Rarely will you find defensive players who can possibly fill the bill for winning a Heisman Trophy. This has been proven annually throughout the history of college football. Today I’ve brought along a few All-Americans from Aggieland who were with me in the Seventies. Why the Seventies? It’s when the game changed forever. Right after the Jets won Super Bowl III in 1969, the lights also came on with the college football scene.
Each of these guys I’ll introduce had wonderfully exciting credentials that, if we’d had any real street cred in those days, could have had cases made for them for winning a Heisman.
Let’s start with middle linebacker Robert Jackson, who was a consensus All-American as a senior in 1976 and a finalist for the Lombardi Award. Robert led the team in tackles with 143 while sitting out the season finale against Texas. He also led the Aggies to two bowl games and the first consecutive 10-win seasons in A&M history. He was the Front Seven catalyst for the “Mad Dog” Defense that led the nation in both total defense and rushing defense in 1975, while the team ranked No. 4 nationally in total defense in 1976. We played only D-1 schools, by the way. Robert was a first-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns in 1977.
I don’t want to mention any names here, but there’s a linebacker wearing Blue and Gold (and sometimes Green) who is up for the Heisman this year. In 12 games he has 103 tackles. Sure, he has another game to play, but we’re still looking for a track record even close to what our very own Robert Jackson had.
How about the tremendous defensive back, Lester Hayes? Lester the Molester earned All-American laurels as a senior in 1976 after intercepting eight passes and breaking up six others while leading A&M to a No. 7 A.P. national ranking. He picked off three in his final game against Texas. Lester’s 14 career interceptions were an all-time school record and currently rank him second in A&M history. A&M led the Southwest Conference in total defense throughout his career and ranked in the top four nationally from 1974-76. Lester also played in a couple of Super Bowls and was known as Mr. Stickem while with the Oakland Raiders.
Linebacker Ed Simonini was a consensus All-American choice as a senior in
1975 after being selected the Southwest Conference’s defensive player of the
year. A three-time All-SWC pick, Simonini led the team in tackles for three
straight years while compiling 425 career stops. His 98 tackles recorded in 1972 is still a freshman record at A&M. The Aggies led the nation in total
defense in 1975 and finished the year with a 10-2 record.
Defensive back Pat Thomas was named All-American as a junior in 1974 and a consensus All-American as a senior in 1975. Pat intercepted three passes as a senior after picking off six as a junior. His 13 career interceptions ranked him first at the time and he is still third in A&M history.
Linebacker Garth Ten Napel was an All-American pick as a senior in 1975 after helping the Aggies lead the nation in total defense by allowing just 183.8 yards per game.
These are just a few of the outstanding players who played for the all-time
greatest defense in Aggieland’s history coached by Melvin “Mad Dog” Robertson. I’d have to wonder where any of them ranked in the Heisman Trophy balloting, owever.
Please remember, freshmen were only allowed to begin playing at the “Varsity” level in the season of 1972 when I was a senior in high school. The Heisman Trophy had been awarded for years and always went to quarterbacks or running backs. Defensive players didn’t really figure in the equation and neither did freshmen, although their eligibility to participate was never questioned. I’m sure the “thinking” was it would be ‘sacrilegious’ to allow freshmen to play and then suddenly hand a Heisman Trophy over to one of them. What would that do to the integrity of the game?
Hey, let’s look on the defensive side of the ball!
No, this wouldn’t be good.
Perhaps freshmen should just be glad to step on the field with the “big
boys,” possibly even start, and rarely would you find one who was a first or
second team All-Conference pick – or, perish the thought, All-Americans.
Surely you jest.
These were the days when African-American players were first beginning to
join some major college football teams. This was when FOOTBALL went MODERN. Leather helmets were gone, mouthpieces were in, players were speed demons and games were filmed from the press boxes in color. TV games were in color.
ESPN wasn’t around yet and neither was USA Today, and local print media was still the primary vehicle for getting your Heisman campaigns going. As a rule, A&M never pushed anyone for the Heisman and Notre Dame never played in bowl games — it’s just the way things were.
Every now and then you could catch an O.J. Simpson or a Joe Theisman on a
Saturday afternoon, but these sightings were rare. I hardly ever saw Archie
Griffin of Ohio State play and he won two Heisman trophies. If a team was lucky and good, it might play a couple of regionally-telecast games a year and if it was REALLY good, it would get to play on national TV once or twice a year.
We were good enough to get these calls and a couple of times even changed
scheduled dates for season finales to be played after the traditional Thanksgiving Game with Texas. These were agreed to in order to set up what the TV execs thought would be winner-take-all scenarios. This was exactly what happened when we all watched Texas and Arkansas play in the 1969 Big Shootout and also when the country watched A&M take an Agg-Whippin’ over in Little Rock in ‘75.
Earlier in my career I’d been voted by the coaches the first U.P.I. Southwest
Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year for Texas A&M in 1973. I was 17
throughout the season and didn’t turn 18 until the Christmas Holidays. I figured my best days were ahead of me.
It was the last media award I would win until my ‘redshirt’ senior season
when I was given an SWC Offensive Player of the Week Award after a 37-21
comeback victory over SMU. I rushed for 182 yards which is still an all-time
record for a quarterback at the school. You may recall that Johnny Manziel
picked up 181 yards rushing against La. Tech this season, surpassing Mike Mosley by a yard but leaving me unscathed, but breathless. Whew!
Of course, I was really proud of this Outstanding Player of the Week award I
earned as a senior in my 31st start for the school, having played mostly in anonymity while running the triple option Wishbone attack that was in vogue back in the day. Having lost only one home game in my entire career as a starter (freshman season vs. Texas) , this was one of those “Heisman” moments for me…wait; it was THE Heisman moment for me.
Now, let’s talk about this business with Johnny Football. I’ll tell you right
now how tenuous a career and starting position can be. I was in the stadium
Saturday night when Johnny got twisted up awkwardly during a tackle and stayed down. I was in the third deck and could have heard Reveille moaning quietly in horror on the far sidelines. It was so very silent. I mean, I watched a referee succumb to a fatal heart attack at a high school all-star game and didn’t see this kind of reaction. The collective sigh of relief when Johnny stood up and walked to the sidelines was also noticeable — and then the cheers.
Johnny cannot go down, y’all.
This is part of what makes this award so different and yet, so important. We
have for the first time a redshirt freshman leading the charge for the Heisman. He first showed up in the betting circles the week of the LSU game after throwing 59 points up against La. Tech. Even then he was an after-thought, but still a possibility. He was on the board.
In case you’re not aware, the wise guys normally recognize talent when they
see it. Then the LSU game knocked him down from 12/1 to 20/1 and everyone figured he was finished. There were still 5 or 6 guys rated better than Johnny and this is when I decided not to take a trip out to the desert and take advantage of those odds. Oh me of little faith.
Well, lo and behold, after traveling to Auburn and Mississippi State and
blowing those guys away, he and the Aggies made their third trip in a row, this time to none other than Tuscaloosa, Alabama for a date with Godzilla himself. The Alabama quarterback was now a front-runner in the Heisman race after his great drive a week earlier that had beaten the LSU Tigers.
The odds were not in Johnny’s favor but he suddenly had the Aggies ahead 20-0 before the first quarter had ended, and with a “goal line stand for the Ages” (Brent, don’t you just love that statement?) against the unflappable A.J. McCarron, they came away with possibly the most unlikely victory on the road against a No. 1 team in modern college football history. Heisman possibilities were suddenly back in gear out on the track.
Still, although he is No. 2 in the USA in total offense and his football team
has only been beaten by what are now the No. 4 and No. 7 teams around, Johnny was stuck behind a great kid at Kansas State who’s also a quarterback and was leading the new No. 1 team. All this QB had to do to win the trophy, being a senior and all, was win out. Then Baylor shocked K-St. and made this quarterback look rather pedestrian in the process, and BOOM; Up Flies Manziel! Up Flies Manziel!
All season long it was like being on the cover of Sports Illustrated for
these Heisman hopefuls, from Geno Smith to A.J. McCarron to Collin Klein, and now on to Johnny Manziel. None of them could hang.
Johnny never flinched.
Johnny flourished, as he has in every game since LSU, including that stretch
of 5 of 6 straight games as visitors. The guy went 6-0 on the road…as a freshman!
Then back inside 12th Man Stadium against Missouri, Johnny had his
hands on the ball for 10 different drives and came away with 8 touchdowns and a field goal. They were long 70 and 80 yard drives, too — the kind we like here! It’s why we fair-catch punts back inside our 10 yard line! We love our length-of-the-field touchdown drives at A&M!
Oh, and for the meticulous ones among us, I’m not counting the one-play
kneel-down just before the half as a possession, but there are probably Heisman voters out there who are.
Let’s talk a little perspective now. Johnny is 19 and turns 20 in December,
just as I did when I was a JUNIOR. If someone had told me I was too YOUNG to win the Heisman as a Junior, well, I’d have asked them to show me their eligibility requirements. When I was growing up nobody could play as freshmen, but no one had a problem voting a Sophomore the Heisman Trophy. If you played, guess what; you were eligible.
Johnny will be participating in his third spring training in April. He has
already had two college football seasons under his belt, although like the
freshmen who played when I was growing up, he sat out all the Varsity games his first year. He practiced and went to class and watched Tannehill play the
I’m not sure when the first coach came up with the idea of redshirting
freshmen but it’s a great idea if your team can afford it. In my situation at
A&M I became the starter as a freshman when I proved on the field I was the
best at A&M and the best freshman football player in the conference. Johnny
has proven in his redshirt freshman year that he’s the best and most exciting player in the country. You can forget the statistics; just watch him play. There’s not a running back or receiver who comes close, much less a quarterback. As Charlie Daniels tweeted recently, there’s no reason a freshman shouldn’t be allowed to win it.
‘Cuz he’s the best there’s ever been…well, Charlie didn’t say that, but he’s
easily the best A&M has ever seen.
And we’re talking about a “linebacker” in this conversation? Really?
With this linebacker’s stats, many would agree there have been hundreds ahead of him who have deserved to win the Heisman more than he does. Either way, on the night of December 8, 2012, history will be made. Five freshmen in the past have garnered enough votes to make the top 5, but there’s never been a winner. Johnny Manziel is no less than the first “redshirt” freshman to be voted into the top 5. You know, like all the SOPHOMORES who came before him. We’re just tickled to death that Johnny has an additional senior year of eligibility!
There’s one more thing about this quarterback you might want to know. He has played almost 600 official minutes this season, which is the equivalent of 10 games. Time-wise, he sat out two full games (120 minutes). Most teams have a game or two where they get to sit their starters but Johnny sat out eight full quarters. If Johnny’s 4600 yards are an all-time SEC total offense record, how do 5,530 yards sound for a regular season, before he’s even played a conference championship game or a bowl game? This would be Johnny’s numbers had he played 60 minutes in all 12 games; 5,530 total yards.
These are phenomenal numbers, but the real ones are quite impressive, as
well…especially for a second-year Rookie.
Look out America! It’s looking like the 12th Shall Be First!
I’ve promised myself and the 17,000-plus readers of last week’s “Down Goes Bama!” article to be objective this season and tell it like I see it, without getting caught up in the “bitch-o-mania” that sometimes engulfs college athletics. Unfortunately, Texas A&M finds itself in the eye of the storm on a couple of fronts, each of which can be quickly addressed.
As the first four-year starting quarterback for A&M, I played under the same voting procedures as we all have today, minus the BCS and automatic Championship Game setup. I vividly remember the excitement and anticipation we had each week to find out where we were in the A.P., U.P.I. (Coaches/USA Today) and Sporting News polls.
Texas A&M was ranked in the top five at some point during four of the five seasons that I was a member of the Aggies football team. This is probably still an all-time record.
There once was a time when bowl games didn’t matter and statistics didn’t
count toward individuals’ or teams’ season and career totals. In fact, it was
only after Alabama was named National Champions and then lost in its bowl game that the rule was finally changed — henceforth, the final polls were scheduled to be posted after the bowl games.
Most bowls had conference champion affiliations back then, so it was only by
pure luck that the two top-ranked teams would be matched up at the end of the season for a showdown. This sudden upheaval in practical thinking was all occurring around the same time most major universities, including A&M, first began “brazenly” recruiting African-American players to come play some football for them. The polls and their voters dominated the seasons and the final polls were, of course, the biggies. This is when teams were still allowed to “share” national championships. After every season we would humbly bow our heads and say, “Thank you, experts from afar who never saw us play!”
Yeah, we haven’t necessarily come a long way, baby, but at least we have a
National Championship game that is thrust upon us by the current set of “people and machines in the know.” The programmable computers give proper credence to the people who load them up. They’re only wrong this time of year two or three times each week, which is still a very high percentage, keeping them, ostensibly, in the business of brain-washing the American public and white-washing their losing selections.
“Alabama’s just mad, and they’re going to take it out on Johnny Football and
Texas A&M!” was Joey Harrington’s assessment on FOX Sports prior to
Of course, it’s A&M’s fault for starting all this pandemonium in the first place (Happy Face emoticon goes here.).
Down Goes ‘Bama.
Now, after Saturday night, the Tuscaloosans are all dancin’ in the streets
and the Aggies are off the hook for knocking the SEC out of the championship
game. Yes, it’s a wonderful feeling, going from goat to hero.
I’m still not sure how any team out there can top the Aggies’ performance
over the last month though, and there will always be the question of whether the Aggies would now be undefeated had they gotten that first game under their belts instead of having to sit out opening weekend. As it was, A&M fell tantalizingly short to two current top-seven BCS teams by eight points combined.
Then A&M stunned the ‘unbeatable’ No. 1 team in the nation that had just
beaten LSU in Death Valley in dramatic style, once again proving its invincibility to itself and the rest of the country.
[Johnny Manziel pulls off the miracle]
This victory over the Crimson Tide came in the Aggies’ third straight game on the road (all SEC schools, by the way). Apparently none of the nation’s esteemed sportswriters and TV broadcasters have recognized just what an unusual and outstanding feat this is.
See if you can find any other team that has won three consecutive road games in any conference, topping them off by defeating an undefeated, top-ranked defending national champion. Go ahead; make your day.
And for all their astounding accomplishments, the Aggies get dropped a spot
in the BCS standings below Stanford, a team coming off a home win over Oregon State to beat a brand new No. 2 team on the road at Oregon. In the shakeup following the Aggies’ defeat of Alabama, Oregon wasn’t even worthy of being voted better than Kansas State.
That Stanford win just isn’t quite as impressive now as A&M’s was, is
My point is this; send any of the teams ranked ahead of A&M to Auburn, Mississippi State and then Alabama three weeks in succession after a heartbreaking defeat at home against LSU, our second
conference loss, and let’s see how they roll. This season is so much
like 2010, which was also identical to my 1976 season. In all three we lost our
first two conference games before murdering the rest of the schedule.
The exception in 2010 was that we didn’t seal the deal against LSU in the
Cotton Bowl, while in ’76 we crushed Florida to finish third in the Sporting
News and seventh in the other two polls at 10-2. Much like this 2012 version
we’re now celebrating, by the end of the year media types were saying, “Of all
the teams out there, A&M is the team no one wants to play.” Hail to these
Ags — at least in the minds of many.
We realize somewhat begrudgingly that only the polls prevent us from being
that team not only in the minds of many, but also on paper. Rest assured the case has been made even as we wade through a muddled mess of scenarios.
Well done, Aggies, but you can’t beat City Hall. What a tremendous comeback season, particularly with so many road games, a new staff, new offenses and defenses and only one spring training under your belts, and it was one which did not even include Johnny Manziel as starting quarterback.
But what if it had? If the spring isn’t good for getting your ducks in a row
then teams wouldn’t have one, right? Regardless, against all odds this team
refused to be negatively affected after narrow losses to two great, powerful
football teams, and as a result they accomplished the near-impossible —
Provided we win out and regardless of our final “rankings” this outfit will
go down as one of the highest achieving teams this school has ever produced. We can’t concern ourselves with the final polls should we finish lower than current expectations call for, nor can we fail to recognize the spirit, resilience and intelligence with which this great assimilation of players and their coaching and training staffs should be endorsed.
“Down Goes Sam!” does not have the same ring as “Down Goes ‘Bama!” — but it’s still a win and counts toward the 11 victories and hopefully a top five finish for which this team is striving. I wrote in my last article what would need to happen in order for the Aggies to get to the Title game, and lo and behold, I went two-for-two with Baylor and Stanford each recording huge upset wins.
I felt the Bears had a real shot at home against Kansas State because they
were such Cardiac Kids last season with RG3, and their quarterback, Nick
Florence, is lights out this season as well. Baylor’s defensive coordinator,
coach Phil Bennett, a guy I played with for four years at A&M and who was
also the D.C. under R.C. Slocum, kept the same 11 guys on the field for almost
the whole game, never making a substitution. These kids played the game of their lives and K-State had no answer for Baylor’s offense.
I hoped beyond hope in my earlier article that one of the two remaining Texas teams on Kansas State’s schedule would knock them off their No. 1 perch, thus giving the state two block-buster games and teams to look back on. I ask you, when in the history of football have two teams 90 miles apart beaten the top teams in America on successive weekends, or even in the same season? Baylor got it done before Texas got the chance. My hat is off to our former Highway 6 foes for a great game plan and an emotional season-salvaging win.
Now getting to my favorite subject: Quarterbacking. We jumped on Sam Houston State, a team in the top-five in its NCAA classification and a National Finalist just last season, pretty hard in the second quarter at Kyle Field. (Pardon my word usage here, but occasionally I’m not sure whether we’re in Kyle Field, at Kyle Field or on Kyle Field.)
Johnny Manziel is a marvel to watch and can entertain you even on the lamest of plays. We’re not ALL spit and polish out on that field, you know. It all looks pretty, choreographed and synchronized, but trust me, there’s a lot of grunt work going on protecting both this young man and our end zone. ‘Third and shorts’ do happen, and then we go to our jumbo set … sometimes. And somehow sparks fly from this young guy regardless of the situation, the play call or the competition.
For instance, on his first rushing touchdown we were running the lead option
to the right. The defensive end, Johnny’s pitch key, shot up-field and took away Johnny’s pitch back. Then a linebacker slipped through the line preparing to tackle Johnny for a loss when he cut up-field. Dead to rights, right?
I’m telling you right now, Johnny has to have eyes in his earholes because he
did not give himself up and just cut up into the carnage. He didn’t surrender
and just take the hit. No, he reversed back to the left down the line and out-quicked everyone to that end zone untouched. He scored an easy touchdown on a perfectly defended play by the Bearkats. Boy, that’s got to be frustrating! The poor linebacker who was about to tackle ‘Johnny the Great’ just stood there and watched, shaking his head as he went back to the defensive huddle.
Sure, it was only a four-yard touchdown run, but it would have gone 80 if
that’s what was needed.
His second score came by ‘zone blocking’ to the right side by the O-Line, a
fake to Ben Malena up the gut over right guard, and then a quick scoot around left end behind a great sealing block by junior Nehemiah Hicks. It looked like the old “loaded” option we once ran, except Johnny doesn’t need anyone out there with him to pitch to. This one went one yard and could have gone 99; it’s the same difference.
A minute and 26 seconds into the second half, Johnny played himself out of
the ball game by completing a beautifully thrown 89-yard touchdown pass on first down to Uzoma Nwachukwu. His extra-point kick somehow sailed wide right and did not land in downtown Hearne, as was earlier reported. This attempted extra point will probably go down as the most inconsequential kick to never be forgotten in the annals of college football.
“Hey, you remember that day Johnny kicked that extra point?”
“Legend” will one day tell a different story. This is how “Legend” works,
especially in Texas.
[Check out why JohnnyFootball will be the Heisman winner in
“Damn right, I do. It went right through the uprights and some guy caught it
at the Hearne Post office. What is that, about 30 miles? Amazing stuff! That
Johnny Football was a PLAYUH!”
I had predicted on Facebook and Twitter that A&M would win by 21 points
and have 700 yards of total offense. I also hoped we would shut Sam Houston down but they kept recovering onside kicks and keeping possession. When you’re down 47-0, well, this is what you do when you score. As good as they were at it, they must have practiced it about a hundred times during the week leading up to the game.
As little as Johnny Manziel played and as well as Baylor played, I assumed
Johnny had lost ground on Baylor’s Florence in the Total Offense race
nationally. Not so. Johnny closed the gap to five yards from 15 as they still
rank Nos. 1 and 2. This is excellent news, from a quarterbacking standpoint.
Besides the polls, players look at stats, and you can bet that everyone
involved with these two offenses knows the score here. The “Battle of the
Brazos” is only on paper this season but braggin’ rights are always of
significant importance. I’ve stated in earlier articles that had Johnny stayed
in games an equal amount of time as Florence has, the numbers would be adjusted in Johnny’s favor.
For instance, Johnny was on a pace to hit 699 total yards against Sam Houston as opposed to the 367 yards with which he was actually credited.
Now for the Heisman. I’ve never seen anyone having so much fun playing QB as Johnny Manziel.
Can you imagine sticking this guy behind the wheel of a Wishbone? No, me
I’ve known Johnny’s high school coach, Mark Smith, for 30 years. Mark has
nothing but the highest of praise for Johnny’s character, ability and leadership qualities. I give immense credit to Mark and his staff for allowing Johnny to develop into this ungodly scoring machine without enforcing common systematic hindrances which most high school coaches apply to their players and teams. Sure, you’ve got to rein them in and sometimes break them from behaviors detrimental to your team’s success on occasion, but the stallions, hey, you’ve got to let them run. And this Stallion can go!
Yet, even after the sloppy and unpolished play of the latest Heisman front-runner, Collin Klein, the second from the Big 12 to fall from grace (West Virginia QB Geno Smith was the other), we still find ourselves watching in horror as the talking heads try to gather up steam for anyone not named Johnny Manziel. I have to ask, “Why do voters feel they’re doing some kind of disservice to the game if they vote the Heisman to a freshman?”
The game’s ego will survive and after all, Johnny turns 20 next month. Isn’t
20 old enough?
It could be that Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel and Kevin Sumlin have come too far too fast for anyone to grasp. Sometimes it’s the obvious pill that is toughest to swallow.
Beat the Hell Outta Missouri. And don’t change a thing.
Have you seen the list of current BCS Top 10 teams that Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame have beaten, combined? There isn’t one. Why not? It’s zilch, nada, but probably just a scheduling snafu, right? Because of this, I see a devious scenario brewing that will blow the lid off whatever lids sit on.
Wouldn’t it be explosive if Texas knocked off No. 1 Kansas State, assuming Baylor doesn’t accomplish this feat themselves on Saturday? I reckon A&M and
either Texas or Baylor BOTH beating a No. 1 team in the same season would be some kind of all-time record, don’t you? I’ll check out the 2002 season for
these results and get back to you, but I’m fairly confident it’ll be a record.
Think about it: Baylor is the “Maxwell Smart” of college football — “Missed
it by that much.” Remember those great comebacks engineered by RG3 last season? Well, Baylor’s senior QB, Nick Florence, leads the Nation AND Johnny Manziel in Total Offense (only by 15 yards per game — Johnny’s gonna catch him, but that’s beside the
Then Texas has the next clean shot at the Wildcats, which will matter only if Baylor fails in its attempt.
Just for fun, let’s pull for Texas. Go ‘Horns! And all that stuff.
Hey, I’m not done yet. Easy, partner; follow me on this. It gets better.
Southern California has been rather disappointing but could make GREAT
spoilers. How? Let’s say they beat UCLA this weekend to assure themselves a spot
in the PAC-12 Championship game and THEN beat Notre Dame at home the following
THEN, if Oregon gets by Stanford on Saturday, the Ducks could still fall to
ranked rival Oregon State, or in the PAC-12 Championship game to a very hot USC
team coming off two big wins and on a roll. Oregon, my gosh, they’re due for an
off day, right? Remember West Virginia having things locked up a few years ago
before PITT strode in and knocked them off their high horse? How
about a little closer to home, like when Iowa State unseated Okie State just
this past season? That’s right. It happens.
So what happens to the Smart Money then? Do they start eying the sidewalk
from 20 floors up? I mean, Kansas State is now out of the picture, Oregon is a
goner and Notre Dame goes “poof.”
THEN, guess what. Florida State is still kicking themselves in the butt for
losing one game this year by one point to N.C. State. They’re really still
pretty angry, right? They knock off Florida in Seminole Country.
Ouch, that hurt!
Alabama beats Georgia in the SEC Championship game. Sure, we can all buy
that. The Crimson Tide will be favored by eight or so in that one. They RARELY
lose when favored. We’ll chalk this one up for the old rivals. Winner.
Now, LSU will CRUSH Arkansas, just for fun. We know this. The Tigers have
them where they want them, and if Louisiana Monroe can beat the Hogs, you gotta
figure Louisiana State will slaughter them. No disrespect intended, of course,
Hogs. (Jimmy Johnson says go back to Petrino, by the way.)
Sorry, Ole Miss. We certainly don’t want to overlook your chances this
Now, the Aggies will do the due diligence thing on Sam Houston State and then
make up for two straight home losses to Mizzu in pretty mean-spirited fashion as
the 12th Man rids itself of all home jinxes in
the process. . .See ya, Tigers!!
So…who plays Alabama in the National Championship game? Will it be LSU or
Texas A&M? Zach Mettenberger or Johnny “Front-Runner” Manziel, who by this
time will be a mature 20 year-old holding a big ol’ trophy? Hmm.
Figure it out, VOTERS!!
Oh, man, I wouldn’t want to have YOUR job!
Yep, I’d say it’s going to be a very interesting couple of weekends. This
season is really shaping up!
Alabama’s BCS fate lies in the hands of Baylor or Texas, USC, Stanford,
perhaps Oregon State and possibly UCLA. And so does LSU’s and A&M’s, with
FSU also mixed in. Ain’t that a kick in the head!!?
And we all thought there wasn’t gonna be no rematch. Keep a’gunnin’, Coach Sumlin. The fat lady isn’t even warming up the vocals yet.
College Football. You gotta love it.
“I read it here first.”
Perhaps the initial response to the Alabama victory should be a resounding
“Whoop!” I mean, through eleven weeks of chronicling this historical season for the Aggie crowd, the SEC and Gamedayr, I have yet to say it in print. Our three SEC wins each certainly deserved big “Whoops!”
It’s like the “happy” feeling that suddenly springs from deep inside our
guts, sometimes seemingly without reason. Last week as I was moving my daughter
to California for her next nursing job, she experienced this “feeling” just as
we entered her new neighborhood. It’s a sense of excitement, wonderment and
security all rolled into one, and like a small upward tidal wave it blossoms
inside you for one euphoric moment. It’s always there waiting for its
opportunity, but is totally involuntary — you cannot force it. And it happens
often on occasions when you least expect it.
The “Whoop” is very similar in this regard, yet in this case, it doesn’t end
with one pleasurable leap to the heart. No, it just repeats and repeats and
repeats, over and over again. It is pure unadulterated joy and adrenaline,
almost to the point of hyperventilation. And it has STAYING Power, the human
equivalent of emotional endurance you wish could last a lifetime. Perhaps it
[SI’s Andy Staples is all-aboard the Johnny Football bandwagon]
“Whoop!” doesn’t end when you greet the team at the Bright Complex after they
arrive at Easterwood Airport, as thousands of us did. You hear the great Stevie
Ray Vaughan on the loud speakers, along with “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”
and even our old standby, “Bad to the Bone” to complete the festivities. Coach
Sumlin and senior receiver Ryan Swope thank the crowd as it roars with approval.
The spirit is awesome.
The “Whoop” inside you doesn’t end when you return home either, because all
you want to do is hit “play” on the DVR deep into the night – or watch the
broadcasters in their major analytics mode trying to properly box it all up, as
if they could.
Not this one, guys. There are too many minute details to cover in the short
amount of air time allotted.
It’s just TOO BIG.
The NFL is on TV the following day but you’re an SEC fan now. The NFL somehow
falls short in your interest level and priorities. “Maybe I’ll just watch
the game one more time,” you say. On Saturdays now, even before your A&M game begins or when the game is over, nothing but the SEC is showing on your TV. You’re hooked. THIS is college football. THIS trumps everything you’ve ever seen in your lifetime. Everything else in college football is deemed irrelevant and boring.
Sure, tell me how wonderful Collin Klein and Kansas State are if you’d like. I recall thinking the same thing…last season. To be honest, I haven’t laid eyes on him or his team at all this season.
Number One now, are they? Perhaps I’ll catch the Kansas State – Texas game in
a couple of weeks. Wait. I haven’t seen the ‘Horns play either. Nope, not a
single down. I’ll be darned if I even have any idea what their record is. I’m
like Denzel’s daughter in the movie “Remember the Titans.”
I don’t care.
[VIDEO: Sam Montgomery weighs in on
Johnny Football and the Heisman Trophy]
But back to Kansas State, Collin is very talented and a great leader playing
for the most sentimental of favorites as a Coach of the Year as you’ll ever find
in Bill Snyder. Coach Bill was through with coaching years ago but was asked to
return and the results have been fabulous for the Wildcats. They are
the Wildcats, right? I mean no disrespect, rest assured, but tunnel-vision
through these Maroon-colored glasses is a mean affliction…but I love it. Trust
me, I played Kansas State myself when they were in the Big 8. We went on 90 and
95 yard drives against them without breaking a sweat. This is kind of how their
football life-span has gone. The last impact player I can recall from Kansas
State was quarterback Lynn Dickey, who was extremely good, although I liked him
in the 60s primarily because he wore white cleats.
Alabama’s quarterback hadn’t been shown up by an opposing quarterback but
once in 22 starts and he made amends for that slight in last year’s BCS
championship game. (Actually it took two
LSU quarterbacks to beat him but that’s a story for another day.) That’s a whole
lot of games to walk over to the other sidelines to console the losing
quarterback, shake his hand and tell him, “Better luck next time.”
A.J. McCarron is a winner and once was considered a top Heisman Trophy
candidate. In fact, I’m quite sure he was about to make a giant leap into New
York for some high-fives and back-slaps when DeRidder, La. native Deshazor
Everett stepped in front of his 4th down throw
and potentially derailed ‘Bama’s national title intentions, and with them,
A.J.’s Heisman Trophy hopes. Suddenly the big LSU drive from the previous game
they were showing up on the scoreboard seemed like it was from another
I recall the long desperation bomb Doug Flutie completed to beat the Miami
Hurricanes years ago, and when Everett came away with that football inside the
Alabama end zone I jumped up out of my chair in the same manner I had then.
Unbelievable. It was astounding because of its complete unexpectedness. All
logic said both teams were beaten until the final play.
The Aggie Yell Leaders revving them up
The play Alabama called after failing on three consecutive tries to get to
the end zone was a sure thing in my book. Alabama put a receiver in motion to
the right and had another receiver already there assigned to the defensive back
covering the receiver in motion. He would “accidentally” make incidental contact
with the defensive back who was chasing the motion receiver and thus free his
teammate to run to the outside area, breaking wide open. The quarterback sprints
out to the side and flips a pass to his receiver, normally an easy target.
I’ve watched Steve Young, Joe Montana, Big Ben, Drew Brees, Aaron Rogers, you
name ‘em –when they’re near the goal line or in need of a first down — this is
the play you commonly see from them. Some teams run it without a “pick” receiver
because it’s so hard to cover as it is. A quick break “up and out” by the motion
receiver usually leaves any strong safety just a step behind in the “flat” and
the quarterback with an easy shot.
Let me put it this way: On the college and professional level and in all my
years as a quarterback and coach, I cannot recall seeing this play result in a
single incompletion in a game. Not one! This is why Nick Saban’s play-caller
made the decision. It’s money in the bank. On their “situation sheet” they’d
prepared before game time, this play was the one the staff
had decided during the week was the one they would win with when the time
This great read and interception by Deshazor Everett will forever live in the
memory and historical annals of Aggie football. Suddenly the Wrecking Crew’s
four stops of Auburn’s Bo Jackson in the Cotton Bowl seem to pale in comparison.
Shutting down Earl Campbell and Number 5 Texas in 1975 to maintain the Number 2
ranking and an unblemished 10-0 record now seem like ancient history. The
National Championship won 35 years prior to my touching foot on the A&M
campus was as long ago to me then as my own playing days are to student-athletes
now. We’re only spectators and well-wishers now, living vicariously through them
and their exploits.
Inside four magical downs of defense, after surrendering the bomb a play
earlier that would surely seal our collective fates, all eras would
instantaneously become irrelevant to the NOW that is occurring.
[Must Watch Video: Texas A&M players return to HUGE welcoming party from the 12th Man]
As I was tweeting the play-by-play for fellow Aggies in different parts of
the world and Louisiana friends who were part of the Tiger Stadium crowd at LSU,
I tweeted the following before the final Alabama series: “What a game. Alabama
just went 94 yards…now they’re 60 yards away with 4:24 left…long ball to the
6…Goal line stand, baby. Let’s go!”
And we did. We gave the heroic effort necessary to come out on top in a very
hostile environment. As a side note, every one of my LSU friends heaped praise
on our Aggie football team. They loved it.
I see now that “tradition” is reinventing itself and taking on a life of its
own. It’s growing stronger and larger, and is being noticed by everyone in this
country. Since I carry the torch here for the 70’s players and am the youngest
quarterback to ever play the college game, I think I speak for everybody from
the dawning of the modern era in college football at Texas A&M when I say,
“We love the effort and the class with which you play and represent yourselves
and our university. We love your bravado, toughness and skill. You play like we
did; you take it to ‘em and we’re extremely proud — but this is your day.”
Damontre Moore continues to lead this defense in solo tackles and ranks third
in the country among defensive linemen. He ranks second overall in tackles for
losses with 2 per game, just percentage points behind linebacker Jarvis Jones of
Georgia, and Damontre is third in the country in quarterback sacks.
The Aggies are giving up 21.3 points per game which is 27th nationally. In a season of instant offense, it is this former quarterback’s opinion that it’s the defense that has played well enough to win every game. Trust me; it’s been quite some time since anyone has been able to make this observation so intensely. Our punting game has also been outstanding. We’ve punted 30 times while giving up only 39 yards in returns. Our net punting average of 41.6 is 4th in the country.
Johnny Manziel and Baylor quarterback Nick Florence continue to battle it out
for the national Total Offense crown with Johnny, despite playing the Number 1
defense in the country, closing the gap between the two to 15 yards per game.
While the new storyline is “Johnny Football Manziel for Heisman,” there is
another current situation that many of us only dared dream would become reality;
“Alabama remains in position to win the SEC West by beating rival Auburn on Nov.
24, or by seeing the Aggies lose to
Missouri on Nov. 23.”
That’s right; we’re the only two in the hunt.
We played Saturday like the West Division depended on it, and it did. Johnny
led the offense to 4 of 5 Red Zone scores against Alabama, the team that had led
the country in Red Zone defense for most of the year and was ranked third going
into the A&M matchup. The first three penetrations into the Crimson Tide’s
Red Zone produced touchdowns. The crowd seemed
completely unnerved by the quick-strike, Stun Gun attack.
“We weren’t stunned at all,” Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley said, with a
straight face. “As a defense, we knew they were going to make plays, that’s what
their offense depends on. They got a great quarterback; they got a great running
back. We just have to settle down and play Alabama football.”
I saw a great display of spirit and confidence when the team came out for the
second half, seemingly clinging to a 20-14 lead. They were jumping up and down,
yelling and screaming into the night, as if momentum was still clearly on the
side of the guys in the white hats. They were at an emotional peak in the face
of over 101,000 fans and a national TV audience that has grown accustomed to
seeing them cough up double-digit leads. And finally, there was the ghost of
Bear Bryant himself, herding them all together for the inevitable slaughter to
Seen walking away from the Aggie team’s bedlam with a big smile on his face
was none other than the head man himself, Kevin Sumlin. Yes, this team had grown
into men through the harshness of earlier costly mistakes and was ready to step
into the light. Despite the odds makers’ and broadcasters’ and sportswriters’
low regard for them and their ‘gimmicky’ style, their undisciplined quarterback
and the sudden turn of events on the field, these football players never even
flinched. Preparation plus Enthusiasm determines Performance…down to the very
last play. If games are indeed won before they’re ever played, then days can be
won before they’re ever lived.
[Johnny football has ascended to the top of the Heisman rankings]
Bowl predictions are coming out now as the general public anticipates the
Aggies completing the regular season at 10-2. They’re excluding us from a shot
at the Sugar Bowl simply because Alabama just has no chance at all of losing to
Auburn. Some have us leap-frogging other conference members and being invited to
the Fiesta Bowl, most likely to play Big 12 runner-up, Oklahoma, the other
Number 1 team the Aggies have defeated in their history.
First there’s business to be taken care of here in 12th Man Stadium, and that is Sam Houston State and Missouri. I’ve yet to see us come out of the tunnel not ready to play, so there is no reason to start fretting now. As I said after our SMU game about Johnny
Manziel, stop critiquing and begin appreciating him. He will be gone in a flash,
much too soon. It’s all in front of him, us and our football team.
Winning a three-game road swing for the first time since ’75 would normally
be a strong enough statement, but to top it off by whipping the defending
champions on their own home turf, well, that’s just darn near a Mission
Impossible that we just accomplished.
[Read how A&M was ready to match the old guard in this epic showdown]
Like Coach says, “No moment is too big.” I can’t tell you how important it is
to hear and feel this on a football team. The classiest and the smartest thing
this head coach and his offensive coordinator have done is simply allow Johnny
Manziel to lead. There are a lot of coaches whose egos don’t allow this. We’re
Our goal now is to finish at least in the Top 5, a feat not accomplished at
Texas A&M since 1956 when Bear Bryant’s near perfect 9-0-1 squad. Adding
only seven Top 10 finishes since then has left the school hungry for more
success –and thankful and extremely excited for this opportunity.
Pardon the Swagger; we’re coming through.
The trademark Houndstooth hat, the signature cigar, the menacing stare and
gravelly voice … no, I’m not referring to Bear Bryant, but to my high school
head coach, Shannon Suarez. Coach Suarez introduced me to Alabama football in
Sulphur, Louisiana. Practices at Sulphur High were patterned after Coach
Bryant’s Alabama practices, peppered with Coach Suarez’ experiences in
discipline he’d gleaned from his time with the Marines. It was quite the
combination for the young men playing for the Golden Tors in the late 60’s and
Even today you can’t call Coach Suarez at his home when his beloved Alabama
is playing; he won’t take the call. His daughter, Kristi, will tell you he’s too
focused on the game to talk at the moment. I was the head coach in Marble Falls,
Texas in 1988 the last time our two teams met and it wasn’t me on the
smiley-face side when that game was over. In fact, the only time A&M has
beaten Alabama was on New Year’s Day in 1968. The following season Coach Suarez
took the Golden Tors to the state championship game, losing a close one to
former Buffalo Bills star quarterback, Joe Ferguson, and Woodlawn of
Coach Suarez, an anecdote-creating machine of a human being, is the main
character in my book, “I’ll Tell You When You’re Good!” These words, with the emphasis on “I’ll” while pointing to his chest, are what he would tell us to keep us from getting too full of ourselves because of our success. It allowed us to realize there was always room for improvement and that we were either getting better or getting worse, and never staying the same.
Speaking of continuously getting better, I get a chuckle occasionally from
fans who assert the A&M coaching staff needs to reduce Johnny Manziel’s
running and insist he stand in the pocket and deliver the football downfield.
This primeval mindset reminds me of my first start for Texas A&M. It was
long ago … in primeval times. I was a skinny 17 year-old kid starting my first
college game just out of high school, when I ran with the ball 19 times in a
35-16 win over TCU at Amon Carter Stadium. It was the first win for the Ags over
the Horned Frogs in five tries and evened our SWC record at 1-1.
We were running the Wishbone for its devoted Father, coach Emory Bellard. For
you who are not familiar with this formation, it was an option offense with a
full-house backfield in which I faked to the fullback and zipped to the corner
to isolate the defensive end, strong safety or cornerback for either a pitchout
or a keeper.
It was fast and lightning-quick and a blast to run. We set school records for
scoring, rushing yardage, first downs — you know, all that stuff. Incredibly,
the first thing I heard after returning to College Station was that the staff
was going to discuss changing things up offensively so I wouldn’t have the
“burden” of carrying the ball so often. My reaction was, “Hey, if you want to
change something, how about throwing more than three times a game?”
After all, I had a five-yard per carry average and had executed everything
just as they had drawn it up, and now after a huge win for our program in a game
that was error and turnover-free, I suddenly had the coaches wanting to limit my
opportunities. I mean, wasn’t this the whole idea behind option
football? You had to think quickly, run fast and go score; end of
story. The game really hasn’t changed since then because the requirements and
the goals are all still the same.
For those fans bent on reducing our offensive capabilities for the sake of protecting our quarterback, you can henceforth forget about it.
I don’t think the coaches have any more intention of restricting the talents
and instincts of Johnny Manziel than they do of apologizing to “Old Army” fogies
for wearing those cool jet-black uniforms last Saturday. In fact, those guys in
the white Hail State jerseys who were honoring Jackie and their once-upon-a-time
Independence Bowl victory were looking for some serious shelter immediately
after the first couple of drives.
The Black Knights devoured them on defense and dissected them like skilled
surgeons on offense, and it was our man Johnny who was wielding Excalibur. It
was not only a huge win, but one of the most artistic I’ve ever seen — well,
until you drop back a week to the Auburn game.
I refer to the Texas A&M Aggies in tweets and posts now as the Texas
“Football” Aggies. This of course has its precedents, such as the “New York
Football Giants” and our current Heisman Trophy candidate, Johnny “Football”
Manziel. Viewing our players’ heads adorned with proportionally perfect emblems
of the state of Texas boldly painted on those Black-streaming-Maroon helmets
further emphasized this new direction.
The Aggies’ Stun Gun assault with its quick-witted sharpshooter at the helm
has redefined football in the Lone Star state. Texas A&M can now be seen
steamrolling talent-wise, recruiting-wise and P.R.-wise like never before as the
Home of the 12th Man grows even more massive.
As we once said as kids, “The one who laughs last, laughs loudest.”
Now we even get to say it as adults.
If you’ve read any of my previous articles pinpointing this A&M season,
you’ve noticed my grading system is not all sunshine and roses. I coached the
“Spread” offense mixed in with other multiple formations for years in high
school, and after much tutoring would hand the offense over to my quarterbacks
come game time.
My quarterbacks had complete autonomy to audible into anything they
recognized as a better call while at the line of scrimmage. A large percentage
of the time we just went with “Check with Me” as our huddle call. This gave our
team confidence and produced results and was taking place some 25 years ago.
Then, like now, the key was execution.
Once in a tied ball game with less than two minutes left, on fourth and one,
our quarterback decided the deep fade route was a better call than the dive play
that came in from the sidelines. Of course, while everyone was yelling, “No,
no!” and the receiver’s mom was in the stands saying, “Oh, please God, not my
boy,” the long pass dropped in perfectly over his shoulder and we picked up a
huge first down at the opponents’ five yard line. This, mind you, was high
I’ve heard a little personal criticism on occasion about my fondness for
Johnny Manziel as a quarterback, like, since the very first time I saw him play
the game. I said then, even on a day when we didn’t come out the winner, he’s
the best there’s ever been — at this university, anyway. I’ve noticed recently
that the naysayers have somehow either vanished or are out in the fields
somewhere hunting crows.
Somehow the Polls make you feel cheated when you’re
doing well and the team chemistry is exactly where it needs to be. The Super
Bowl and the World Series always boil down to the two teams that have fought
their way through the season and then the playoffs. In other college sports it’s
the same format, even in the smaller classifications of football. You get the
nod and you have a chance.
Seeing this outstanding football team ranked only 15th this week in the BCS is somewhat of an injustice. I know every Aggie feels this way. A 5-0 road record and two close losses by a total of eight points to the No. 6 and No. 7 teams in the country should give the Aggies a little more street cred than we’re getting. But we’re not alone.
At this point in the season there are really only three schools with legitimate chances at the championship: Alabama, Kansas State and Oregon. Three others are on the outside looking in and these teams, in my estimation, are Notre Dame, Georgia and Florida. Even Major League Baseball saw the logic in adding another Wild Card team for each league this season because so many more people out there can maintain hope. It holds your interest.
The good news is there will
be a Final Four coming soon — to be chosen by a committee.
The Texas Aggies travel to Tuscaloosa this weekend to play Team USA Number
One, the Crimson Tide of Alabama. Aggies like to talk about the historical
relationships between the two schools, many of which most Roll Tide fans are
totally unaware of.
I ran into A&M’s only Heisman Trophy winner, John David Crow, at the post
office the other day. When the Wishbone offense came up in our conversation,
John David told me a great story about his coaching days under Bear Bryant at
He said Coach Bryant made his decision to go with the Wishbone offense just
before two-a-day practices were to begin. Having no time to put together an
actual playbook, they went the entire season without one, eventually winning the
national championship. John David said Coach Bryant decided from then on not to
put a playbook together after they’d had so much success without one. Now that’s
This fast-forwards me to Nick Saban. If there is indeed a formula for
surrounding yourself with the best and then getting the very best out of all of
them, then Coach Saban owns it. We all know how the Crimson Tide floundered for
years after former A&M head coach Gene Stallings led them to a national
championship. They were as desperate as any former iconic football program had
ever been to get its resurgence going and Coach Saban, via LSU and the Miami
Dolphins, was the ticket.
He has a quarterback there, AJ McCarron, who already has one championship
ring and has been in the Heisman conversation all season. He’s led the nation
most of this season in passer rating. Right now McCarron is the third choice to
win the Heisman behind favorite Collin Klein of Kansas State and Kenjon Barner
of Oregon, the talented running back now making a big late push. McCarron led a
beautiful game-winning drive in his first real test of the year to beat the
Tigers 21-17 last Saturday. It was epic.
Still hanging around in the Top 7 is the redshirt freshman phenom from
Aggieland, Johnny Manziel. While Johnny Football is virtually destroying his
Heisman Trophy competition statistically, his “freshman” status and playing for
a school that only recently burst onto the national scene are preventing him
from scrambling into this esteemed end zone as well. Unlike former counterparts
of the system he amazingly runs so efficiently, Johnny has innate talents the
others could only dream of possessing. Fortunately, in my estimation, Johnny
will never be accused of being a product of the system. He creates astonishingly
within the system, an ability which only a select few can boast about in such
In fact, the top two total offensive guys in the country just happen to play
football ninety miles apart. They’re Texas A&M’s Manziel (383.2)and Baylor’s
senior quarterback, Nick Florence (412.25). Florence is responsible for 95.2% of
the Baylor quarterbacks’ passing and rushing attempts thus far this season,
while Manziel has only 90.2% of the Aggies’. A similar percentage of plays for
Johnny would place him at 404.4 yards per game. Regardless, this dude can
Now, how do we beat the Alabama defense the way we did Auburn’s and
Mississippi State’s? It’s simple; we keep our second down conversion rate at
51%. That’s right, second
down conversions were key in whipping Auburn and the Bulldogs. Stay
away from third down conversions, but when these do pop up, convert them at our
nationally third-ranked 54.3-percent rate. And do it so fast there’s no time for
the television guys to even show instant replays.
Get in the Game, TV dudes!
This approach produces focus, momentum, keeps drives alive and puts points on
the board, provided we convert all of our scoring opportunities. Just ask Bobby
Bowden if a field goal here and there can’t win a few close ones for you.
Escape and separation abilities by our receivers will be the key to winning.
We have the talent and the experience to do this.
Until last week’s scare in Death Valley, the Crimson Tide led the country in
Red Zone offense AND Red Zone defense. They’ve dropped to third in each and now
face the fourth-highest scoring team around. With A&M feeling like it let
LSU escape with back-to-back turnovers five minutes before halftime, combined
with Alabama’s equally close call with the Tigers, the Aggies should enter
Bryant-Denny Stadium very confident they can earn their second win in the
school’s history in the state of Alabama.
It’s apparently going to be a tall order with the handicappers installing the
defending national champions as two touchdown favorites, but fortunately,
underdogs such as us win football games every weekend of the season. Just ask
former Alabama star, Joe Namath. His New York Jets were given no chance against
the behemoth Baltimore Colts of the National Football League. The Jets were
“I guarantee we win,” said Johnny, uh, Joe Willie Namath before the big game.
The Aggies have soared high above expectations both offensively and
defensively in its previous two SEC road games. Should we win, it will be our
first sweep of a three-game road trip since 1975 when the Aggies had its
all-time best defense. Ours this season isn’t No. 1 but it’s certainly going to
fight you tooth and nail to the very end. They also got the big turnover last
Saturday to quell any hopes of a comeback by Mississippi State. That play was
When it’s all said and done, I’m very much looking forward to seeing who’s
wearing the smiley face after this showdown is completed.