Rick Perry ended our conversation with a prediction – Texas A&M 35, Alabama 24 – but in a true politician's flourish, he added a walk-off catch phrase:
"Roll, tears, roll," Perry said, sounding quite pleased with the line.
Yes, the governor of Texas and 2012 Republican presidential aspirant was talking trash at the Crimson Tide. If it costs him the state of Alabama in a much-rumored 2016 bid to become the 45th president of the United States, well, he's prepared to live with that.
The former Texas A&M Yell Leader is just that fired up for Saturday – arguably the biggest home game in his alma mater's history. During our 22-minute conversation Thursday, Perry was enough of an A&M honk to make me suspect he has an account and a screen name on AggieYell.com.
Gov. Gig' Em told Yahoo Sports that he became a grandfather this summer: "Outside of an Aggie win Saturday, it's pretty much the biggest thing to happen to me this year." At least Ella Gray Perry is too young to be insulted by playing second fiddle to Johnny Football in grandpa Rick's heart.
He predicted that Kyle Field will produce the greatest atmosphere of the year in college football: "My bet is that there will not be a more intense venue. If you can crank it up to 11, it will hit 11 Saturday."
He suspected that the game will yield spectacular TV ratings and become an instant classic: "These teams will entertain the world with some of the best football people have seen in years. This one has a lot of characters, a lot of storylines. People who probably don't follow college football as closely are going to tune into this game. It could have a huge following."
And the First Fanboy of Texas succinctly dismissed star quarterback Johnny Manziel's myriad recent controversies with a nod toward the foibles of youth: "I'm glad they didn't have video cameras when I was 19 years old."
[Watch SportsDash: Broken rules, uncertain futures]
Indeed, the 19-year-old Rick Perry apparently was a sketchy student and reputed to be something of a prankster. According to a 2011 story in the Texas Tribune, Perry once put live chickens in an upperclassman's dorm closet during Christmas break. (One would assume they were no longer live chickens when break was over.)
But by that time he also was an Aggie to the core. And to the Corps. Perry, who arrived on campus in College Station in 1968 and graduated with a degree in animal science in '72, joined the school's famous Corps of Cadets and went on to serve five years in the Air Force. He once described his stint as a Yell Leader – the male cheerleaders who hold high status at the school – as having "more political consequence than anything else" in his college experience.
He's since gone on to become the first A&M graduate to occupy the governor's mansion in Texas, bringing an unapologetic allegiance to the Aggies with him.
Perry can give an extensive, ad lib history lesson on the school, dating from its struggles to stay open in the 1800s to the first class of women enrollees in 1964. He remembers sitting in the end zone to watch Texas A&M beat Alabama in the '68 Cotton Bowl, then cheering for largely unsuccessful teams coached by Gene Stallings during his college days. Perry never held it against Stallings, actually persuading him to take a seat on the governor-appointed A&M Board of Regents.
And despite the potential fallout in a state with a large burnt-orange voting population, Perry might be more of a fan now than ever. He noted, with rivalry-tinged delight, that visiting media have begun taking up hotel space in Austin for this weekend – not to cover the Texas-Mississippi game there in town, but to make the 90-mile drive to College Station for the Aggies vs. the Tide.
"Everyone has their day in the spotlight, and everyone has their day in the barrel," Perry said. "Right now, the Aggies are in the spotlight."
The governor championed the cause that has helped land Texas A&M in the spotlight: the contentious and controversial move from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference. Perry alluded to stacking the Board of Regents with people he knew would be in favor of the daring move to leave behind Texas and other in-state schools and head east to the SEC.
"Those guys were checked off to make sure there was no consternation," he said. "It was damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. I'm sure there were people – timid people – on the sidelines saying, ‘You're going to wish you hadn't done that.'"
Perry is many things, but timid is not among them. A man who has a concealed carry permit and once signed into law a bill allowing the hunting of wild hogs from helicopters has the kind of bravado that plays well in his home state. So the idea of seceding from the Big 12 played well with his swaggering attitude.
Perry was more than just an interested party in A&M's daring gambit – he was an influential party as well. Some say he was actively involved in making the SEC move happen.
He believes the school is a good match both academically and athletically with the SEC, and can recite a long list of recent A&M accomplishments in both areas. He was a college pal of current chancellor John Sharp, so he has a direct line to the school's leadership.
"This truly has been a fascinating thing to watch happen," Perry said. "… It's turned out greater than anyone's possible dreams. If you say you saw it coming, you're either a liar or a damn liar."
Of course, Rick Perry will be at the game Saturday. He will hear the Yell Leaders do the old cheers from his days, and the newer ones, too. He will applaud the verve and nerve of Johnny Football. He will revel in the spectacle and relish the bold new world he helped his alma mater enter last year.
And at the end, Gov. Gig' Em will hope to see the visitors' tears roll.
- Rick Perry
- governor of Texas