through the same emotions of so many of his fellow students at A&M when he decided to post on TexAgs about following the lead of Maroon Out, a T-shirt tradition that began for students in 1998 for the blockbuster game with Nebraska at Kyle Field.
Aggies were familiar with wholesale T-shirt statements, so he thought why not wear red, white and blue T-shirts to Kyle Field for the OSU game instead of the standard maroon garb.
"At midnight or so, I just threw the idea out there," Bethea said. "I didn't really think much of it, but the next day, somehow I had 30 or 40 emails in my inbox. That thread had gone to about five pages. People were saying, 'That's an awesome idea, let's do it.'"
Kourtney Rogers (now Kourtney Gruner) was a self-admitted recruiting junkie and a TexAgs regular, while three friends-Cole Robertson, Josh Rosinski and Nick Luton-were fascinated by the RWB Out idea and began contacting Bethea with their pledge for support.
After an exchange of emails, the five A&M students decided to meet for lunch the next day to discuss their plan. Little did they know that they would be joined at the hip in helping coordinate an expression of patriotism that would forever be archived in the history of Texas A&M University.
"I think we all had our individual visions of what could happen," Luton said. "I think the underwriting theme was we just wanted to do something to help out. Since none of us could do anything on the East Coast, we just wanted to try and figure out what we could do locally. If we could accomplish anything at all, it would be a success. But I don't think any of us had any idea of what was going to unfold."
After gauging the possibility of selling mass quantities of T-shirts on campus with A&M officials and student groups, the five lead organizers for the RWB Out approached C.C. Creations owner Ken Lawson about having his College Station-based company print the shirts. Lawson recalls the first order topping out at 3,000.
At the onset of this student-run T-shirt barrage, sales were slow. It was game week in Aggieland, and seniors were pulling tickets on the Zone Plaza. Yet, there was more of a sense of curiosity about the T-shirts than zealous purchasing.
But by that Monday night, with word of mouth in full force on the Internet and mainstream media outlets spreading the story, RWB Out transformed from a creative little venture into a full-blown mega-event.
"On Tuesday, we've got to sell 10,000 shirts or go talk to Ken Lawson and talk about how we lost money on this deal," Rosinski recalled. "But then we were out of shirts in the morning that day. It was a jump in demand. It got progressively more hectic as the week went on."
Did it ever. C.C. Creations is the largest T-shirt printing company in Texas, and now its employees were working around the clock with two, 12-hour shifts. Yet, the company was struggling to keep up with the unfathomable demand.
Now hundreds, it not thousands, of students and community volunteers were involved in the RWB Out operation. And the most important commodities-red, white and blue T-shirts-were nowhere to be found in the Bryan-College Station area.
Calls soon went out to printers across the state (even a T-shirt company in Shreveport joined in the fun) to ask for deliveries of the blank shirts to Aggieland, where the printing was now being done at multiple print shops. Students suddenly were manning the assembly lines in relief of exhausted full-time workers.
"It was absolute insanity," Luton added. "We were just so fortunate that there was such an emotional attachment to the event that people were just coming from class to buy a shirt and asking if they could help."
The most chaotic days of the RWB Out adventure came on the day before the OSU game and on the actual game day. As of that Friday, nearly 40,000 shirts had been sold, and most people were understanding the drill: Wear a red shirt if you sit on the third deck, white if you're on the second deck and blue if your seats are in the first deck. It was more complicated for the former student crowd in the north end zone: Upper bench seats were to be in the red zone, while upper armchairs, suites and club level seats were to be in the white area; lower armchair seat holders were to fill in with blue.
Luton pulled his truck, loaded with T-shirts for sale, up close to Rudder Foundation at 4:30 a.m. on game day. To his surprise, there were already lines of people snaking through the grounds in anticipation of buying their appropriate shirt. In fact, all over campus there were tables set up for the last big push. In a shocking six hours leading up to kickoff, another 30,000 red, white and blue T-shirts would be sold to A&M fans, as well as those from Stillwater, Okla.
The grassroots effort put in motion by a late-night post on the Internet had turned Aggieland into a sea of red, white and blue.
The spirit that can ne'er be told was about to show the nation its true colors like never before.
A SIGHT TO BEHOLD
The five main organizers of RWB Out knew they had sold close to 70,000 shirts, and their cell phones were lighting up with responses from fans who were in their seats at Kyle Field as the first quarter unfolded.
Josh Rosinski was in charge of the money, so he drove bags and backpacks filled with cash to his College Station apartment to count the take. He caught a glimpse of Kyle Field as he passed the stadium on Wellborn Road, and he knew that the Aggies had, indeed, pulled it off.
Cole Robertson, Kourtney Gruner, Nick Luton and Eric Bethea all walked into Kyle Field together, emerging out of the tunnel in the south end zone. What they saw was almost imaginable.
Kyle Field was awash in a perfectly coordinated design of red, white and blue.
"I think all of us were in complete shock," Bethea said. "We expected the student section to look good, but we had no idea that it had become as viral as it did and that the former students' side would be just as perfect as the students' side."
Added Robertson: "When we started this, the argument was whether we could sell 5,000 or 7,000 shirts. At the end of the day, when you had 80,000 people with shirts that had been printed or the colored shirts they brought from home...it was just amazing. We were speechless and didn't know what to say or what to expect. When we walked in the stadium and saw it, it was pretty incredible. "
The Aggie football team knew it was about to perform on a stage that only a school like A&M could construct. Head coach R.C. Slocum even had his staff shed their standard coaching attire and wear the "Standing For America" shirts on the sideline.
"I still have my shirt that I wore that day," Slocum said. "On the sideline, I'll never forget the sight and am reminded of it when I see the picture. But when we jogged out on the field and saw red, white and blue, it was an incredible feeling to see the immediate patriotism and to know that we had been attacked. Everybody dug deep and forgot their individual differences."
Quarterback Mark Farris said he was always amazed how the feel of the stadium and how an atmosphere could change from the time the players ended warm-ups until they reappeared 20 minutes later to run onto the field.
But on this day, Farris and the team were blindsided by what they saw.
"I don't think there is any other place that could have pulled that off, and I still to this day think this was the greatest game I played in," Farris says. "I didn't play in the '99 Bonfire game but was around for that and the (2002) Oklahoma game, but when it comes up I tell people that was the neatest game I played in just because of what it meant.
"I remember when I first heard about it, I didn't know if they would be able to pull it off. But then when I saw it, it was just pretty amazing and one of those things you'll never forget."
The Aggies went on to beat Oklahoma State, 21-7, but anyone who was at Kyle Field or watched the game on television won't remember much about the game action. It's the Aggie Band spelling out "USA" during their halftime show and a stadium glistening in red, white and blue that remain forever etched in our minds.
"It still sticks with me," said Gruner, who was in charge of spreading the RWB Out story to the media 10 years ago and fittingly is now the Director of Communications and Marketing for the City of Navasota. "We'll watch some of the footage, and still to this day whenever I watch it, I break down because there are so many feelings of emotion and seeing people come together for a good cause and putting their differences apart. To me, it speaks for everyone involved on campus and A&M in general. I still believe it could never have been done anywhere else."
TEN YEARS LATER
After the RWB Out game, superfan and 12th Man Foundation donor David Evans helped organize a trip to New York City so the student organizers of the event could personally hand over the $180,000 in donations to the NYC police and fire departments' relief funds, which were directed to the families of the fallen emergency responders.
Several entities chipped in for the trip, as Continental Airlines provided five round-trip tickets at no cost, while a Hilton hotel comped all the rooms during the Big Apple excursion. An anonymous A&M former student even contributed $200 for each of the Aggie students to use as spending money.
The policemen and firefighters were floored with the RWB Out event and eagerly accepted the university's invitation to attend a game at Kyle Field the following season.
As for the five A&M students at the heart of RWB Out, they remain connected by friendship and certainly their roles in organizing the 10 days of cotton chaos.
All five thirty-somethings are married with young children, and they have all enjoyed success in their business fields. Cole Robertson, the CEO of Mesa Power/BP Capital, offices just down the hallway from his boss, T. Boone Pickens of alternative energy and Oklahoma State fame.
"I have had the opportunity to discuss that day with numerous Oklahoma State people who come through our office here, and it always ends up being brought up," Robertson said. "They were happy and exited to be a part of it. In that day in time when wounds were so very fresh from 9/11, I don't think it mattered if you were supporting the Aggies or the Cowboys that day. It was much more about being an American."
While the five A&M students are singled out for their roles in the RWB Out, they unanimously want to give credit to the hordes of volunteers that galvanized the Aggie community in 2001.
They realize they were a part of a special university that has always stood for America.
"I don't know that another school could have pulled that off," Bethea said. "You really needed support from the community, the current students, former students, administrators...it all had to come together. I just don't know if that could happen at another university, and in 10 days. That's the harder part to understand is that it came together so quickly."
Nick Luton, who claims his son, Lane, will be a member of A&M's Class of '33, says his life would have been completely different had he not participated in the Red, White and Blue Out game on Sept. 22, 2001.
"My wife is Class of 2005, and she wasn't sure if she was going to stay at A&M," Luton said. "She tells me over and over again that the Red, White and Blue Out game was the reason that she stayed at A&M. Had she not stayed at A&M, I wouldn't have met her.