The official list of freshman quarterbacks who have started football games for Texas A&M in the modern era now numbers 12 — obviously an appropriate number for rabid Texas A&M followers — with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel topping it off in the most dynamic of fashions. Once again my long-time personal motto, The 12th Shall Be First, has prominently come into play in Aggieland. There’s no question that Johnny Manziel is 112% Pure Aggie, and that’s no brag.
After the bowls were picked and the individual awards were announced, I became interested in discovering how many of our “Early Risers” had completed their freshman seasons with starting nods in a bowl game. Whether they had started the full season or only a game was irrelevant, as I was only interested in the end game. It’s how I roll.
While I am the first and youngest of the true
freshmen in this group of former Aggie QBs, I also included those who’d had a previous season of practice squad duty, a full academic school year and an official spring training under their belts before stepping into their starting offensive huddles in their second seasons on campus – yes, the individuals we now call “Redshirt” freshmen.
Because of Johnny Manziel there is no longer an asterisk beside the classification. Either type of “freshman” designation bears the same weight when awards are being handed out, and while not technically identical, we gladly push technicalities aside in accordance with the selections of the nationwide voters. Go freshmen, whichever you are!
As I’ve stated before — and Bucky Richardson and I have both experienced this — you don’t realize what “redshirting” means until everyone in your class is suddenly gone and you’re the only one still playing football. You lose major friends and teammates in this transition. It can be difficult. This I refer to as a player’s second senior season, because it’s exactly how it feels. You’re now the grizzled old veteran on the squad. With it comes one more shot and a truly great opportunity, provided you don’t skip out with your sidekicks and go Pro.
Entering our forty-first season after freshmen had become eligible for varsity sports in 1972, only three freshman quarterbacks had started for the Aggies in bowl games. That’s right; three. I was eliminated quickly from inclusion on this “list for the ages” as my ’73 team fell a game short of bowl eligibility. In our next-to-last game while holding five victories versus four defeats, we lost at Rice as time expired with our offense inside their five yard line. We then lost to Number 1 Texas on Kyle Field in our finale. This was the
only loss I had as an Aggie starter at home until my final season in 1977.
Another game which we should have won up in Fayetteville would have also done the trick, but we had no two-minute offense. We were probably the only team in college football history that didn’t have a two minute offense — but don’t get me started.
After the ’77 regular season ended, I watched Mike Mosley become the very first freshman quarterback to ever start a bowl game for the Texas Aggies. Perhaps if you dig deeper, Mike may be the first freshman from any school to start at quarterback in a bowl game. It was quite exciting and the place was packed. Mike was a true freshman who had collected a previous start earlier in the season and beaten TCU at Amon Carter Stadium. Amon Carter, coincidentally, was the very same stadium where I had received my first start as a freshman four seasons earlier at age 17. I might add, Mike is the only
starting quarterback A&M has ever had who had Johnny Manziel type speed.
The Monday prior to the TCU game my senior year I requested a week-long breather to heal up several body parts to prepare for a do-or-die battle the following weekend against Earl Campbell and the Number 1 Longhorns. My wish was granted because TCU was no threat this particular season, and I stood and cheered and high-fived Mike throughout the game. It seemed poetic at the time that Mike had gotten his first start in the same arena I had. The only difference was we were a struggling football team back in ’73, while Mike was handed the keys to a Ferrari and a triple option scheme like none other. Fullback George Woodard still holds the A&M record for most points scored in a bowl game with the 20 he scored against Florida in the Sun Bowl the previous season. George, Mike and the guys romped to a 52-23 victory and set an all-time Aggie single-game rushing record of 606 yards.
Mike did wonderfully in the Bluebonnet Bowl, too. Southern California was ranked 20th and the Aggies were No. 17 coming in, having fallen from No. 4 earlier in the season after a bitter loss in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
I personally decided to sit out the Bluebonnet Bowl, explaining to offensive coordinator Tom Wilson beforehand that I’d played my last game for head coach Emory Bellard and was only going for the party. I was later voted team captain, with the announcement made the day before we left for Houston. It was the second such honor of my A&M career.
Looking back at this 2012 season, I think it’s a shame the A&M team captains were chosen prior to the season. I feel very confident Johnny’s name would now be engraved on the new plaque about to be hung in the Bright Athletic Complex along with ours. He is the Captain and I say, “Keep the hardware coming.
Back to the game, Mike had us on top 14-0 in the old Astrodome before the roof caved in (no, not literally). USC stormed back for a 47-28 win, but Mike came within two yards of the all-time single game rushing record held by an A&M quarterback. In fact, Mike’s 180 yards rushing now rank third in A&M history behind Johnny Manziel’s 181 and my 182. Yeah, it was that close. Twitter was blowing up about Johnny’s big rushing night against La. Tech in a wild game, but this ol’ Aggie QB still holds that 35 year-old record and has a news clipping to prove it. A record-saving kneel down at the end of the game saved my bacon.
Soon after taking a picture with me at the reception for the team when they got home after beating Alabama, a young man named David Harris predicted, “Not for long, Hoss.” This would be correct. That single-game rushing record could go down in Arlington, for all I know. Mike had the jets; I had some necessary Wishbone operator’s quickness; but, Johnny has it all, plus eyes in the back of his head.
The second freshman quarterback to start a bowl game was Baton Rouge’s Bucky Richardson ten years later. Like me, Bucky got his first start in the sixth game of his first season on the A&M campus, and led the Aggies to the 1988 Cotton Bowl. Bucky took over in ’87 for fellow freshman Lance Pavlas after entering in relief against Southern Miss and the magical Brett Favre.
In the Cotton Bowl on January 1, 1988, the Aggies blitzed Heisman winner Tim Brown and Notre Dame 35-10 in the first meeting ever between the two schools. Bucky was named the game’s outstanding offensive player after rushing for 96 yards and two scores, and went on to a fabled career for the Aggies. Only three freshmen have ever received player of the game honors in the history of the Cotton Bowl, and Bucky remains the only Aggie recipient.
The only other freshman quarterback to start in a bowl game eventually surpassed me, Kevin Murray and Bucky Richardson to become the winningest quarterback in A&M history. Corey Pullig, a youngster from Deer Park, Texas, took over for A&M’s other lefthander, Jeff Granger (concussion), late in the 1992 season and never looked back, winning the final four games of the regular season.
Once again the Aggies faced Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl but didn’t fare nearly as well as Bucky’s bunch had, dropping the contest to the fifth-ranked Irish, 28-3. The Aggies gained only 165 yards of total offense and managed just 11 first downs, while Notre Dame compiled 439 yards and 28 first downs. Corey completed 7 of his 18 passes for 87 yards, respectively. This game spoiled what could have been a perfect 13-0 season for the third-ranked Aggies, who finished the year in the final polls at Number 7.
All told, twenty
years have now rolled by since an Aggie freshman QB has taken the first snap in a bowl game. In forty-plus years of football, Bucky Richardson still owns the only freshman-led bowl victory. Corey Pullig, A&M’s all-time leader with 33 career wins, precedes the man presumably destined to eclipse his record in the form of Johnny Manziel. If the world doesn’t end on my older sister’s birthday, both will have begun their bowl careers in the Cotton Bowl, albeit at different locations, and for the third straight time an Aggie freshman quarterback’s first bowl appearance will be in the Cotton Bowl.
This time around though, the game isn’t our ‘reward’ for winning the Southwest Conference championship, and we’ve got the Sooners instead of the Irish. I think we’d have preferred to have Notre Dame in the BCS title game on January 7, and with just a little luck against LSU, perhaps we would have.
This is the eleventh season a freshman quarterback has started at least one game and only the fourth time in those years that we’ve earned a bowl bid. Obviously we beat almost all the odds this season and have come far, Pilgrims.
(Also, please be on the lookout for my new “Kliff Who?” t-shirts. They’ll soon be all the rage.)
Will Johnny become only the second freshman QB to win a bowl game for A&M? That’s his number, so I expect him to do so. As I headlined earlier in the season, it’s now Cool to be Number 2.
Now, let’s get those Sooners! We have a great chance of heading into next season with the longest winning streak in the country. After losing 9 of our last 10 season finales, 14 out of 17, 16 of 20 and 19 of our last 25, we desperately need to take the high road in this one. We need to finish with a flurry and send all the demons in the opposite direction, once and for all. We cannot let this wonderful thing called momentum slip away, particularly against one of the smuggest college football coaches around.
Beating TCU for the 24th straight time in the Galleryfurniture.com Bowl in 2001 seems like a long time ago, but believe it or not, it’s the last time A&M has finished a season on a winning note since last year’s win in Houston over Northwestern. In my five seasons with what was called A&M’s “Great Resurgence” under Bellard, we lost our final game four of those five seasons. None were even close. This is the dreaded setback that leaves a bad taste in your mouth for months. Even Sherman thought he’d finally turned the tanks around before LSU pulled the plug on the 2010 season in our last Cotton Bowl. We all remember the recurring theme in 2011 that LSU initiated, and it wasn’t pretty.
We’re far from done though, with a whole lot of proving still left to do. Texas A&M has run the table only once in its history after losing is first two conference games, and that was our 10-2 Sun Bowl team in ’76.
Meanwhile, as Old School meets New School, my personal congratulations go out to Stun Gun QB, Johnny Manziel, the young man I knighted as “the best there’s ever been” following the SMU game. Thanks for proving me correct, young fellow. Gig ‘em, and like the rest of us Aggielanders, I thoroughly enjoyed your guest appearance on Jay Leno’s show. The Top Ten was pretty good, too. Best of luck to you in your career.
What kind of gum do you chew, by the way?
For the record, these are your freshman Aggie QBs since 1972, as listed by someone on the Internet: David Walker, 1973; Mike Mosley, 1977; Gary Kubiak, 1979; Kevin Murray, 1983; Craig Stump, 1984; Lance Pavlas and Bucky Richardson, 1987; Jeff Granger, 1991; Corey Pullig, 1992; Reggie McNeal, 2002; Stephen McGee, 2005; Johnny Manziel, 2012.
The four winningest quarterbacks in A&M history are all from this list: Corey Pullig – 33; David Walker and Kevin Murray – 25; Bucky Richardson – 24; and Johnny Heisman Manziel – 53?
Wait, that’s five…it can happen.