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Five for the Ages

September 13, 2013
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Courtesy: Texas A&M Athletics
(photo: Texas A&M Athletics)

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FIVE FOR THE AGES

12th Man Magazine breaks down the most hyped and anticipated games in Kyle Field history

by Homer Jacobs
12th Man Magazine

Texas A&M’s logo has been a staple on the ESPN scroll since Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy and the Aggies pounded Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. The national media coverage has been constant, ramped up by Manziel’s offseason and the onset of “autographgate.”

But now the attention has turned to football and the date college football fans and media have been waiting for: Saturday.

Texas A&M vs. Alabama.

Has Aggieland ever seen anything like this?

“No. This is off the charts as far as strictly football,” says longtime A&M associate athletic director for media relations Alan Cannon. “The Bonfire game involved a lot of news crews in addition to sports (media). But it was mainly national or Texas media. This particular game, in my years, without a doubt has the most requested credentials. It’s going to be one for the ages.”

Indeed, the Bonfire game falls in a separate category for most anticipated game in Kyle Field history, as the tragic storyline resonated on another level with A&M fans.

And there have been plenty of highly anticipated games in College Station over the decades, including the 1967 Texas game with a shot at the Cotton Bowl on the line, the 1980 Penn State game as the third decks were opened in the expanded stadium, Jackie Sherrill’s first game as head coach against Boston College in 1982, as well as the Big 12 opener against Colorado in 1996 and the showdown with defending national champion Nebraska in 1998.

But five home games stand above the rest for hype and hoopla, as 12th Man Magazine breaks down these memorable A&M games and looks ahead to the biggest of them all:




No. 5: Texas A&M vs Oklahoma
November 11, 2000

THE BUILD-UP

The Aggies and Sooners played each other in big games before, most notably in 1994 when A&M handed OU a serious payback for the 44-14 debacle in Norman, as the Aggies rocked Kyle Field with a 36-14 win in a game between two ranked teams.

A&M even began Big 12 play with three straight victories over the Sooners during the ill-fated John Blake era in Norman.

But when Bob Stoops took over the crimson and cream in 1999, the Sooners’ storied program began its resurrection, ultimately capping the rise with a national championship in 2000.

Before the Sooners could raise the crystal trophy, however, they would have to survive a trip to College Station.

It was a rapid ascent to No. 1 for OU that season, cementing its spot atop the polls with wins over top-10 foes Nebraska and Kansas State. Meanwhile, the Aggies entered the contest on a four-game winning streak that included a 26-10 victory over No. 10 Kansas State.

The win pushed A&M to No. 23 in the polls, but more important it shoved the Aggies into the national consciousness at least for this week. A top-ranked team hadn’t ventured into Kyle Field since Texas came calling in 1977, and the Aggies had lost just five games at home since 1990 (a 26-19 loss to winless Colorado in that same 2000 season was a shock to the Aggies’ system).

The hype in College Station reached a new level when ESPN’s immensely popular College GameDay picked College Station as the show’s site for the first time ever.

“You know it’s a big game when (GameDay) shows up,” Cannon added.

WHAT HAPPENED

With the then-record crowd of 87,188 howling (the crowd noise was actually being monitored to see if it was record-book worthy), A&M took a 31-21 lead on Ja’Mar Toombs’ incredible 27-yard touchdown run, in which he drug three OU defenders into the end zone on one of the most memorable runs in school history.

But in a matter of 25 seconds, OU scored a touchdown and intercepted a Mark Farris pass for a score to stun the crowd and eventually, unbelievably, take home the 35-31 victory.

It was a miraculous comeback that Sooner fans and Aggies alike will never forget.

“We had the No. 1 team in the nation up against the ropes,” said A&M offensive lineman Chris Valletta. “We just couldn’t deliver the knockout punch. We had everything going our way. I’ve never felt so much disappointment after a game. It just hurts.”




No. 4: Texas A&M vs Florida
September 8, 2012

THE BUILD-UP

The anticipation for the 2012 game with Florida had been building for the better part of a year, as Texas A&M announced its move to the Southeastern Conference in September the year before. Once the 2012 SEC schedule was announced, A&M president R. Bowen Loftin’s request to Commissioner Mike Slive for a marquee conference opener was granted.

“I asked Slive when this began to give us a signature game for our first in the SEC,” Loftin recently said in an interview with 12th Man Magazine’s Rusty Burson. “We lost the game, but we won in terms of exposure.”

The storylines of the Aggies’ SEC opener were fascinating, as not only were the Aggies debuting in a new league but they would do so with a new head coach in Kevin Sumlin, with a new redshirt freshman quarterback named Johnny Manziel leading a new offense in sparkling new uniforms. Even a postponed game with Louisiana Tech because of a hurricane forced A&M to open the season with the Gators, coached ironically by former Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.

College GameDay was even back on campus for the first time in six years to document the on-site hysteria.

Any one of those elements in play would make for terrific theater, but they all came together for this nationally televised opener for the ages at Kyle Field.

WHAT HAPPENED

The Aggies and their up-tempo offense stunned Florida early, jumping to a 17-7 lead.

But with a green quarterback and an offense buttoned-up because of all the newness in the system, the Gators adjusted at halftime and shut down the Aggies in the final two quarters.

The Gators scored 10 points in the second half, didn’t suffer a turnover and committed just three penalties all game long. Both teams finished with 21 first downs, and the Aggies out-gained the Gators in yards, 334-307. But nine penalties, including three personal fouls, handcuffed the Aggies, as Florida held on for the 20-17 win.

As a rowdy Kyle Field crowd fell silent, the Aggies shuffled into the locker room knowing they could have—probably should have—won their SEC opener.

“That’s probably the biggest disappointment,” senior wide receiver Ryan Swope said. “I felt like myself and the team let down Kyle Field. I felt like we let down these great fans…it was so electric inside the stadium. I don’t know if they ever sat down. We have the best fans in college football. The good thing is we have 11 more games to play.”

Twelve, actually. Stunningly the Aggies would lose just one more game en route to one of the most memorable seasons in Texas A&M history.




No. 3: Texas A&M vs Texas
November 28, 1985

THE BUILD-UP

Personally, this class of 1987 Aggie has never felt the A&M campus and the town of College Station more electric and filled with more buzz than on Thanksgiving in 1985.

Beginning in the morning, during an afternoon Thanksgiving meal, and right up through kickoff, Aggieland was awash in atmosphere.

A magical season with the history of a passionate rivalry collided with the Cotton Bowl on the line. But it took a series of special games and plays to even arrive at such a mesmerizing point.

The Aggies lost their season opener to Alabama, escaped in the Southwest Conference opener against Texas Tech (a 28-27 A&M win) and fell to Baylor in a frustrating 20-15 game in Waco.

But then came A&M’s ultimate November to remember, as the Aggies faced three ranked opponents, all on national television, all with the hope of reaching the Cotton Bowl for the first time in 18 years.

The Aggies edged No. 18 SMU, 19-17, on a 47-yard field goal by Eric Franklin that fluttered over the crossbar with 1:48 left in the game.

On another cool, damp night at Kyle Field two weeks later, the Aggies’ defense stiffened to hold onto a tense, 10-6 victory over No. 9 Arkansas. And after blasting TCU, 53-6, A&M had to hope Baylor would fall to Texas on the same day.

Fate was not to be denied, as Texas stunned league-leading Baylor, 17-10, setting up the winner-take-all showdown between the Longhorns and Aggies at Kyle Field.

The Texas game was always big, but not since 1975 had so much been at stake, so much for the Aggies’ taking.

WHAT HAPPENED

With Kyle Field pulsating with excitement (there were boisterous welcomes for the punters during warm-ups), No. 15 A&M and No. 18 Texas kicked off one of the most anticipated games in the history of the series.

The game started slowly for both teams, as A&M took just a 7-0 lead into halftime. Then the fireworks exploded, with A&M bolting out to a 28-7 lead behind a flurry of touchdown passes from quarterback Kevin Murray.

And with Kyle Field and its sea of 12th Man towels in full fury, the Longhorns and back-up quarterback Bret Stafford inexplicably decided not to snap the ball until the frenzied crowd noise subsided.

No such luck for the Horns.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Stafford took the snap and was buried by the blitzing Aggie defense. The loudest night in Kyle Field history officially morphed into mayhem.

Two Aggie touchdowns later, cotton bolls cascaded down from the Kyle Field decks, as A&M secured the ever-elusive bid to the Cotton Bowl for the first time in 18 years.

The Aggies then rolled past Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson and the Auburn Tigers in the Cotton Bowl to finish 10-2 and No. 6 in the final polls. It was the highest final ranking and most memorable A&M season up until…the indescribable run in 2012.




No. 2: Texas A&M vs Texas
November 28, 1975

THE BUILD-UP

On Jan. 2, 1972 first-year Texas A&M coach Emory Bellard held his first full staff meeting, and he welcomed his new coaches with a list of the top 50 recruits in the state of Texas.

Recruiting, especially to a Texas A&M program that had produced one winning season (1967) since 1957, was going to be the key to any football renaissance in College Station.

By the end of the night on Jan. 3, the A&M coaches had spoken to all 50 of the prospects, and by National Signing Day later that year, the Aggies had inked 30 outstanding prospects to letters-of-intent.

It took the talent three years to blossom into a championship-contending outfit, with the Aggies winning three games in ’72, five in ’73 and jumping to eight in ’74.

Now loaded with upperclassmen, a star-studded defense and a well-oiled option attack, the 1975 Aggies seemed poised to contend on the national level.

A&M jumped on teams with its smothering defense, shutting out two opponents and holding four others to single digits in scoring en route to an unblemished, 9-0 record heading into a Nov. 28 game with Texas.

The Longhorns, meanwhile, had suffered just one loss heading into the game (a 24-17 loss to Oklahoma) and reached No. 5 in the polls. With the Aggies soaring to No. 2 after top-ranked Oklahoma had lost to Kansas, allowing Ohio State to assume the top spot, A&M and Texas would meet at Kyle Field as two top-five teams, the first such occurrence in the history of the rivalry.

The media proliferation was not nearly as extensive in ’75 as it is today—and will be for the Alabama game on Sept. 14—but the hype and excitement reverberated regionally and nationally as the national title race was to be affected if not the future perceptions of these two programs in the Lone Star State.

The Aggies, who had been pushed around by the Longhorns for decades, were finally in position talent-wise to battle on equal turf with the Horns, and it’s why 56,679 (9,000 more than capacity) shoehorned into Kyle Field for a game for the Aggie ages.

WHAT HAPPENED

The Aggies stunned the crowd and the Longhorns by opening up the playbook and calling an end-around to Carl Roaches on the Aggies’ second play from scrimmage. Roaches raced for a 47-yard gain, and A&M then took a 10-0 lead on a 4-yard touchdown pass to Richard Osborne.

The Horns struck back quickly with a 64-yard punt return for a touchdown by Raymond Clayborn, and the thoughts of “Here we go again” for a jaded Aggie fan base certainly arose.

But not this time. Not in this packed and jacked stadium.

After George Woodard scored on a 1-yard run to give the Aggies a 17-10 lead, Sports Illustrated coverboy Bubba Bean gashed Texas on a 73-yard trap play to the one-inch line (TV replays would show Bean had scored on the play).

A&M settled for a field goal, but with the nation’s top defense on the field, the game was secured and the Aggies and their fans erupted into euphoria as the final second ticked off the clock.

Bellard was carried off the field on his players’ shoulders, and tears flowed in the stands as the unthinkable began to beeline toward reality: The Aggies were one game away for playing for it all.

It turned out to be one miserable game away in Little Rock, Ark.

With ABC moving the Arkansas game from its traditional early November slot to Dec. 6, an injured and mentally exhausted A&M team fell apart in a 31-6 crusher that will go down in Aggie infamy.

The Aggies won the 1939 national title, but they were closer than ever for a shot at a second crown in ’75 until fate and bad luck intervened.




No. 1: Texas A&M vs Alabama
September 14, 2013

THE BUILD-UP

In just the last two seasons, there have been incredibly hyped and anticipated games at Kyle Field, including the aforementioned Florida game and the last matchup with Texas for the foreseeable future that unfolded in 2011.

But the hoopla and hullabaloo for the rematch with Alabama is unparalleled in A&M football history. In addition to the media storm, fans have been clamoring for tickets, with the cheapest ticket on one secondary market checking in at $360.

Just the sheer number of elements that had to align for this to become the game of the year in college football is amazing.

Consider:

  • Three years ago, the Aggies resided in the Big 12, and a conference game with Alabama was just a dream even amid conference realignment chaos.
  • For the Aggies to be even considered a big opponent for Bama in 2013, they would have had to become highly competitive in the SEC…and quickly.
  • For Alabama to have a rematch game the following season meant the Tide would need to lose a game in 2012 en route to their second straight national championship. That game was at home…to Texas A&M, led by a gunslinging redshirt freshman quarterback who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy.
  • Both teams needed to return a significant portion of their rosters, and surprising both teams return their starting quarterbacks, both of whom are considered Heisman contenders.
  • Nick Saban needed a nemesis, and he found one in the up-tempo offensive guru, Kevin Sumlin.
  • Both teams had to be ranked, preferably in the top five. Alabama was No. 1 and A&M was No. 6 in all the polls this week.

“There are just so many angles,” Alan Cannon added. “But the bottom line is the only team to beat the national champions was Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa, so you have that rematch. You have the historical perspective of the two schools with Coach Bryant, John David Crow, Gene Stallings…just go right on down the list.

“The question was, could A&M compete in the SEC? Well, we answered that pretty well last year. Now, here’s a great rematch from last season.”

WHAT HAPPENS

With the college football world watching two of the top teams in the country, fixated on the most captivating player in the nation, this game is going to be a television ratings bonanza.

If Johnny Manziel pulls off another classic performance, he might just break the Internet.

The game of the year is almost here.

Oh, my gracious. 



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