COLUMBIA, SC — The yelling began well before midnight. And continued well past it, too.
"Farmers! Farmers! Fight!"
"We're gonna beat their ever-lovin' -- WOO!"
Texas A&M fans by the thousands swarmed the State House steps and lawn late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, wrapping around the east side of the building and even spilling over to the sidewalk across Gervais Street for their traditional Midnight Yell Practice.
There was clapping, swaying, singing, arm pumping and lots and lots of -- you guessed it -- yelling, as the Aggies brought one of the most storied traditions in college football to the state capital before their team meets the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium Thursday night.
"This yell is what Texas A&M is all about," said Rusty Biles, a 1985 A&M graduate who flew into Columbia from College Station, Texas, on Wednesday afternoon.
Aggie fans traditionally fill the stands at A&M's Kyle Field for Midnight Yell Practice the night before home games.
The tradition dates back to 1913, when cadets would gather to "learn heartily the old time pep" as a post-dinner activity. In 1931, the first Midnight Yell Practice as it is known today was held, when cadets held a pep rally the night before a football game.
Half a dozen overall-clad student "yell leaders" coached the crowd in traditional cheers -- rather, "yells," as the A&M clan insistingly prefers -- for about 20 minutes, with the Aggies for the most part drowning out shouts of rebuttal from a large and spirited contingent of USC fans who joined them at the State House.
The Aggies weren't just loud; they were clever, too.
Between yells, the yell leaders took a few good-natured cracks at the Gamecocks and Columbia.
"It looks like a state capital, only smaller," one yell leader shouted from the top of the State House steps.
Every jeer was met, of course, cheers from Carolina fans, who made the convincing argument that Aggie fans aren't the only ones with healthy lungs around here.
USC senior Jason Mohn came with friends because he just wanted to get a feel for the storied Aggie tradition. But when the combative cheers began, he said, he couldn't help but join in.
Olivia Floyd, a USC junior, said she was impressed by the A&M spirit.
"We need to start more traditions like this (at USC)," she said.
Some A&M fans said they were disappointed with the party-crashers from USC, whose overlapping cheering they found disrespectful. Other Aggies, though, appreciated the good-natured competition among the opposing yellers.
"We've never had that before at any Midnight Yell I've been to," said Austin Chaney, a senior at Texas A&M. "It makes it that much better."
He and Jonathan Murphy, also an A&M senior, said they loved having the Gamecocks join them at the Yell.
"It's a super great time," Murphy said. "No one (else) gathers the night before at the opponents' doorstep and chants in their face. ...It's meant to be respectful and lighthearted and fun."
They said they're looking forward to kicking off the college football season with, they hope, a close game Thursday night.
And Midnight Yell Practice, as always, was the perfect precursor.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.