So it’s money time now for both the LSU Tigers and Texas Aggies – specifically the
initial SEC West Division Survivor Game of 2012. May the best team win. It’s
going to be a dogfight.
I have special feelings in my heart for both schools. I loved LSU as a kid growing up in Sulphur, Louisiana, just 30 minutes from the Texas state line in Calcasieu Parish,
located in Southwest Louisiana. We were Powerhouse stuff.
The Golden Tornadoes beat Terry Bradshaw for the title his senior season at Woodlawn of Shreveport, and a few years later beat Bert Jones in the semi-finals before losing the title game to Joe Ferguson, who had replaced Bradshaw. We also lost a close one in the
title game the year before we’d beaten Bradshaw and should have been in the
finals one other time, but lost to Bogalusa in ’70 in the Semi’s. My senior year
I was All-State and MVP at the age of 16 and couldn’t wait to sign with LSU,
which I did.
When a different opportunity presented itself, I switched and enrolled at A&M, intent on starting immediately upon my arrival. A&M’s former quarterback didn’t like the new Wishbone offense Emory Bellard had installed and had transferred to La. Tech.
LSU happened to be on A&M’s schedule and I was hung in effigy in many areas of the state. My reasoning for redirecting westward was that if the great Bert Jones had to
split time at Quarterback because of the head coach’s philosophy regarding alternating two offensive teams, then I needed to play for someone who believed in a one-quarterback system.
My first season at A&M I became, at 17, the youngest person to ever play quarterback on a major college football team.
In fact, I was told I was the only freshman to start at quarterback for A&M since World War II. Freshmen played strictly on Freshmen teams from 1947 until 1972, so that
quarter of a century certainly had something to do with my being the first guy to do it in Aggieland. Two other guys were doing the same thing in 1973 at their respective SWC schools; Ricky Wesson at SMU and Tommy Kramer at Rice, respectively.
Throughout the modern era there have been four other “true”freshmen who made starts at A&M, and all were good quarterbacks. One of them was a fellow Louisiana
native, Bucky Richardson. In fact, we Louisianans are two of the four most
winning quarterbacks in Texas A&M’s history.
Another handful of quarterbacks, including this year’s model, started some games as “redshirt” freshmen, a term my teammates were not familiar with when we were playing. When Joe Ferguson, Bert Jones and Terry Bradshaw each became college starters, they were called “sophomores”. Like everyone else, they were ineligible to play on their “Varsity” squads as freshmen. Players before 1972 only had three years of
Varsity eligibility and “redshirt” freshmen just didn’t exist. Really, it was no big deal back then — having a sophomore with no experience as your starter at quarterback. Old School, right?
I didn’t start the first college game I ever attended while standing in a uniform
on the sidelines, but I did play extensively in it. We were playing Wichita
State, a team which had lost a majority of its team in a plane crash a couple of
years earlier and was still recovering from the tragedy. I was the backup
quarterback for this game and I recall when my number was called, we had the
ball on our own one yard line. That’s a heck of a way to begin a college career,
right? We played in front of around 36,000 fans that night and won handily. The
Aggies’ Stadium, home of the 12th Man, held around 49,700 at the time. I know,
we had a lot of empty seats, but that was the norm in those
The following week I practiced with the starting offense in preparation for LSU because of a sore ankle our starter was dealing with, but I didn’t get to step on the field
against the 11th ranked Tigers, a game we lost 28-23. It was A&M’s 11th loss in 13 tries against LSU, having won one and tied one in the process. Only two more years were left on the contract that had been revived in 1960 — a series in which every game had been scheduled in Baton Rouge. Though I became the full-time starter at A&M several games later, I would have to wait until the following year to get a shot at the Tigers.
In the Spring of 2010, I broke my neck in an accident where I was texting at night without a seat belt on, rolling my vehicle. The C-T scan at the ER was somehow negative and I went home, only to discover four months later I had two completely dislocated
cervical vertebrates in my spine; the C4 and C5. Aggie QB’s are tough sons of
guns, particularly those brought up in a high school program such as ours among
Cajun folks, but high pain thresholds can sometimes turn lethal.“Friday Night
Lights” spirit was indeed entrenched in me and Sulphur, La., only we spoke with
a little different accent than those in other parts of the
Long story short, I was in danger of becoming a quadriplegic. I went through a solid week lying on my back in traction. At times the medical personnel had as much as 60 pounds hanging from a rope off a pulley that was attached to a halo bolted into my
forehead and the back of my head, enough weight to literally rip the human
skull off. Please, don’t dwell on this too much.
I found out my neck was broken on September 3rd and I went into the hospital on the 24th. After the traction, I still had several weeks before I would go into surgery to see if
they could save my spinal cord from these bones burrowed up next to it,
threatening to crush or penetrate it.
I wore a halo from my head to my shoulders and it wrapped around my chest during this time of waiting. My surgeon, Dr. Jose Rodriguez of Houston via Puerto Rico, wanted to get some opinions from colleagues during a convention in Orlando. Each
immediately said when looking at my MRI pictures, “Oh damn, a Quad, huh, Doc?”
“No,” he’d say, “just an Aggie quarterback who walked into my office last
I physically was supposed to have either suffocated at the time of the accident or minimally be in a wheelchair. I’d made it through life for all these months somehow without collapsing into a heap onto the ground. Still, paralysis awaited me, unless
with this man’s expertise I could escape this most horrible of occurrences and
again live a semi-normal life.
Unemployed, I had no insurance. I self-paid with every credit card I had and cash in the bank and loans from family members. There was no “pay-as-you-can” system available and no government subsidy. Put up or shut up, “brother”. This was now
the name of the game. Perhaps my credit rating did me in. “His debt’s low.
There’s lots of room on his cards. He can pay!”
Obviously, I was truly petrified I would soon be totally helpless. Saturdays became my sanctuary. Not Sundays; Saturdays. LSU and Texas A&M were the only teams that mattered. For 3 ½ hours I could completely forget my fear and my troubles and watch the wonderful exploits of each team, enjoying their tremendous finishes with great
joy and excitement. These two teams, even as long as I’ve been away from the
game, kept me proud, hopeful and completely entertained, and for this I will
love and support them both as long as I live.
Somehow, as if destiny had her finger on my pulse, both teams had outstanding seasons and met in the Cotton Bowl. I was a couple of months into my recovery when they played and I knew then that whichever team won, they’d both already won for me. They were special at a time when I most needed them to be, yet none of the players would ever have any idea how this one “scared to death” old-timer was so dependent on
their performances. How could they?
My guess is this happens somewhere every College Game Day.
Maybe watching them play was what brought me mentally back to my own playing days — days which seem like yesterday to me still. I was an 18 year-old sophomore with seven total starts under my belt the next time we rolled onto the LSU campus in ‘74. We’d just demolished a pretty fair Clemson team in our opener, falling just a few yards
short of the all-time single game rushing record we had set the previous season.
Coming off a 5-6 year with no recent history of being a viable modern day
threat, we were not even close to being ranked while the Tigers were in the Top
5 in the country.
Odds-makers had us installed as solid two-touchdown losers. I looked out the bus window and saw a huge sign on the side of Tiger Stadium which read, “Aggie Joke No. 8 – Davey Walker”. I was booed unmercifully in the team introductions. “Blood makes the
grass grow – Kill. Kill!”
Hell hath no fury like Death Valley scorned.
The eighth-largest crowd in LSU history had come out to watch the lowly Aggies once again get massacred by the great Fightin’ Tigers, which meant their 70,000 seat stadium was still jammed to capacity, but less standing room tickets were sold. To us, it was the loudest, meanest and maddest crowd we’d ever experienced. Warming up was even an experience unlike any I’d felt. Shoot, Mike the Tiger was kept right at the door
of our locker room as we exited, and damn, he especially scared the hell out of
Never look a real Tiger in the eye.
Totally focused nonetheless, by halftime we had rushed for over almost 300 yards and
held a 14-7 lead. Personally I was so much in awe of LSU’s defense that I could
not believe how our offensive linemen had grown into such churning machines, man
for man just whipping and pounding their opposing counterparts. We went right at
them with our blocking scheme, blocking Numbers 0, 1, 2 and 3 on the play side.
It’s all we did. I DID NOT want to screw this up for them because they were
working their butts off.
LSU tied it in the third and we headed into the fourth, knowing it was ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again’ time — or once more accept the down-trodden status snobbishly bestowed upon us by the game’s all-time elite.
Late in the fourth quarter, under unbearable conditions caused by the intensity and loudness of this LSU crowd, we lost all cohesiveness offensively and laid the ball on the
ground. LSU then returned the favor on the next play. Soon, with five minutes
left to play, we bludgeoned our way in for the winning touchdown.
We had run for 417 yards, an all-time record for an LSU opponent. That’s a lot of history, folks. All three of our running backs, Bucky Sams, Bubba Bean and Skip Walker, had gained over 100 yards each, a first for A&M. We had held them to one pass
completion until their final drive, which fizzled at our 25 yard line. The LSU
scoreboard read, ‘Wait’ll Next Year!’. The banner regarding ‘Aggie Joke No. 8’
had been removed. I watched little elderly Cajun women crying their eyes out in
the parking lots, unashamedly. This loss threw the Tigers into a tailspin.
Meanwhile, when we flew back into College Station the airport was so packed the police had to start turning cars away because there was no more parking available. The following Monday the ticket office sold more single-day season tickets than at any time in the history of the school. Texas A&M would play in front of standing room only crowds for the next four seasons, both at home and on the road. Every game we played there was an all-time new attendance record being set.
The football polls moved us all the way up to No. 7 in the country, the first time A&M had been in the Top 10 since Bear Bryant’s 1957 team, the one with the Heisman Trophy
winner, John David Crow, who by the way, is also from Louisiana.
The Aggies would eventually rise to No. 3 in 1974, No. 2 in 1975, and No. 3 in 1976 and ‘77. Our defenses ranked 2nd in ’74, 1st in ’75 and 3rd in ’76. Ed Simonini, Garth Ten
Napel, Robert Jackson, Pat Thomas and a slew of others made it happen. Texas
A&M was suddenly in the thick of winning the National Championship for four
This would also mark the first time since the 1920’s that Texas A&M would have four consecutive winning regular seasons. Before we were done, the 1977 Aggies had set 28 school records and tied two others. The 322 points scored by the 1977 team in the
regular season were the second-highest in A&M history. The 1912 team scored
366. No lie.
By 1977 we had 22,000 Aggies follow us to Rice Stadium for our fifth straight road game, an all-time number of tickets sold to Aggies for any game played in Houston. The season ended with attendance at Kyle Field averaging almost 54,000 per game, far above its 49,700 capacity. Out of necessity, plans and drawings were immediately put
into place the following year to expand Kyle Field. This expansion continued
into 1980, when a third deck was added, bringing the capacity to a “Death
Valley” styled 70,000 seats.
Surely Tiger Stadium had duly impressed the 12th Man’s Directors and if and when the time came again to set up a series with the Bayou Bengals, the Aggies could be assured they could negotiate a little better deal the next go-around. After the ’74 game,
successfully followed by the remainder of the Seventies, Texas A&M would
commit 100% to being a consistent competitor, not only in the game of football
but in all facets of college life. And LSU was the impetus for it all.
Now here we are, just a tad over 38 years since the pivotal, instrumental and most definitively influential game ever played by the Texas Aggies. The 1974 LSU game in a flash dictated all of A&M’s future fortunes and endeavors. The school suddenly
realized it was indeed possible to be a force in major college athletics.
For us and our 70’s teams, the time had come. To gain national prominence it was none other than LSU that had to fall in order to make our resurgence, maximum efforts and our very existence real. This we did on a magical night in September of 1974, and
we finished the deal in a blowout win again in 1975, 39-8. The teams wouldn’t
play again for another decade but a new exciting course had already been set
for the Aggies, as the result of one game in Death Valley.
We’re now very much in the same situation as we were prior to our explosion in the Seventies; sometimes respected but never feared. Texas A&M’s ultimate game-changer for national status, recruiting, spirit, growth and every other positive intangible are only
a few days ahead. Once again the potential magic of victory over the very
school that exclusively set new horizons for this sister school out West now
lies in her shadows.
Now for the game itself. I’ve been chastised to a small degree on some forums for being so head-over-heels pro-Johnny Manziel ever since the first day I saw him take a
snap. Going back to my very first blog for Gamedayr following the loss to Florida, I stated how amazed with his poise and confidence I was. Forget his eligibility or scholastic year or any of that, “Wow, he’s good for his age,” stuff. He’s good at any age! His instincts and vision are unsurpassed for anyone in the college game and his elusiveness is beyond comparison. I was upset however, that the Aggie coaches could not find a single crack in the Florida defense to be exploited, thus costing us the
What advantages does this 2012 squad have over our ’74 team that set Aggieland on fire? Well, I had 5 yards passing that night in Baton Rouge, and my high school coach complained to Emory Bellard he was wasting the best passer to ever come out of Louisiana. Do you really wish to return to yesteryear? Nope, it’s time we change gears.
The Sumlin Stun Gun Attack is the best thing to happen to A&M football since the
Wrecking Crew, efficiency-wise. Secondly, we are protecting our own house this
time. The 12th Man is only .500 in Kyle Field since 2000 but I’m sensing a new
attitude, one more than just “happy to be here”. LSU players will love the
cheers, TV and the atmosphere. That’s why you’ve got to come at them hard. Make
no mistake; we WILL be booed heartily when we return to Death Valley. They are
NOT your friends.
Leave the kids at home if it means having an outer-body experience which you’d rather the youngsters not see taking place. Get us this W. It’s that important.
On the field, ou linebackers are the key. We’re going to see 75% “I” formation and LSU is going to be double-teaming, isolating and stretching us all day. Do our Linebackers
play smash mouth football? They drop back in coverage really well, but will
they go smash mouth play after play after play? This will be a Man’s game,
folks, like they were in the 70’s. They’ll come in to control the clock and
make first downs.
Hey, those 70’s defenses will hold A&M records for the rest of eternity. They were relentless, once sacking an Ole Miss QB 11 times, once giving up a total of four first downs to Baylor who went on to the Cotton Bowl, and once allowing negative 57 yards total offense to TCU. They played unmercifully against any style offense at any time.
But can we? I think the traditional SEC offense will make us BETTER defensively.
Will A&M’s receivers be able to elude those who chose to play at Cornerback U.? Notably, we never went 4-Vertical against Florida like we have everyone else. Every Spread team goes 4-Vertical from a balanced set several times a game. Was it our lack of
personnel, expectations or effort? Just turn it over to Manziel and set him free
to call what he sees in the passing game. I loved how Evans had a ball stripped
on one play and on the bomb he immediately pinned that football tightly to his
side to avoid a replay. These guys learn fast and the quicker the game, the
quicker they get.
Finally, Johnny Manziel leads the SEC in rushing. He does this by turning on the jets on a few designed running plays and the rest he gets on scrambles. Defensively, you can’t rush him with your linemen and you can’t spy him. What exactly does that leave? Is he looking for a passing lane or a running lane? Can you really tell in the heat of
Johnny came just 1 yard short of breaking the all-time single game Aggie Quarterback rushing record last week against La. Tech. It went down to the wire, right up until his backwards kneel-down that sealed the victory. That record I’m referring to is mine
personally. I had 182 yards rushing against SMU in a game we won 37-21 after
trailing 21-7 at halftime … 35 years ago. That’s a long time to hold a record. I
have no doubt its days are numbered. The funny thing is, when we hired Coach
Sumlin I assumed I’d have it for many more years.
Here’s what NOBODY can get their head around when it comes to Johnny. Johnny doesn’t get it done by running the option. He doesn’t get it done by running the Zone
Read, a play where you read the defensive end while you have the ball in the
stomach of your running back crossing in front of you, determining the handoff
or QB keep based on which way the defensive end goes. It’s the predominant play
in high school and college football these days for teams running the
We do none of that. And still.
Johnny is phenomenal.
I applaud the coaches for their professional discretion. They COULD be asking for more from Manziel but they don’t; all the more credit to them. Now, that’s coaching.
The LSU coach says they have the fastest defense Johnny will ever see.
I counter that Johnny has moves that even Johnny hasn’t invented yet.
38-24, Aggies. Enjoy.