On a Saturday where many college football games were postponed, Oklahoma State played Texas A&M eleven days after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. The emotional game has linked the former conference rivals.
Sam Mayes only knew one place to go on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001.
He was worried about his dad, who had been flying around the country. He was worried about his extended family, all hailing from New York and New Jersey.
So after Mayes, a redshirt freshman tackle at Oklahoma State, heard about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, he went to be with his other family. He went to the football facility.
“We were sure that we were not going to practice,” Mayes said. “No one in the country was going to practice that day. Well, (OSU coach) Les Miles did. And he said, ‘The goal of the terrorists is to get us out of our everyday way of life. We’re not going to let them win here at Oklahoma State.’”
Eleven days after that 2001 practice, as most American sports were coming out of dormancy, OSU played at Texas A&M. It was an emotional game that links the teams more than 20 years later. The teams play infrequently now, but will square off on Dec. 27 in the TaxAct Texas Bowl in Houston.
There were 82,601 fans at Kyle Field eleven days after 9/11. Hardly any wore maroon. Fans wore color coordinated T-shirts to stripe out the three-tiered deck in a sea of red, white and blue. It made for an imposing, emotional away game for the Cowboys.
John Wohlgemuth, a redshirt freshman OSU receiver at the time, remembers how the stands seemed to be right on top of the players.
“It was overwhelming,” Wohlgemuth said. “I can still feel it right now, just that emotion that comes with it. Because everybody in the country felt something during that week and the week before.”
Wohlgemuth’s family traveled to the game. His mom and girlfriend Emily, now his wife, were included in the T-shirt effort. On that day, fans of the Cowboys and Aggies dressed the same.
The shirts read: “In memory of 9-11-01 – Standing for America – Aggieland, USA – September 22, 2001.”
Starting with their flight from Stillwater, players encountered increased security measures. Mayes remembers seeing SWAT teams and military personnel at Kyle Field. Freshman quarterback Josh Fields remembers Miles wearing a whistle around his neck during the game, presumably to blow if anything went haywire.
Players were told to be alert. The game was one of the largest gatherings in the United States since the attacks. No one knew if the attack at the World Trade Center was the start of something larger.
“These landmarks of American culture, these college football games, especially at places like College Station, it’s got such a rich military tradition; I mean, it was just one of those things that everybody was just nervous,” Mayes said.
The only problem OSU encountered during the game was a stout Aggies defense. Texas A&M won 21-7. Cowboy quarterback Aso Pogi threw for 110 yards and was sacked six times. Tatum Bell rushed for the only OSU score.
Fields, who would eventually quarterback the Cowboys two full seasons and beat Oklahoma twice, made an unceremonious college football debut late in the game. He completed two of three passes for 25 yards.
Fields recently shared memories from that game with his oldest son, Kaden.
Sure, Fields can recall his first snaps as a Cowboy. But he can share with vivid detail the deafening crowd noise that forced OSU to go to a silent count, and the well-researched taunts he heard from the Aggie crowd who had obviously studied up on Fields’ family tree.
OSU and Texas A&M are alike, Fields said. Players from both schools often have a chip on their shoulder from not being recruited by the preeminent in-state football power. He said there is mutual respect when the Aggies and the Cowboys meet.
“That game was special in 2001,” Fields said. “It really emphasized the fact of, hey, we were in a battle on the field, and all that. But at the end of the day, we’re all Americans, we’re all together.”
Every now and then, Mayes said looks up pictures of Kyle Field on that day. He remembers less than he once did about his playing days, but said the feelings that arise when he remembers playing after 9/11 will never be forgotten.
“It felt more important than any game I’ve ever played in my entire life,” Mayes said.