I didn’t grow up watching Aggie football. My parents both attended the University of Oklahoma, and neither were big college football fans. But my grandfather (whom we called Ghido) was an ardent Sooners fan. At least once when I was young, he took us to a game in Norman. All I remember about the game is that Ghido seemed to know every person in the stadium. I came to realize over the years that he seemed to know everybody wherever he went. He was one of those rare individuals who could walk into a room of strangers and quickly turn them into friends.
Still, Ghido loved his family above all else, especially his nine grandchildren. Each one of us secretly believed we were his favorite, and we loved him deeply. In fact, it was my love for my Sooner grandfather that eventually cemented my love of Aggie football.
I came to A&M as a freshman in 1994. When A&M played Oklahoma that September, I made sure to be at the game. OU entered the game ranked 15th; A&M was 16th. OU had won the matchup in 1993. But in 1994, A&M won, defeating OU 36-14.
After the game, I decided to call Ghido, just to gloat a little bit. My grandmother answered the phone and told my grandfather I wanted to speak with him. I heard him say, “Tell Matt I’m not here.” She then ordered him to come to the phone, and he complied. He listened to my good-natured teasing, and then he said, “You guys have a good team and a good coach. But these things always go back and forth.”
A&M beat Oklahoma the next three years, but as Ghido predicted, the series swung the other way in 1999. A&M and OU were in the Big 12 by then, so we played each other every year. In 1999, OU decimated A&M, 51-6. Ghido called to remind me how “these things go back and forth,” but he said things would eventually turn around for us again.
Over the next 10 years, though, A&M only beat OU once, leading me to think that “back and forth” was no longer an accurate description of the rivalry. Ghido never forgot to call me when his team won, of course. Not a single time.
Over time I realized that the phone calls weren’t really about football. They were about a young man from Generation X and a old man from the Greatest Generation, who stumbled upon a shared interest, an inside joke that cemented our love for one another. I grew to love those phone calls, even when the Aggies lost. I’d eagerly wait by the phone just to hear his gentle voice razz me about the game. And I know that on the rare occasions when I got to call him, he eagerly waited by the phone, although he always pretended that he was trying to sneak out of the house.
In 2006, my wife and I were living in College Station again, and it occurred to me that I’d never actually attended an A&M-OU game with Ghido. So I invited him to join me for the game at Kyle Field. He was 85 years old, and I had a feeling that his time was running short. I didn’t know if we’d have another opportunity attend a game together.
Ghido sat with me on the west side of Kyle Field, the old “former student” section. He was a bright red speck in a sea of maroon. I worried that he would face some hostility from the fans seated around us. But this was Kyle Field, home of the friendliest fans in college football. And my grandfather had a way with people. By the end of the first quarter, he made friends with everybody seated near us. Because we were standing through most of the game, my fellow Aggies constantly checked on Ghido. “Are you doing OK?” they’d ask. “Need any more water?” He stood for nearly the entire game, although it was hard on him. He didn’t want to miss a moment of the action.
The Aggies ran out of time that day, losing 17-16 to Oklahoma in a nailbiter that turned into a heartbreaker. As always, Ghido said something like, “You guys have a good coach. Things will turn around again eventually.”
As I’d feared, that was the last game I would attend with my grandfather. He died in 2012, just after A&M entered the SEC. Other family members tell me that he talked for years about attending that game with me, about how he and his Aggie grandson shared a rivalry that somehow turned into an alliance. To this day, it’s one of my favorite and most poignant memories.
Less than two months after Ghido died, A&M played OU in The Cotton Bowl, and this time the Aggies won 41-13. After the game, I reached for the phone, and then remembered he was gone. For 17 years, we’d talked to each other after the game. This time, A&M’s victory felt bittersweet.
Psalm 90 says that “the years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength, eighty” before we “fly away.” My grandfather had 91 good years before he flew away.
When I watch Aggie football these days, I often reflect on the bond it created between me and my grandfather, and on the fleeting nature of life on this side of eternity. I remember what my grandfather taught me through those yearly phone calls: The people we love matter more than any game. I remember that our days pass quickly, so we’d best use them wisely.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon urges us “remember your Creator in the days of your youth.” Because time flies. Three or four hours, and the game is over. Seventy or 80 years, and so is your life. And then eternity beckons. That is why I spend my time telling people that this life is short, but that eternal life is found in Jesus.
Ghido helped me understand that our time on earth does not last long. I know in a deeper way how significant our time is with those we love. And I know that eternity awaits us all, and the wise among us prepare for it.
Aggie football and phone calls from my grandfather might seem like unlikely spiritual teachers. But the greatest wisdom sometimes comes from unlikely sources.