The Blue and the Aggie Blue: Capt. Craig F. Smith and the mother of all Aggie Twitter accounts
Dearest Mother —
Ideally, every time one clicked on a fresh tweet from @CaptCraigSmith, the latest dispatch written as if Utah State’s head basketball coach was also a Union officer, would be set up by a brief audio narration provided by renowned historian David McCullough, the familiar voice of Ken Burn’s acclaimed documentary, The Civil War.
Midway through the Aggies’ latest campaign, Capt. Smith and his troops found themselves locked in a desperate battle with one of the enemy’s most decorated and feared divisions. But inspired by the bravery of their leader, Smith’s company prevailed in one of the most anticipated clashes in the Western Theater. Once the lines were secure, Smith and his exhausted men lay down for the night as the sulfury stench of gunpowder still lingered in the cold air. Despite his fatigue, Smith took the time for a contemplative moment and carefully removed a small notebook and his pen-and-ink set from his muddy saddlebags. After wiping his forehead free of sweat and grime, Capt. Smith sat down to write a brief summation to his beloved mother about his battalion’s latest engagement.
Properly set up by McCullough distinctive voice, Capt. Smith’s brief correspondence to his mother would then be read by an actor with an even more distinctive voice, perhaps Tom Hanks. Even better, the gravelly delivery of Sam Elliott.
But even when limited to internal vocalization, the whimsical tweets shared by Capt. Craig F. Smith are currently some of the most beloved in all of Aggie-inspired social media. Indeed, the account, which was started in November 2018 by an anonymous Utah State fan, prevailed in an NCAA Tournament-like contest that pitted the 68 most popular Aggie Twitter accounts against one another.
The tourney, which was put together by @Arizona_Aggie last March after the COVID-19 pandemic denied the USU basketball team an opportunity to play in “The Big Dance,” resulted in @CaptCraigSmith being selected by 74.6% of the 418 votes submitted in the championship round. Of the victory, @Arizona_Aggie wrote:
Congratulations to the undisputed champion of Utah State Aggie Twitter, the one and only @CaptCraigSmith! He proved that he is not to be trifled with, by obliterating every account we placed in his way. I, personally, can’t wait to hear his victory speech!
Much like Craig Smith himself, @CaptCraigSmith deflected the opportunity to take personal credit for the victory. In a humble tweet posted on March 31, 2020, the good captain wrote:
Utilizing a complex maze of backdoor channels, Utah State magazine eventually made contact with the individual responsible for the popular @CaptCraigSmith Twitter handle via telephone. This person prefers to remain anonymous because “it might ruin the fun behind the account if people knew who it was.”
In the spirit of Watergate and the legendary reporting tandem of Woodward & Bernstein, we have elected to retain this individual’s anonymity and refer to the person responsible for Capt. Craig F. Smith’s voice as simply, Deep Tweet. We will note, however, that @CaptCraigSmith is not, as has been rumored by some, Craig Smith himself.
Coach Smith actually addressed this unsubstantiated suggestion on June 17, 2019, during a visit to the “Aggie Legends Podcast, Legendary Aggie Tales with Wild Bill.” At the end of an interview with William Sproat and Kellen Hansen, Smith stated: “Someone is insistent that I’m running that.”
“I don’t know who it is, but it is amazing the stuff that this guy comes up with,” Smith continued. “So, I do follow him on Twitter … it’s that good. They’re phenomenal.
“… It might be my son’s girlfriend, Madison.”
While it’s possible that the phenomenal Madison is also well versed in successful basketball and Civil War tactics, Utah State magazine has confirmed that Madison is not the voice behind @CaptCraigSmith. But it should be noted that Deep Tweet is a graduate of Utah State University with a more intimate knowledge of Aggie basketball than the average USU fan, and Smith initially became aware of his namesake Twitter account after one of his brothers sent him a screenshot of one of Capt. Smith’s posts following an Aggie victory, adding, “You got to give a shoutout to these guys!”
“I was just bored sitting the back of the car. I had seen a lot of those Andrew Luck tweets, and I thought they were hilarious. So, I thought, I’ll start that account and see what happens.” – Deep Tweet
“Craig Smith retweeted me once about a month before last year’s basketball season started,” Deep Tweet notes. “He quote-tweeted it, and said something like, ‘I couldn’t have said that better myself.’ But he hasn’t said anything to me about it or DM’ed the account or anything.”
Near the top of the @CaptCraigSmith account, Deep Tweet provides a brief description of the good coach-captain’s attributes: “Leader of a brave battalion of Aggies. Fighting the good fight in defense of Bridgerland. (Not actually Craig Smith. Inspirted by @CaptAndrewLuck)”
The Capt. Andrew Luck Twitter account, of course, followed a similar “Dearest Mother …” format and was started in December 2015 because of Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck resemblance to a Civil War solider. The account, which had as many as 540,000 followers, all but came to an end in August 2019, when Luck abruptly announced his retirement from the NFL.
Thanks to his dark beard, Luck certainly looked the part of a Civil War officer more than Craig Smith, who never displays any facial hair, and as far as Aggie fans know, has never had any hair on top of his cleanly shaven head. (A photograph posted on the real coach Smith’s Twitter account last August suggests that Smith did, in fact, have a wonderful head of hair when he married his wife, Darcy, in 1995. However, Utah State magazine has been unable to confirm that it is, actually, the Smiths and not just a stock photo of a young couple on their way to the prom).
It should also be pointed out that the image utilized by Deep Tweet on the @CaptCraigSmith site does not, in fact, depict that of a Union captain during the Civil War period. An independent analysis determined that the uniform worn in the photograph is that of a brigadier general (note the single-star insignia on each shoulder). And after consulting with experts in the field, Utah State magazine discovered that the image was originally that of Quincy Adams Gillmore, a West Point graduate from Ohio who started out the war as a captain in the U.S. Army but was later promoted to brigadier general in April 1862.
(Perhaps Deep Tweet should follow suit and finally promote Capt. Craig F. Smith to general, after all the real Craig Smith has won a regular-season Mountain West title, two conference tournament championships, and nearly 70 games in just two and a half seasons at Utah State.)
The genesis of the @CaptCraigSmith account dates back to Nov. 24, 2018, just as the USU football team was set to battle Boise State at Albertsons Stadium. The Aggies were 10-1 and ranked 14th in the country at the time, and a victory over the No. 21 Broncos would send Matt Wells’ squad into the Mountain West championship game.
Inspired by the unique opportunity, the man who would become known as Deep Tweet drove with friends to Idaho for the showdown on the Smurf Turf.
“I was just bored sitting the back of the car,” Deep Tweet explains. “I had seen a lot of those Andrew Luck tweets, and I thought they were hilarious. So, I thought, I’ll start that account and see what happens.
“I found a photo of Craig Smith, and then I think I Googled ‘Civil War captain’ or something.”
(A Google search today for “Civil War captain” results in hundreds of images of Captain America fighting with Iron Man.)
By using a photography app on his phone, Deep Tweet plugged Craig Smith’s face onto the Civil War soldier’s head, and had the account launched “somewhere around Twin Falls.” (This revelation only adds fuel to various conspiracy theories, inasmuch as the man later identified as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s Deep Throat informant during the Watergate scandal was Mark Felt, an FBI special agent who grew up in Twin Falls, Idaho).
The first tweeted posted by @CaptCraigSmith actually references a Utah State basketball game from three days earlier when the Aggies lost to Arizona State, 87-82, at a tournament in Las Vegas. It was Craig Smith’s first loss as head coach at USU after starting out 5-0.
From the backseat of that car, Deep Tweet also added an additional dispatch about the upcoming football game in Boise, which would result a 33-24 loss for the Aggies.
Although Twin Falls is only two hours away from Boise, Deep Tweet says his initial tweets were already getting a lot of attention by the time he and his friends reached Idaho’s capital city.
“When I checked it again, I think I was close to a hundred followers by the time we hit Boise,” he says. “I was like, ‘Whoa! This is catching on quick!’ So, I just kept at it, and it got popular fast.
“But I think a lot of that is just because of what a likeable guy Craig Smith is, as well as due to the success of the basketball team. I don’t think it would be as popular an account or as a fun of an account to run if the basketball team wasn’t doing so good.”
This statement rings true, especially since the pinned tweet at the top of the @CaptCraigSmith has been there since March 7, 2020. The tweet is not only a reminder of Aggie guard Sam Merrill’s game-winning 3-pointer against fifth-ranked San Diego State in the championship game of last year’s Mountain West tournament, but it’s also a brief snapshot of a simpler time just a few days before the spread of the coronavirus in the United States led to unprecedented and brutally abrupt changes throughout the country.
“Obviously it’s been the most fun to run the account during the Mountain West Conference basketball tournament because the Aggie fan base on Twitter is just really engaged,” Deep Tweet says. “There’s so many retweets and likes in response to everything.”
The @CaptCraigSmith account currently boats 1,763 followers, most of whom are clearly fans of Aggie athletics. (Last season, an ESPN announcer who had caught wind of Capt. Craig Smith gave the Twitter account a shout out on air, encouraging everyone to follow it). But social media followers from rival institutions also pay attention, which has led to some (mostly) good-natured banter with fans from Nevada (who are very sensitive about having their school referred to by its old name of Nevada-Reno), BYU (football coach Kalani Sitake apparently being in need of a wheel for his wagon) and Wyoming (“Laramie is an easy target for that account. It’s not hard to come up with a Laramie joke”).
“I try not to be too mean or anything, but some of the fun ones have just been little jabs at the other teams,” Deep Tweet says.
Of course, neither Civil War officers nor college basketball coaches win every game. So, there are times when Deep Tweet has to dig deep to come up with something after a particularly difficult loss. But then, what he wrote after the Aggies dropped their third game in a row last season on the road at Air Force became one of his most endearing tweets:
Deep Tweet admits that while he is somewhat of a history buff, he does occasionally seek out help with creating nuanced dispatches with a mid-19th century flavor.
“Anytime I can’t think of a good historical term, I’ll just Google the ‘Civil War synonym’ for something,” he noted. “That’s kind of how I come up with the words. I’m sure I use a lot of phrases that aren’t from that period or whatever, but I try to make it seem like that.”
Understandably, it is easy for some to get lost in the subtleties of differing time periods and the collision of coaches and captains found on the @CaptCraigSmith account. The potential questions are endless: Is Capt. Craig Smith writing to his mother utilizing a pen and an ink well following a harried battle in the thick forests of Virginia, or is he pecking away on an iPhone 8 in the lobby of the Marriott in Albuquerque? Does Capt. Smith eat hardtack after a game, or baby-back ribs at the Chili’s in Fresno? Should a Union soldier really be going to battle against cadets from the United States Air Force Academy? Is a 1-3-1 zone effective in defending against a flanking maneuver by an advancing army? Should Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg actually have been called a blocking foul?
Back in 1817, noted poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the term “suspension of disbelief” – the concept that by temporarily accepting a particular situation, regardless of how implausible, a reader or theater patron may be able to better enjoy an otherwise fantastical narrative. This idea led to recent films like “The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” If a movie about our 16th president battling vampires during the Civil War can make $116 million at the box office, then it’s certainly possible in an “Avengers: Endgame” world to envision an alternative reality where a modern-day college basketball coach might also double as a battle-tested Union officer during the War Between the States.
It’s just good for the soul. Certainly, Utah State basketball fans who already had a smile on their faces after the Aggies took two games in three days against perennial powerhouse San Diego State back in January smiled even bigger after reading the following dispatch by Capt. Craig Smith: