Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sick of "Playing Not to Lose"

I thought this was a solid opportunity to re-post an updated version of a piece I wrote last year. A new season is upon us; let’s hope Sumlin’s football team is ready for the spotlight.

I didn’t grow up rooting for the Texas A&M Aggies; I only adopted the bad habit when I first set foot in College Station some five years ago. Strangely enough, I grew up in Texas following a similarly underachieving program in the frigid cold of East Lansing – Michigan State University. My father attended Michigan State and as I grew older I slowly began to understand his ridiculous fandom, and when I did, I became a fan too. To keep the comparison brief, to the common fan the Michigan State Spartans live in the shadow of the University of Michigan Wolverines (just as many perceive the Aggies in comparison to the Longhorns). In all reality, that is fair. Decades of dominance deserve recognition (although the arrogance that comes with it does not). Plain and simple, Michigan State torments their fan base, just like Texas A&M. So while not an Aggie fan for life, I did grow up in a similar alternate fan universe.

The most memorable motif from watching the Spartans with my father was his constant proclamation (which was usually on target) that the Spartans often “played not to lose” as opposed to “playing to win." To quickly explain, the Spartans would find themselves in the desirable position of winning a high-caliber game, and then poof! The ferocity? Gone! The intensity? Also gone! The lead? Usually gone. They would abandon what got them to that desirable position and adopt a prevent defense and simple-minded offense. I watched Michigan State throw away countless games, which no doubt nearly forced my Dad into cardiac arrest every time. And guess what? This awful theme just so happened to rear its ugly ahead again this past year with the Aggies.

Not to beat a dead horse, but 2011 was going to be different. I am usually quite the skeptical fan. I often don’t believe in our quarterback (Stephen McGee and Jerrod Johnson) or our coach (Dennis Franchione). Not the case last year.  I was sold on Ryan Tannehill, and I thought Coach Sherman had finally built the team he wanted. Then came the Oklahoma State game, then the Arkansas game, and as the old saying goes… when it rains, it pours. 2011 hurt the most, because I finally let my guard down and chose to believe.

The Arkansas game burns the most in my mind (specifically the countless punts on 4th and short near midfield). I thought to myself, “Our running attack is averaging nearly 10 YARDS PER CARRY! You don’t have confidence in a Cyrus sweep? What about a Christine iso? What about a Tannehill zone read?” Wow. Sherman lost me in that game. In my opinion (you aren’t forced to agree) he stopped “playing to win” in that game and started “playing not to lose”. And that was when I stopped “believing we were good” and started “hoping we might be good”.

Now the times have changed DRAMATICALLY since that horrible October afternoon in Dallas.  Sherman is doing what he was meant to do all along, lead an NFL offense in Miami, and Kevin Sumlin has taken the reigns in College Station and with the help of a big move to the SEC, reignited the Aggie world. 

I sure do hope Sumlin has taken note of what it takes to succeed at a huge program.  I sure do hope he brings a reckless, ruthless attitude to Texas A&M.  He is going to need it.

To start with, I hope Sumlin takes a page from the LSU manual.  Say what you want about LSU’s Les Miles, but that guy has some guts. Some say he coaches like he is playing a video game – and if he does, then I hope Texas A&M wises up and hires the premiere NCAA/Madden player our nation has to offer to assist Sumlin in some “ballsy play-calling." Winners go for it.  Losers think about going for it.  Hopefully Sumlin’s brash confidence will help us put a checkmark in that box when the games are finally played.

Now for a page out of our old friend Oklahoma’s manual.  Say what you want about Bob Stoops, but that guy is ruthless.  Some say he can’t win the big one, but at least he can get to the big one. And you know what? Bob Stoops yearns to annihilate the other team. I am sure this past season nearly killed him. Stoops doesn’t look to just win, but absolutely destroy everything about the opponent. I don’t care if it is unsportsmanlike. You know what else is unsportsmanlike? What the A&M football team has done to my emotions over the past five years. I don’t find much solace in being a “good loser."

I believe Sumlin has some of that fire in his belly, and up to this point he has handled every challenge with confidence and poise.  Sherman wasn’t right for Texas A&M.  We NEED raw emotion and fearless play calling on game day.  I want to win when we aren’t supposed to purely because of our grit, creativity, and determination. I want to lose knowing we took every chance afforded to us by that elusive play clock.

One nice thing about going to the SEC… we will be underdogs.  And with that, I hope Kevin Sumlin isn’t afraid to defy the norm, and start his own traditions at Kyle Field.  

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