Twenty years ago our Fightin’ Texas Aggies were in the midst of a 34-1-1 conference run in games played inside our stadium. After a mid-decade slump, we surged back to 18-0 in games played from 1997 through 1999. We were bad to the bone again at home. Ours was as formidable a home-field advantage as any campus in the country. It’s been a long time since, though, and our Aggies haven’t gone undefeated in conference play at home since ‘99.
Now with the perilous SEC road trips we face, we can’t afford to lose a home
game — though our Aggies have fortunately proven to be quite the Road Warriors. How times have changed! The Supermen in black jerseys at Mississippi State; the catch and swagger by Swope at Alabama; Manziel’s 181 yards rushing to fight off a great rally at Louisiana Tech; the bomb from the one-yard line in Oxford; the pick at the one by Everett in Tuscaloosa … we saw it all from our Ags on the road last year!
As every fan from LSU, Arkansas, Florida and Missouri who made the trip to
College Station last season will attest, we Aggies are the nicest hosts you’ll
find this side of the Sabine River. The parking lots on campus hold the most
polite crowd of registered gun-totin’ conservatives you’ll ever meet in enemy
territory. I mean, George Bush even chose the A&M campus for his very own
Presidential Library, for Reagan’s sake.
Our football teams and our chosen generals have reflected this conservative
thought for at least the last 40 years, ever since the powers-that-be introduced great defense and the Wishbone offense to the Aggies faithful in the early ’70s. That tank formation represented a real Army’s offense; it was a gut-wrenching, smash-mouth, in-the-trenches-type warfare that had one wide receiver to keep the enemy honest. Jab, jab and then flank ‘em with a left hook.
Every coach since has sung the same refrain. The only thing to hang our hat
on in Aggieland has been defense; the “Mad Dogs” of the ’70s (named after
defensive coordinator Melvin “Mad Dog” Robertson) and years later, the Wrecking Crew. Just like those famed defenses of Aggies lore, another must soon present itself for this team to reach the heights it imagines, all nicknames aside.
Over the years, our Aggies bypassed the Run-and-Shoot and Air Raid offensive systems in favor of multiple formations, two backs and scores of ever-shifting tight ends and jumbo sets. The offensive juggernaut never showed up, nor was it ever even on the table. Coach Mike Sherman tried to move away from the status quo for a single game, but then went back to what he knew best for the remainder of his tenure. Franchione never came close to real freedom of expression. And who can even count the number of offensive coordinators R.C. Slocum went through?
Conservatism here meant run the clock, play ball possession and defend. Winning 7-0 and never throwing a pass was real football for decades for Aggie patrons–the good folks who remained tucked away in our own little world while our opponents’ footballs soared around us like jet aircrafts. While this conservatism might be a good philosophy for high school teams with players performing on both offense and defense, it’s not necessarily a prime-time philosophy with real players. Apparently someone with football smarts and sufficient influence finally began admiring these sleek, new offensive aircraft and even coveted one for himself.
12th Man Stadium, still referred to as Kyle Field among the locals, but not necessarily nationally, is a great place to play. “Welcome to the Home of the 12th Man” is what all the signs say. No college football fans enjoy their Saturdays more than we folks clad in Maroon and White yelling our “Whoops” and “Gig ‘ems” at perfect strangers. I mean, who on Earth
could get offended by seeing someone shooting them a big “thumbs-up” with a smile? The feeling in the air is always electric regardless of the opponent
scheduled, but as human nature would have it, the adrenaline pumps a little
quicker for some ‘incomings’ rather than others.
And the SEC Stadium of Texas is getting bigger very soon … 25-percent bigger, to be precise.
[Related: Full design renderings and construction schedule for Kyle Field expansion]
Game Day mornings begin with the normal tailgating so prevalent throughout the SEC, and the swelling “spirit” these hours of reunion creates soon reaches fever pitch. Once inside the gates there are the songs of the Big Band that get our Aggie hearts pumping like no other sound on earth. The Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band plays the tremendous traditional songs of Aggieland and also the great instrumentals from U.S. Military history. You know what you’re getting each time you walk in and see that beautiful grass, a stadium full of fans and all those glorious golden horns.
Then, real jets do a thunderous flyover, the National Anthem is played and the Captains walk out to the middle of the field. Suddenly we’ve got us a football game! It will decide not only who the better team is, but also the better school, students, alumni, mascot, state, uniforms, and, at times, even
the better conference. Re-embrace OU, if you will. Big Who?
Yet this atmosphere is just as exciting for the visiting players as it is for the team standing along the Press Box side. It creates a deep-gut feeling of the Foxhole inside their camp; one of fighting for Country, Family and especially at that moment, their Teammates. It’s fightin’ music for both sides unlike any other in the country! It brings out the little boy in each of them and little boys dream of great battles an upset victories.
No home crowd in college football has more to prove in 2013 than that of Texas A&M’s. The famous 12th Man, for all its glory, has yet to prove we can come anywhere close to a present-day Death Valley in Baton Rouge or Bryant-Denny in Tuscaloosa, or that we can reignite the strangle-holds of the
‘70s and ‘90s.
Great home crowds have watched teams march unfazed downfield and punch in the winning score right in the teeth of our Aggie throngs, without as much as a flinch. It’s all about intimidation, fire and brimstone and a deep-seated hatred for the other team who is trying to beat ours. We’re not talking about whipping up on the patsies here; we’re talking about the LSUs, Gators, Tide and even the Longhorns, should they ever drop back in for a whuppin’. Texas Who?
But if you’re going to assume ‘victory’ because this team is playing at home, then you haven’t been paying attention. It’s puzzling for us who have been watching the Aggies for 40 to 50 years. 2012 was going to change all this, but
there we were struggling on offense and flinching when disaster came calling.
In your face, Aggies! SEC! Yes, we opened the door to LSU and Florida in 2012 in our first two conference home games; two teams that easily could have been beaten — two teams on which we had double-digit leads.
Then, almost like it’s your first Algebra class where everything is so confusing — the lights came on! Suddenly it didn’t matter where the Aggies played. We played three straight SEC teams on the road and topped it off with a huge win at none other than Alabama. We beat America’s Dynasty without an extra week of rest. I can’t express how difficult it is to play three tough road games back-to-back-to-back, much less downright leaving your opponents in the dust. What a tribute to this team and staff’s preparation and enthusiasm which left no doubt throughout. Pulling out the white helmets regularly for the first time since the ’70s was pretty special too. Ol’ Emory would be proud.
[Related: Where will the new Kyle Field it among nation's biggest stadiums?]
Then to come back home to Kyle and literally crush Missouri and finish the season with the best second half of football this ol’ quarterback has ever seen
was truly special. We’ll never forget the Stoops boys throwing their hats and visors and shaking their heads in a mix of disgust and utter amazement. Yes,
A&M had only won six of its last 25 season finales and had never won in Jerry World, but this ain’t your father’s football program here anymore, boys
Only in 2011 have the Aggies ever had such high aspirations with the season
approaching. We had finished the previous season by winning our last six regular season games after a quarterback change and had a bunch of folks coming back. We just didn’t finish the deal against LSU in the Cotton Bowl. We didn’t hullabaloo the bug-a-boo, and the double-digit hangover stuck around for the entire 2011 season, much to the fans’ and coaches’ dismay. When were we ever gonna catch a break? Continuous Status Quo equated to Insanity for this football team and its 12th Man, but a year after that a rather drastic departure from the norm occurred. Glory Hallelujah!
Everyone knows that one game stands out this coming season — Alabama on
September 14. Yes, the same defending national champion Alabama that is currently favored by six points over our Ags. The Gall of it All! We’ll need all of our Mojo and Hullabaloo in this one. We’ll need special Avatars at the receiver positions to prevent a reoccurrence of last season’s early SEC upsets on our football field. These young men are present on the squad; trust me. It’s a matter of showing up and being sort of super-human at 2:30 pm local. With the little-engine-that-could shredding the defenders with his lasers, it’s gonna be one heck of a celebration — and our 12th Man must become its former dominating force once more, year in and year out. Farmers FIGHT!
Our Louisiana Hall of Fame coach, Shannon Suarez, would tell us every day, “It ain’t far from the penthouse to the outhouse.” As a countrified sports truism, it stands alone. It makes itself visible all the time, doesn’t it, Tiger?
Well, now here’s Johnny! His horse just got spooked out from underneath him, and in the minds of millions today, he’s either flat on his backside or dangling from some live oak tree. The athletic director just saw the dark side of the Moon and one can be sure it’s never seen a Tide.
[TWEET TWEET: Johnny Manziel 'can't wait to leave College Station']
Sure, it may have been self-inflicted, but Johnny is certainly not the first to wage war on a defenseless city without warning. As far back as when the Vietnam War was ending, hundreds of us Aggie footballers did exactly the same thing in this small Texas town of College Station. Fortunately for us, it was only our parents who were on the other end of the wall phone listening to our descriptions of massive discomfort.
Nowadays, the wall phone and long-distance toll calls have transformed into clicks on a little smart phone; harmless little peckings as texts go — but real giant killers as tweets go. One must know the difference. Text or tweet. Tweet or text. One means letting off a little steam to those who are closest to you, while the other is the F-Bomb dropped right in the middle of Town Square.
The Rule of Thumb here is to text only your girl or best bud in times of angst. That’s not
reckless. But, you see, Johnny lives like he plays—on the edge. That’s just the way it is with athletes. But if you do tweet criticism of the town in which you currently live, you may find out where the love truly lies. Maybe less followers and more haters is a good thing. And based on the exit polls I’ve been trolling, it appears that maybe 10% are justifying his statement(s), as best they can.
And as great of an athlete as this young college student is, it just doesn’t seem to matter in the eyes of the voters. Many of these haters seem ready to nail him to the cross, put his wrapped body in a canoe, and send him down the Brazos River somewhere.
But the truth is, as I heard on sports radio this morning, nobody cares much about anything but winning. They seem to be saying, “If you’d just oblige us by keeping your mouth shut and playing football from now on, you’re free to go at any time. Oh, but one more thing–be sure and bring us the big BCS trophy before you point your Beemer or Mercedes to the high country.”
It is this that makes me uncomfortable. It’s not his tweet. Normally the only athletes who stay in College Station are those who grew up in College Station. I can count on two fingers the number of former football players who still live here who aren’t working in some capacity for the university. It’s common knowledge. You could say the same thing about the entire student body. For most Aggies, it’s in and out with visitation rights.
Johnny just voiced what everyone knows, and the people screaming on the Aggie forums will themselves be gone within a couple of years, or already are. The town is centrally located between some pretty good cities, which is its draw. It’s small enough that you can stay out of trouble, as the recruiters like to say. Back in the day we sometimes traveled 30 miles to Sam Houston State in Huntsville for a night out.
Frustration is a human trait and everyone handles theirs differently. He has a right to his opinion and a right to voice it, and with it, the right to turn everything off and avoid those who are calling for his head. With everything else going on, who knows how short his future here may be? It’s the archaic NCAA rules that are partly to blame, disallowing the players to profit on any endorsements that may be available to them as Olympians can.
To me, it’s important to remember that Johnny has not broken the Aggie Code of
Honor in any way, shape, or form. This outpouring of negativity from his own classmates and “former students” certainly can’t be inspiring the young man to “fight for Maroon and White.”
As a guy who has been labeled both “messiah” and “pariah” in his years as the A&M quarterback, I promise the transformation is a difficult one to get a handle on. Johnny’s tweet could be the early echoes of a super-hero desperately wanting to change into his awaiting dynamic attire being held by a smiling general manager.
In the meantime, Johnny will probably allow only his closest friends to be near him, and he will continue to work to have the greatest season of any college quarterback in history.
It’s Johnny against the world now. He has you right where he wants you. In the eyes of a supreme gladiator, this is exactly the mindset Johnny needs. We all just got cut off, gang. I’d be surprised to see him grant a single interview until the end of next season. He has laid out his game plan, and it doesn’t include any know-it-all, loud-mouthed onlookers. You can’t win with negative people in your way – or by your side.
In the end, Johnny’s coach, personnel, offensive system and, oh, the quickest reflexes this side of a rattlesnake, will allow him to accomplish heroic things. With these tools he can become the greatest there ever was, and then say, “See ya.”
Good for you, Johnny. The NFL can’t wait to have you as part of its family.