As we look forward to the grand opening of the new Kyle Field, it's a great time to take a look back at the tremendous talent of those who helped us arrive where we are today. Just think of all the players throughout the years who participated in endless hours of practice, lengthy film sessions, grueling off-seasons, and training room treatments--and did so while also balancing the demands of the classroom.
There have been wonderful victories that satisfied the soul, along with gut-wrenching defeats that were suffered in front of thousands of fans. Both are replayed in the hearts and minds of Aggies for lifetimes. Over the years, many special memories have been made at Kyle Field--especially those surrounding the "beginning of the winning" era at Texas A&M.
When I enrolled at A&M in 1973, a year after freshmen were allowed to play varsity football in the United States, I was a 17-year-old quarterback from Sulphur, Louisiana who had peach fuzz on my face. I was an All-State MVP lefty who'd de-committed from LSU and the SEC to head west to Texas. The Aggies had been pretty down-on-their-luck for quite some time before my class arrived, having gone 48-100-6 in their previous 16 seasons. That's a mere 3 wins per year, and those difficult-to-stomach years included only one winning season, that of 1967 (7-4).
The Swagger of the Modern Era Begins
You can see some of the challenges faced by our Aggie football signees in the early 70's, but we were a confident bunch. We were the teams that first flaunted a swagger in Aggieland. This group signaled the very beginning of the modern era at A&M. We not only had talented freshmen starting on our varsity, but we also had tremendous black players now being recruited to Texas A&M's football team for the first time. It didn't take long for the Aggies to become very good, and we were soon a major factor both in the Southwest Conference and on the national scene.
You always remember your first collegiate game; mine was against Wichita State in 1973. We played it in front of a crowd of just under 31,500 fans--the largest crowd I'd ever played in front of. You may assume the game was played at Wichita State. Nope. Kyle Field could seat 48,000, yet a third of the stadium was empty for the season opener. Nowadays, so many empty seats would be hard to imagine, but back then the wins were few and far between for A&M.
Still, we won the game 48-0, and everyone on the team and in the stands had a lot of fun. We had some talent, young as it was, but Wichita State was just a couple of years removed from losing a great number of its players in that horrible plane crash and was literally rebuilding.
"In the Aggie backfield: Bean, Sams, Walker and Walker"
By mid-season of 1973, I was starting at QB and I'll never forget the tremendous announcer, C. K. Esten, drawling, "And in the Aggie backfield, Bean, Sams, Walkerrr and Walkerrr." Those were golden moments. Unfortunately a couple of close road losses at Rice and Arkansas cost us a winning season, and we finished at 5-6. Nevertheless, I became the first Aggie to be named All-Southwest Conference Freshman of the Year, and we had a total offense of over 4,000 yards for the first time since 1950. The future appeared bright.
In 1974 we enjoyed the second winning season at Texas A&M in 17 years, going 8-3. We were ranked as high as fifth in the country. Our offensive line was 5 pounds smaller per man than the Dallas Cowboys, and all of them could really move! This excellent start was followed by the first back-to-back 10-win seasons in school history. This feat has been matched only three times since, despite the benefit of an extra game and weaker scheduling through the years.
The First Back-to-Back 10-Win Seasons in Aggie History
The '75 team, 10-2, won its first 10 games and was ranked No. 2 in the country before falling to Arkansas and their "Wrecking Crew" defense coached by Jimmy Johnson. (That's right; the "Wrecking Crew" was actually what the Hogs called their defense.) Seventeen of our Texas A&M seniors then went in the NFL draft - an amazing number in ANY era.
The 1976 team, also 10-2, began a second 10-game winning streak that included A&M's first bowl win in 19 years (a 37-14 Sun Bowl victory over Florida) that carried over into the 1977 season. This is the only time Texas A&M has enjoyed two separate 10-game winning streaks in such a short span in its history.
A Defense for the Ages
Combined, the '74, '75 and '76 defenses were the best in modern school history, surrendering an average of only 201 yards per game. The 1975 defense was the very best in America, giving up 80 yards rushing and 183 total yards per game, records that still stand today at Texas A&M. These relentless Aggie defenders sadly didn't have the benefit of statisticians tracking their individual sacks, tackles for loss, passes broken up, etc. Otherwise they'd be taking their rightful place in history in the record books in these categories as well. For example, the '75 defense opened the season by sacking the quarterback 14 times against Ole Miss, but other than an old yellow newspaper clipping, there is no record of it.
Aggie Legends Everywhere
We had first-team All-Americans in linebackers Ed Simonini, Garth Ten Napel and Robert Jackson, and defensive backs Pat Thomas and Lester Hayes. We thought of ourselves as the "Mad Dog" defense, a stone wall of tremendous athletes assembled by coaching great Melvin "Mad Dog" Robertson. Future All-American defensive end Jacob Green would also spring from this mold.
Ed still holds the all-time record for tackles as a "true" freshman and to my knowledge is Texas A&M's only 3-time team captain. Lester (1976) and Pat (1975) each held the record for career interceptions after their senior seasons, and are still second and third on the all-time list 40 years later.
Bubba Bean's 94-yard scamper against Texas Tech stood as the longest in A&M history for 19 years. Darrell Smith's 90-yard carry vs. TCU in 1976 held second place for 17 years.
Curtis Dickey, who along with David Brothers, Adger Armstrong and the indomitable workhorse fullback George Woodard, made up the most imposing set of backs ever. Curtis is still the career No. 2 rusher in Aggie football history while George was on pace to run up 4400-plus yards rushing before being injured in a freak softball accident prior to his senior year. Another of the true highlights of this era was Carl Roaches at wide receiver, punt returner and kickoff returner--and few can forget his electrifying returns.
Our other All-American was kicker Tony Franklin. Such was our offensive prowess in the mid-70's under offensive coordinator Tom Wilson that our barefooted teammate remained Texas A&M's career leading scorer for 19 years after he'd finished college.
Other Aggie greats were members of our defensive front four--names like Warren Trahan, Blake Schwarz, Edgar Fields, Jimmy Dean and Tank Marshall, along with top-gun defensive backs Tim Gray, James Daniels, Jackie Williams, Willie Thompson, Mike Williams, and Carl Grulich. The offensive line had such greats as Glenn Bujnoch, Bruce Welch, Frank Myers, Dennis Swilley, Cody Risien, Mark Dennard and tight ends Richard Osborne, Gary Haack and Russ Mikeska.
In addition to the dominating defense, it seemed as if the Wishbone of ours set new school or conference records every outing, either in scoring, rushing or total offense. One rushing record still stands today after 38 years; 606 yards gained vs. TCU in 1977. It is hard to imagine that one being broken anytime soon. Another that's only been surpassed once is the 300-yards-per-game rushing that we accomplished in 1977.
Here are some other superlatives from our Wishbone years:
While it was brutal at times, we all realized that the legacy we were building would be carried forward to a day such as this--where we see a new and improved, incredible version of Kyle Field that will welcome the 12th Man and all Aggie teams of the future.
Beginning of the winning tradition at Texas A&M
Though spirits are joyfully high these days in anticipation of another great season, this was not the case four decades ago. Before the great recruiting classes arrived in College Station in the early 1970's, there was a feeling of something akin to despair. But the 1974 squad came in and permanently set A&M on its winning course, and that group can be looked to as one who laid the foundation of a winning tradition. The following years insured A&M's winning tradition, and from these humble, yet triumphant times, Texas A&M has never looked back!
R.C. Slocum began his career at A&M in 1972, the same year the greatest class in A&M history arrived, according to the 1976 NFL Draft anyway, and except for one season (USC) was with the Aggies the following 30 seasons. Coach Slocum was a part of 111 wins vs. 69 losses as an Aggie assistant coach, then racked up a 123-47-2 record as Texas A&M's head man--for a total of 352 games with a 66.5 winning percentage. What a career, and what a turnaround for the Aggies once the foundation was set at the time of his arrival on campus!
When we played inside Kyle Field we were a virtual lock, losing only once in '74, '75 and '76. Our hope is the new Kyle Field enjoys equal or even better success!
In 1977 we followed with an 8-4 season and reached 36 victories over a four-year period (all against 1-A competition) for the first time in A&M history. Additionally, from 1974 through 1977, we were nationally ranked in 43 of our 47 games, unheard of at that juncture in Aggie football.
The four games in which we weren't ranked happened to be in 1976, our most fulfilling season of all, when we went on that powerhouse roll that was so very similar to 2012's, and finished 7th in the final A.P. poll. It's a historically overlooked season that earned the 3rd-highest final ranking of any A&M team since 1939. The only teams ranked higher were the '40 team that was ranked 6th and Bear Bryant's 1956 team that finished 5th in the AP polls.
We accomplished all of this with only two hot tubs, a small training room, two dressing rooms, a small meeting room, no TVs--only film projectors--and a weight room that had a couple of benches and a few mirrors. It was there for all 16,000 students and our faculty to use. Still, we sent 30 players into the NFL and had another 40 who were named 1st-team All-SWC. Not bad for a group of no-frills, brass-tacks players with one goal in mind.
My final home game vs. Texas in 1977 drew 57,443 fans; remarkable considering we were still playing in a 48,000 seat stadium. And remember, when I played my first game in '73 Kyle Field was only two-thirds filled. I have many great memories of Kyle Field, mixed among them the historic game against Tommy Kramer and Rice in 1976. We managed a 57-34 victory over the Owls that day, weathering 60 passes thrown by that season's All-American quarterback, and set the all-time combined scoring record for an SWC game in so doing. Our unique triple option offense on this day appears to have left its indelible footprint on the turf of Kyle Field for all time with its 79 rushes for 526 yards, each 39-year-old stadium records, and counting.
The Legacy of "Bellard's Bunch" in the 70's
The era of "Bellard's Bunch" was the beginning of a tremendous history for Texas A&M University, the 12th Man, and Kyle Field itself. By the time we were through playing, a 50% addition in seating was planned and soon completed that increased Kyle Field's capacity from 48,000 to over 72,000 by 1982. We'd brought big time football, big time donors, a ton more students, and national TV cameras to Kyle Field, and it has only continued to blossom from there.
This is our history: the mighty Wishbone and the impenetrable "Mad Dog" Defense. Our era provided the explosion in excitement that has grown into the frenzy we see today. It wasn't documented with social media, pictures, videos, interviews, ESPN and the like but, boy, did it happen!
Aggie Football History
A new Kyle Field era is now beginning--and it does so on the 40th anniversary of the greatest defense ever to step onto the turf at Kyle Field. Forty years ago A&M saw some of the most amazing athletes who had ever worn the Maroon and White take the field. This '75 team would be ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation after 10 contests, only the fifth team in Aggie football history to reach such a lofty perch in the A.P. Poll.
1939 National Champions: Three of those teams were of course Homer Norton's '39 champions, the team that finished the deal and would be the last to do so, followed by teams that held No. 2 rankings during both the '40 and '41 seasons. In each of these seasons the Aggies took their No. 2 rankings into their games against Texas, and were defeated.
The Junction Boys: The other team in this category was Bear Bryant and John David Crow's 1957 team, a team that was ranked No. 1 with only two games to play, Rice and Texas. They lost them both. Regardless, these were the mighty Junction Boys!
Though the pre-World War II teams and the Junction Boys had incredible success, it was not sustained. Those great teams were followed by years of mediocrity, but the winning tradition set by the Wishbone era teams has carried forward for decades, and fortunately is still very much alive today.
Yes, somewhere between the '39 championship, the Junction Boys, the Wrecking Crew, and now the humongous 102,000-seat-present, you'll find the original modern-day trailblazers of the Texas A&M football program, bringing with them a vast influx of new students while creating unprecedented growth for the university.
This explosive group from the early 70's--"Bellard's Bunch"--truly signaled the "beginning of the winning" tradition at A&M. Those of us from that era who donned the maroon and white are extremely proud of our contribution to Fightin' Texas Aggie Football! Gig 'em!
Texas A&M last won a game with LSU in 1995 (the Aggies 5th straight, in fact - thanks, RC!) in what was the Tigers' only losing decade in its history (54-58-1 .482.) Now it's LSU who's going for its 5th straight win over the Aggies 20 years later, at Tiger Stadium, on a beautiful Saturday night, with the head coach's job apparently in trouble.
(You gotta beat Bama and get out of the wishbone, Les.)
LSU is favored by 5 1/2, a couple more points than the odds were against Johnny in 2013. That one finished 34-10, Tigers, but it was a blast for me personally just being back in Tiger Stadium (with some good ol' Sulphur buddies -- Go Tors, Geaux Tigers!) after almost 40 years.
I'll tell you what; it's a lot different in the stands than it is on the field. You can actually hear what's being said about you up there ("Break his damn neck!!") instead of the deafening, ear-drum-shattering, stays-with-you-for-days roar that you try to work past on the field.
The Ags, while currently on the losing end of 4 straight to LSU, are also 0-4 when on the road as a touchdown-or-less underdog in the SEC, losing these games by a total of 68 points.
LSU would still have a shot at winning 10 games this year had the McNeese game not been rained out at LSU. Ten wins are rather important these days.
Aggie QB Kyle Allen needs a win here, as A&M does, because, you know, it's Rivalry Week and you can't really say "Rivalry" with 5 straight KO's dragging down your program.
So Kyle needs a signature win, and it doesn't get any more "signature" for a quarterback than winning in Death Valley. LSU has lost what, 5 home games in its last 50 or so? Kyle Field would absolutely kill for those numbers! Oh, and two of the five were against Bama. Not too shabby. I would tell Kyle that nothing can prepare you for that kind of environment; just execute. It truly is the definition of "Nation" that gathers there on Saturday nights.
And of course, Les Miles needs a win as well, particularly since lately, and historically, the Tigers have owned the Ags in Tiger Stadium (5 A&M wins since the JFK administration - and yes, I got mine, thank you). Lord, it don't come easy, not in there.
So, good luck to all my podnah's and brethren and cheerleaders (and yell leaders) on both sides of the ball! I hope it's a great night of SEC football!