When Miss Reveille Aggie died, we all went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of the stadium, which was newly renovated and expanded.
It was a big, squarish stadium that had once been smaller than its counterparts in Knoxville and Ann Arbor, decorated with banners of former glories in the heavily lightsome style of the seventies, set on what had once been a most select campus. But Tigers and Elephants had encroached and obliterated even the august names of that place; now Miss Reveille's stadium was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish new-money facade above the arid Texas climate and the oil pumps-an eyesore among eyesores. And now Miss Reveille had gone to join the representatives of those august names where they lay in the mesquite-bemused cemetery among the ranked and anonymous graves of other Reveilles past.
Alive, Miss Reveille had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the school, dating from that day in 1931 when cadets, the mayors of this cultish land, named her mascot in perpetuity. Not that Miss Reveille was aware of the charity. The cadets invented an involved tale as to her origins, as they were wont to do.
When the next generation, with its more modern ideas, became students, this arrangement carried on, though the meaning of it and of the flag draped across her back became obscured to the younger generation, those upstanding children who made the hand signals and chanted the words but whose honor and loyalty rang hollow when stacked alongside that of their forebears.
They called a special meeting of the student council. After internet memes mocked the flag on her back, they questioned its positioning, the rightness of its placement.
Her voice was dry and cold. "I wear a flag in College Station. The cadets explained it to me. Perhaps one of you can gain access to the school records and satisfy yourselves."
"But we have. We are the student council, Miss Reveille. Didn't you see the memes, the jokes from sports blogs?"
"I looked at the computer, yes," Miss Reveille said. "Perhaps they consider themselves the arbiters of taste . . . I wear a flag in College Station."
"But there is nothing on the books to show that, you see We must go by the--"
"See the cadets. I wear a flag in College Station."
"But, Miss Reveille--"
"See the cadets." (Those cadets had been graduated for many years.) "I wear a flag in College Station."
So she vanquished them, horse and foot, just as she had vanquished the opposing schools and NFL agents years before.
That was two years after Sherman's firing and a short time after her sweetheart--the one we believed would coach her forever --had deserted her. After her Sherman’s dismissal she went out very little; after her new coach went away, people hardly saw her at all.
That was when people had begun to feel really sorry for her. People in Texas, remembering how the Bear left for Tuscaloosa, believed that the Aggies held themselves a little too high for what they really were. None of the SEC wins were quite good enough for Miss Reveille and such. We had long thought of them as a tableau, Miss Reveille a sleek figure, her cadets spraddled silhouettes in the foreground, their backs to her and clutching toy swords, the group of them framed by the entrance to the new-construction stadium. So when they started losing more SEC games than they won, we were not pleased exactly, but vindicated; even with insanity in the family she wouldn't have failed at all of her chances to best her foes if they had really been beatable.
The university had just let the contracts for rebuilding, and in the summer after Sherman’s firing they began the work. The rebuilding came with a new quarterback, and a coach named Kevin Sumlin, a recruiter and Air Raid tactician--a big, ready man, with a big voice and tendency to say "Yessir" for no apparent reason. Presently we began to see him and Miss Reveille on Saturday afternoons driving down the field with the new young quarterback at the helm.
At first we were glad that Miss Reveille would be of interest in the SEC, because the sportswriters all said, "Of course a Big XII team will not fare well in the brutality of the SEC West." But there were still others, older people, who said, "Poor Reveille. Her kinsfolk should come to her and renew the rivalry." She had some kin in Austin; but the Aggies had fallen out with them over the money in a new television contract, and there was no communication between the two schools. They had not even been represented on the schedule.
And as soon as the old people said, "Poor Reveille," the whispering began. "Do you suppose it's really so?" they said to one another. "Of course it is. What else could . . ." This behind their hands; rustling of programs and slosh of bourbon as the new quarterback, swift clop-clop-clop, led the team down the field to defeat Alabama in that first new season.
She carried her head high enough--even when we believed that she was fallen. It was as if she demanded more than ever the recognition of her dignity as an Aggie; as if it had wanted that touch of earthiness to reaffirm her imperviousness. Like when she fended off the advances of USC. That was over a year after they had begun to say "Poor Aggie."
"I want to keep this coach," she said to the agent. They’d notched quite a few wins by then, but they were still losing some, and on Sundays, with cold, haughty black eyes in a face the flesh of which was strained across the temples and about the eyesockets as you imagine a lighthouse-keeper's face ought to look, they equivocated their losses away. "Miles is just lucky against us. I want to keep this coach," she said.
"Yes, Miss Reveille. How much can you pay? I'd recom--"
"As much as you want. I don't care about spending money."
The agent named several figures. "He'll kill anything up to an elephant. But what you want is--"
"Sumlin," Miss Reveille said. "He is a good one?"
"Is . . . Sumlin? Yes, ma'am. But what you want--"
"I want Sumlin."
The agent looked down at her. She looked back at him, erect, her face like a strained flag. "Why, of course," the agent said. "If that's what you want."
So the next day we all said, "She has overpaid for a coach who has not yet won his division"; and we said it would be the best thing. When she had first begun to win with Sumlin, we had said, "She might go on a run and win it all." Then we said, "She will still win some games yet," because Sumlin himself had flirted openly with other programs. Later we said, "Poor Reveille" behind our programs as they played on Satruday afternoon in the glittering stadium, Miss Reveille with her head high and Kevin Sumlin with his visor cocked, playcard in one gloved hand.
Then some of the writers began to say that certain improprieties were a disgrace to the program and a bad example to the young people. The NCAA did not want to interfere, but at last the writers forced the investigators to call upon her. They would never divulge what happened during those interviews, but they refused to go back again. The next Saturday the new quarterback sat a half.
So we were not surprised when Kevin Sumlin--the wins had become less frequent some time since--was gone. We were a little disappointed that there was not a public blowing-off, but we believed that he had gone on to prepare for an NFL job.
And that was the last we saw of Kevin Sumlin. And of Miss Reveille for some time. They played on Saturdays still, but with a lackluster half-weary enthusiasm reserved for the once-rich. Now and then we would see her on Sportscenter for a moment, but for almost six months she did not find a signature win. Then we knew that this was to be expected too; as if that quality of her past which had thwarted her football life so many times had been too virulent and too furious to die.
And so she passed on. Lost more as the stadium’s trophy room filled with dust and shadows. We did not even know she was sick; we had long since given up reading about her in the blogs.
She died in one of the high-dollar suites, on a plush run of maroon carpet.
Already we knew that there was one room in that region beyond the locker room which no one had seen in some years, and which would have to be forced. They waited until Miss Reveille was decently in the ground before they opened it.
The violence of breaking down the door seemed to fill this room with pervading dust. A thin, acrid pall as of the tomb seemed to lie everywhere upon this room decked and furnished as for a championship parade: upon the valance curtains of faded maroon color, upon the rose-shaded lights, upon the banners from the 50s, upon the Heisman trophy with tarnished bronze, bronze so tarnished that the inscription was obscured. Among them lay a visor and sunglasses, as if they had just been removed, which, lifted, left upon the surface a pale crescent in the dust. Upon a chair hung the jacket, carefully folded; beneath it the two mute shoes and the discarded socks.
The man himself lay in the bed.
For a long while we just stood there, looking down at the profound and fleshless grin. The body had apparently once lain in the attitude of an embrace, but now the long sleep that outlasts love, that conquers even the grimace of love, had cuckolded him. What was left of him, rotted beneath what was left of the polo shirt, had become inextricable from the bed in which he lay; and upon him and upon the pillow beside him lay that even coating of the patient and biding dust.
Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head. One of us lifted something from it, and leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of tawny collie hair.
GBH 2015: Penalty Flags in the Dust
GBH 2012: Ackbarlom, Ackbarlom
RCR 2013: If I Forget Thee, College Station