How the Aggies Won and Won My Heart
Oh, I know. I'm an Aggie, and I love Texas A&M: Rev, the Yell Leaders, Midnight Yell and the yells themselves, anything Red Ass or Good Bull. I love the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band, the War Hymn, Fish Camp, Elephant Walk. I still live by the Aggie Code of Honor. I'd rather Hiss than boo, and have been known to Hump It and Whoop.
But dear God, winning feels good.
In reality, my love of Texas A&M and my love of winning are inextricably mixed; I love it when the Aggies win, and their 29-24 victory over top-ranked Alabama Saturday was their biggest since the Slocum era and one of the most important in school history.
But how did it happen? How did the Aggies vanquish the Crimson Tide, leaving me weak-kneed and blurry-headed two days later?
After a deep, composing breath: some thoughts.
As love often does, the Aggie win over unbeaten Alabama blossomed for weeks, undiscovered. In a post-game interview, senior linebacker Sean Porter said the team's October 20 home loss to LSU showed him how good this team could be. "That was the first game I left a loss feeling like we had accomplished something."
After that game with LSU – I won't call it the one that got away - the Aggies left Kyle Field behind for the three toughest weeks on the schedule. That stretch took the Aggies to Auburn, Mississippi State, and Alabama and guaranteed to educate the new guys in "big-boy" SEC football. But in three away games the Aggies won by a combined score of 130-58. And with every game the Aggies looked a little stronger, a little more confident.
It's probably no secret that I fell for these 2012 Aggies somewhere between Oxford and Starkville, but now that they've beaten 'Bama, I've got a team I can take home to my parents.
Even so, for Texas A&M to win on the road in Alabama, the Aggies needed a great day, and 'Bama needed to wilt. The Aggies protected the ball, scored in the fourth quarter, and slowed Alabama's passing and running attacks. Meanwhile, 'Bama struggled early on offense, failed to stop Johnny Manziel, and turned the ball over an unthinkable three times. But none of that quite explains what happened Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Kevin Sumlin's squad, at least for one afternoon, possessed that ineffable quality that characterizes great teams. The Dallas Cowboys had it in the '90s, and you could almost smell it Saturday in Alabama, like a rose in a sun-washed church.
Ryan Swope tried to explain it to the media after the game when he talked about Manziel's play. "This game I could see he had a different emotion about him … I think everyone had a different emotion tonight."
Manziel epitomized that je ne sais qois Saturday, and for much of the season. Against Alabama, he led the team in rushing, going over 100 yards on 18 attempts, and threw for another 253. In the first quarter he slashed the Alabama defense, leading the Aggies to a quick 20 points.
But maybe more important than that, Manziel kept his head when things got steamy in Tuscaloosa, took what the Tide defense gave him, and led the Aggies on a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that saved the game for the Farmers.
Manziel's winning pheromones wooed the media from game one, but Sumlin doesn't let freshman players cavort with journalists. So the most talked-about man in college football is off-limits to a salivating pack of pundits.
But what would Manziel say if they asked him how he did it? If they asked him how he ran straight into a 'Bama sack, spun out of it, dropped the ball, caught it again, and evaded tackle, only to find Ryan Swope waiting in the end zone?
Manziel might try to explain what he does, how he's made his nickname cliché 10 games into his freshman season. He might mumble something about the coaching staff or the team. But what he does can't be explained, coached, diagrammed, or deconstructed. How does a six-foot, 200-pound quarterback enter the Heisman discussion in his freshman season? Why do you love the person you love?
The important thing isn't how the Aggies won our hearts, but that they did it. When they returned to College Station Saturday night, they found a delirious love-struck throng waiting for them at the Bright Complex. This Saturday Texas A&M hosts Sam Houston State for a sold-out event more celebratory than competitive. Unfortunately for the Bearkats, they have no choice but to play bridesmaid for the Aggies and their fans.
Till death do us part.