Thursday, November 29, 2012

An Ode to Spencer Nealy


Even as a dedicated, borderline fanatical fan it is still difficult to keep up with and stay familiar with the 50+ players (the ones that see action at least) that encompass a football roster.  The skill positions get their due from the main stream media, physical, raw defensive specimens are usually given the respect they deserve (or maybe too much so in Manti “underwhelming Heisman candidate” Teo’s case), but what about everyone else?

Beyond the quarterback, I think the most important players on the field are lumped into the gritty trenches (both offensive and defensive).  Usually unbeknownst to the common fan, they are, more often than not, the ones most crucial to victory.  

Think about it in the most simple of terms, an offensive line blocks perfectly… all the skill positions have ample time to run the play exactly as it is designed.  On the other side, a defensive line stuffs the run, minimal gain, a defensive line pressures the quarterback, mistakes are often made and linebackers and defensive backs have less ground to cover.  Simply put, games are decided up front.

The trenches are where a new Texas A&M cult hero has made his mark. 

Spencer Nealy is a charismatic beast of a football player.

Now, I knew who Spencer Nealy was for the past couple of years, but it wasn’t until midway through this year when his candid interviews and inspired play made him a household name amongst A&M enthusiasts.  Daontre Moore will be a first round pick this year or next, and our linebackers are as solid as they come, but after observing the greatness of this season, I truly believe Spencer Nealy is the most important player on our defense.

Let’s go back to the beginning and get some facts on this kid.

Spencer played high school football at Reagan High School in San Antonio, and was named San Antonio Area Defensive Player of the Year by the San Antonio Express-News after his senior season.  He was a 2-star recruit according to Rivals.com and turned down offers from TCU and Kansas State to come play for the Texas A&M Aggies.

His freshmen year he played sparingly in all 13 games.  Pretty solid for an unheralded defensive lineman recruit.

His sophomore year he again played in all 13 games, contributing a bit more, and making a few notable plays during the year (a tipped pass against Texas that led to a Von Miller interception).

His junior year he was thrust onto the field when Jonathan Mathis was injured.  He started the final 9 games and was eventually named honorable mention All-Big 12.  A building-block type of year.

Nothing about that trip down memory lane predicted the difference maker (and fan favorite) that he has grown into this year. 

Yes, I said it… DIFFERENCE MAKER. 

He inspires, he makes plays, he hustles, he elevates those around him, and last but not least, he celebrates.

He celebrates on the field… and off the field.  In a matter of months, he has become a media favorite for the Aggie devout.  His candid interviews are spectacular.  He brings a certain authenticity and playful attitude to the microphone that is hard to find in sports these days.  And that attitude is incredibly endearing when the player is an animal on the football field.  Tell jokes, and play like you don’t care?  Well you won’t last very long.  Spencer Nealy, though?  Yea, I don’t think anyone doubts his passion or his fortitude on the field.

Spencer Nealy has become a stud, and from what I can gather, it sounds like he has had a good time in the process (I obviously passed on some of that good cheer while hosting Johnny Manziel two years ago).

I may be a month, or a year, behind the curve on this Spencer Nealy adoration bandwagon… but who cares!  I am on it now!  Senior day against Missouri was the grand finale.  Spencer Nealy (and his mini me, Ryan Swope, for that matter) went berserk upon his personal introduction and five second bath in the lime light prior to game time.  It was a golden moment, and it induced chills down my spine.  The guy loves football, and the guy loves A&M.  And when those passions manifest themselves into a player that accomplishes anything more than Rudy, well that is a pretty awesome story. 

Spencer Nealy annihilated Missouri on senior day at Kyle Field.  And when he did, he attempted a SNL Chris Farley Chippendales tribute dance.  Let that soak in for a minute.  I am going to miss this guy. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Thanksgiving Laundry List


The first annual Thanksgiving Laundry List... Tis the season to be thankful!

Coach Sumlin - Thank you Coach for being Mr. Personality. You are a ridiculously classy, suave, good-looking, energetic, hard to believe, 48 year old man.  You reinvigorated the most passionate fan base in America and  I sincerely hope we can grow old together.

Mike Evans - Thank you for ditching the hardcourt, and adopting the gridiron.  Your immense size and incredible body control in the air truly make you a Quarterback's best friend.  You may be the "other" redshirt freshmen, but you my friend, are destined for football on Sundays.

Collin "Calvin" Klein - Thank you for turning out to be an incredibly "average" quarterback.  The nation thought you had swag, but swag doesn't lose in Waco.

Taylor Bertolet - Thank you, Taylor, for providing the fan base with one thing we can complain about. We love complaining, and without you, the games would almost be boring.

Mike Sherman - Thank you Coach for building the foundation of this program and getting out in time for someone else to take it to the next level. Your accomplishments in terms of recruiting, player development, and offensive line domination are appreciated. Best of luck in Miami!

Ryan Swope - Thank you Ryan for taking hit after hit and firing us up with your toughness and your electrifying receiving prowess. You have proven to be a great leader during our time of transition and have given young white kids all across the state of Texas great hope. Also, don't think we don't appreciate your attempt at growing a beard.

Von Miller - Thank you for becoming one of the 5 best defensive players in the NFL.  With every sack, forced fumble, and quarterback pressure you truly are elevating the brand of Texas A&M football.

DaMontre Moore - Thank you for following in Von Miller's footsteps and becoming the next great Texas A&M pass rusher.  Your mere presence on the field takes our defense to a different level.  I am personally looking forward to the many many hours of enjoyable NFL draft preparation you will provide.

Sam Montgomery - Thank you for providing the best (and most candid) youtube clip of the year promoting Johnny Football for Heisman.  You may be a swamp kitty, but you will now always hold a spot in my heart. (Oh and thanks for following @aggierundown on twitter, Sam, tis very thoughtful of you) 

Mack Brown – Thank you for passing up on our boy from your own backyard in Kerrville. I also need to extend my gratitude for your never-ending complaints about the Longhorn Network, which have kept us all entertained for the past year (don't worry Mack; nobody is actually watching your practices).

Christine Michael - Thank you for keeping it real, Christine. Your superiority over Sam Houston State was undoubtedly in question on Saturday, and you stood up for Aggies everywhere and put an end to the ceaseless taunting we receive from the Bearkats. Respect!

Spencer Nealy - Thank you for whipping Alabama's CPA/Center, Barrett Jones, in Tuscaloosa and spearheading the defense on that fine day. I also thoroughly enjoy any and all interactions you have with the media. If we can't hear from Johnny, at least we get to experience your passion.

West Virginia - Thanks for being an upgrade to the Big...er... wait, whoops.  

Mark Snyder - Wow, wow, wow.  Thank you putting together a SEC caliber defense.  There have been hiccups, but you have undoubtedly helped our defense grow and improve all year.  Lost in all the offensive insanity is the fact that our defense has done what it takes to make sure we have been in EVERY game.

Texas A&M University - Thank you for taking notice of the sinking ship known as the Big 12, and jumping aboard a more cultural, more loyal, more traditional, more dominant conference known as the SEC.  It is paying dividends earlier than anyone (even the MOST optimistic) could have expected.

Adidas - I can't believe I'm saying this, but thank you Adidas for providing some serious swagger to this team's look. I have doubted you for years, but you really came through this year. I especially approve of the "icy" whites against Bama. 

Ben Malena - Thank you for providing us with a reminder of what it was like watching Jorvorskie Lane when you put the truck stick on that Florida safety. We didn't know you had it in you!  Your patience and under the radar approach evokes fond memories of our old friend Cyrus Gray.

ESPN - Thanks for screwing us over by slotting A&M vs. LSU for 11 AM so you could protect your Longhorns' game against tiny Baylor. Your obvious nepotism is appalling and honestly stupid. Instead of showcasing two top teams that would have provided you with a ratings bonanza, you chose a track meet in Austin. Joke's on you. 

Larry Jackson - Thank you for getting this team physically prepared for the SEC, I laughed at the idea that this off season was any different than all the rest (MY team always wins the offseason), but you proved me wrong.  This team has comeback to win and held on to win.  The second half is no longer our Achilles heel.

Mr. Bow-Tie Loftin - Thank you for your part in getting us to the SEC.  I am not well versed in the politics of our University, but I will always remember that you were the president of Texas A&M when we ditched the Big 12 and moved to the SEC.  And that is more than enough for me.

Nick Saban - Thank you for creating a powerhouse.  It afforded us the opportunity to get that ever-important, unforgettable, "signature win" in Tuscaloosa.  Your fear of the up-tempo offense is coming to realization.

The New MSC - Thank you for being awesome.  What a perfect year for our state of the art student center to open.  What I would give to push reset and begin my collegiate career as a class of 2017 (is that even right?) freshman next year.

Oregon - Thank you for not being able to close on Johnny Manziel after you got his commitment. College football history would have been changed forever if not for your inability to sign Manziel. I can't thank you enough.

City of College Station - Thank you for effectively redesigning Northgate, turning it into a walking promenade that now opens the area and limits the chances of any of us stumbling into traffic (when you have a winning football team and the entire fall semester turns into a celebration, you can't underestimate this risk).

Luke Joeckel & Jake Matthews - Thank you for protecting Johnny Football.  Offensive linemen rarely get their due, both of you are a huge reason this offense has flourished. Keep grinding, a large NFL payday is in your future (would you mind delaying it for a year though?).

DeVante Harris - Thank you for bringing some freshman swag to our defense.  Cornerbacks live in a bubble, and you learning quicker than we expected.  Also, thank you for your candid interactions with Aggie Rundown and for being our unofficial spokesperson.  #AggSwagg #Outchea

Kliff Kingsbury - Thank for you being a bona fide rock star this year. You are the complete antithesis of Mike Sherman. You are exactly what this offense needed to get over the hump and extinguish the doubts hanging over this team from last year. You are a brilliant young man. I hope for the best for you (as in, a head coaching job somewhere on the west coast where you can't hurt us, because you are awesome).

And last but not least…

Johnny “Football” Manziel – Fans and universities yearn for transcendent players that lead a team and ignite the nation.  Players like this don’t come along every year (heck, they don’t come along every decade).  Ours is young, impressionable, oozing with swagger, and on the verge of making history.  Not that anyone really needs a reminder, but Texas A&M fans, soak it up, enjoy every moment, every highlight reel, and every mushy article. Enjoy EVERYTHING.  We are thankful.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

ESPN's KC Joyner: "Aaron Murray's Heisman Case"


I tend to ignore ESPN.com when I can, partly because I have developed certain tastes for certain writers that work for certain other sites, but mostly because I think the content provided by ESPN can sometimes resemble a warm bucket of piss. This is definitely not indicative of every writer that works for ESPN, but when you employ the likes of Rick Reilly, your margin for error is significantly reduced in my mind.

I especially shy away from the college football content provided by ESPN.com – the way they did the great Bruce Feldman left a sour taste in my mouth and certain bloggers covering the Big 12 never really impressed me much. However, sometimes the midweek doldrums of the college football news cycle lead me to see what ESPN.com has to offer. This morning was one of those times.

The front page of ESPN.com was hyping the Heisman race, with a little thumbnail of our very own Johnny Manziel. Naturally, I was pulled in like a moth to the light, only to discover that “The Football Scientist” who “uses proprietary metrics from game tape study” aka “NFL Insider” KC Joyner was using his platform to convince the masses that Georgia’s Aaron Murray, not A&M’s Johnny Manziel, should be the SEC’s best shot at winning the Heisman trophy.

Thanks, KC, for giving me such a good laugh. In all honesty I'm not too concerned about this topic, as I don't think Aaron Murray has any legitimate shot at the Heismant trophy. The actual logic of KC Joyner's column is what got me a little fired up. The arguments don't hold water.

Now, I’ll blow apart this lovely writing bit by bit, with actual “metrics”. The piece begins:

“In a season where there isn't one player who stands head and shoulders above the rest of the field, it is easy to see why someone like Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel (aka Johnny Football) would have a strong candidacy for the Heisman Trophy.”

Johnny Manziel has gained over 1,000 total yards more than Collin Klein, Braxton Miller, and Aaron Murray. "Head and shoulders" is not defined in the dictionary, but as I've come to know the term, 1,000 yards after 10 games seems to measure about the height of a head and shoulders.

"Manziel has posted some impressive numbers, including setting the freshman quarterback record for rushing yards and total offense on his way to becoming the first freshman to pass for at least 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season."

Joyner conveniently declines to note that this feat has only been accomplished FOUR times in history and NEVER in the SEC. He also fails to mention that Manziel accomplished this in just 11 games, while the other four in this "impressive" club needed at least 13. Joyner also neglects the fact that Manziel has been on the sideline for EIGHT quarters this season due to blowouts. This means that Manziel reached the 3K/1K mark in essentially 9 games. Again, everyone else needed at least 12, in inferior conferences.

"Having given Manziel his due, upon closer examination it becomes clear that he isn't even the best Heisman quarterback candidate in the SEC.
That honor belongs to Georgia Bulldogs passer Aaron Murray, and it really isn't even close."

We'll agree to disagree on what constitutes "giving Manziel his due"; also LOL.

"Murray's 9.9 yards per pass attempt (YPA) is the highest total in the FBS. That number is so strong that it leads the second-place finisher (Clemson Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd) by four-tenths of a yard. It is also 1.3 yards ahead of Manziel's 8.6 YPA, which ranks tied for 14th in the FBS."

Did I miss the memo that yards per pass attempt is now a really important statistic in college football analysis? I understand its importance in the NFL, where QBs typically stay in the pocket and don't scramble. But in college football, total yards are far more relevant. I'm not disputing the fact that Aaron Murray leads this statistic, it's just not applicable. Using Joyner's logic, Johnny Manziel leads the nation in kittens saved from oncoming traffic. Does that help his Heisman case?

"One under-the-radar part of Murray's achievements this year is the amount of progress he has made in helping those around him play better.
Prior to this campaign, he had displayed more than a few consistency issues in this area. He would excel when throwing to his top pass-catchers, but then see his numbers come crashing to earth when throwing to other receivers.

That has not been the case this year, as five of Georgia's receivers with at least 10 receptions have a YPA of 8.3 yards or higher (Tavarres King 13.4, Arthur Lynch 11.9, Marlon Brown 10.4,Malcolm Mitchell 9.4, Chris Conley 8.3).

This trait has been especially important since Murray and the Bulldogs' passing game had to overcome a multitude of issues this season, including Mitchell having to play defensive back for a time as well as the season-ending knee injuries to both Brown and Bennett."

I'm not making this up, you guys. KC Joyner actually wrote this, and ESPN actually allowed this column on the homepage. I'm at a loss for words. If I become a Heisman voter, I'll be sure to give proper consideration to the candidates' "progress in helping those around him play better".

"One of the reasons Murray is not being considered a strong Heisman candidate is that he had poor showings against the South Carolina Gamecocks and Florida Gators.

To put those performances into perspective, consider that Murray posted a combined stat line of 23-for-55 for 259 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions in those contests."

Poor would be an understatement. But wait, he doesn't forget to use stronger language to describe Manziel's hiccups!

"While that kind of stat production is less than stellar, it should not be forgotten that Manziel had two terrible games of his own, one against Florida and the other against the LSU Tigers.

He went 52-for-86 for 449 yards with zero touchdowns and three interceptions in those games, or passing numbers that are about as bad as Murray's. He didn't do much more in the area of rushing, either, as Manziel managed to post 87 yards on 34 carries in those contests."

Terrible... as in doubling Aaron Murray's total yardage in the two games being compared here? Look, Johnny didn't play his best against LSU and Florida, but the guy is a FRESHMAN and had the lead in both games, making both defenses look ordinary for at least a half each. I'd say his performances were far from terrible (in fact, against Florida, Manziel didn't turn the ball over, the offense just stalled out in the second half). Keep in mind Manziel got to play Florida in the VERY FIRST GAME OF HIS CAREER. Murray got to feast on five cupcakes before facing South Carolina. We've all seen the strides Johnny has made as the season has progressed.

"This shows they both had multiple subpar games, but Murray still ends up with the edge here because he was able to guide his team to a game-clinching touchdown midway through the fourth quarter of the battle against Florida.

Manziel, for all of his heroics this year, did nothing of the sort in the Florida or LSU matchups. In the fourth quarter of those games, he went 10-for-21 for 109 yards, two sacks and an interception on his aerials, and managed to tally a meager 21 yards on nine carries. The only fourth-quarter points he led his team to in those 30 minutes was a touchdown that closed a 24-12 gap against LSU to 24-19 with 1:17 left in the game.

What this means is simple: Even in his bad games, Murray still found a way to step up and lead his team to the one win that made all of the difference in getting Georgia a division title. Manziel was not able to do the same and it is part of why, unless the Auburn Tigers pull off one of the greatest upsets in college football history this weekend against the Alabama Crimson Tide, his team will finish one game out of tying for its division title."

Did Joyner watch the Georgia vs. Florida game? In a battle of teams trying to lose, Georgia eked out a narrow victory by virtue of their defense creating SIX Florida turnovers. Reason suggests Jarvis Jones and the defense led Georgia to the win, not the QB who threw 3 INTs.

"When LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, one of the lowest-rated passers in the SEC this season, racked up 298 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions on 24-for-35 for passing against Alabama on Nov. 3, the general reaction was that the Crimson Tide defense was highly overrated because it let someone of Mettenberger's caliber throw the ball with such success.

The very next week, Manziel went out and posted a very similar passing stat line (24-for-31 for 253 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions) while adding in adds 92 rushing yards to boot. All totaled, his performance really wasn't that much better than Mettenberger's, and yet somehow the general reaction of the college football world was that this was the moment Johnny Football put his stamp on the 2012 season.

However, a group of highlight-reel plays against an overrated defense shouldn't be enough to vault Manziel to the Heisman lead.

The good news for Murray is that he'll also get his shot at the Crimson Tide in the SEC championship game. If Murray has a strong showing while leading his team to a victory, it would give his resume a direct equalizer on the Alabama front and also add a conference title and berth in the BCS title game (assuming Georgia Tech doesn't pull off a huge upset against Georgia this weekend) that Manziel cannot match.

In a fair world, that would move Murray to the top of the Heisman Trophy list."

It's fair to say that Manziel and Mettenberger had similar stats against a common opponent, Alabama. However, Mettenberger had the luxury of playing at home, while Manziel put up his numbers on the road, at Bryant-Denny Stadium no less. 

Stats and grammatical errors aside, what shocks me here (actually, if we're being real, no one should be shocked this far into this BS column) is KC Joyner's disregard for Manziel's victory over Alabama TWO PARAGRAPHS after claiming Aaron Murray's ability to lead Georgia to victory over Florida is a distinguishing factor in his bid for the Heisman trophy. You just can't make this stuff up.

In the end, what will most likely happen is Nick Saban and Alabama's defense will throttle Aaron Murray just like South Carolina and Florida did earlier this season. Joyner wants to leave open the possibility of a strong Murray performance in the SEC Championship game. That isn't happening. After playing Texas A&M, Alabama played lowly Western Carolina and faces terrible Auburn this weekend. That's essentially two scrimmages that require minimal game prep, leaving the coaching staff plenty of time to scheme for Aaron Murray and Georgia.

I am fully aware that I spent far too much time critiquing such a spare column on ESPN.com, but this joke of an opinion from KC Joyner is exactly the kind of disrespect Johnny Manziel and, to a larger extent, the Texas A&M football team have received all season. 

The Aggies have let their play on the field speak for itself this year. I have no doubt that the Heisman voters will see that, and that our very own Johnny Football will become the first freshman to win the Heisman trophy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Time to Be Thankful

Let the good times roll as the Holiday season quickly approaches.

The common, tortured Aggie fan has felt an incredible wave of redemption over the past 10 weeks that seemed about as likely as Pilgrims magically reappearing at Plymouth Rock again in 2012.  Nonetheless, here we are with a whopping 9 wins (and 2 measly losses) and fresh off the biggest Aggie win in the last decade.  We have a coach of the year candidate, a Heisman candidate, and multiple future NFL draft picks.

Tis the time to be Thankful.

In honor of Thanksgiving (and our Aggies) the first annual Aggie Rundown Thanksgiving Laundry List will be appearing in the next day or two.  Feel free to chow down.

May the Aggie's successfully finish this "Feast" of season on Saturday when our old lil bro from the Big 12 comes into town.  This is SEC country now.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

T-Town


I was truly lucky this weekend, as I had the chance to see the Texas A&M Aggies dismantle the Alabama Crimson Tide’s hopes of an undefeated season in person. My younger brother is a student at Bama, so this wasn't my first time to Tuscaloosa, nor was it my first time to see a game at legendary Bryant-Denny Stadium.

But as you know, this time was a little different.

My Aggies were there to play #1 Alabama, and A&M was riding a wave of momentum into town.

Because I had already been to Bryant-Denny, the whole atmosphere probably didn't resonate with me like it did with most Aggies on Saturday, but I don’t mean to take anything away from Alabama. They have a good thing going there.

I got there on Thursday night, taking the last flight out of NY-LaGuardia to Birmingham, where a one-hour ride to Tuscaloosa awaited me. The late arrival precluded us from really going out that night, so we were plenty fresh for the full weekend experience beginning on Friday.

We began at City CafĂ©, a treasure tucked away in historic Northport (think downtown Bryan) that bathes itself in crimson and pictures of Bear Bryant. The place oozed Bama. To get a rise out of the staff, we asked if they went to Auburn. When they looked at us like we had three eyes, we told them we were Aggies. They quickly gave a small chuckle and said, “Roll Tide” and dismissed us like you would your JV scout team opponent.

We played golf Friday morning at Ol’ Colony Golf Course, which is the home of the Alabama men’s and women’s golf teams. It’s a public course that only cost us $45 to play and ride – and it was a treat. Students can play for $20 during the week. (Take note, Briarcrest, Bryan Muni, and A&M Golf Course. You are all terrible and overpriced.)

That night, after too many games of beer pong and flip cup, we descended upon the strip of bars in Tuscaloosa, known as… you guessed it, the Strip!

We tried to go to Innisfree, a local pub, but were so repulsed by their nerve to charge a $20 cover that I nearly threw up. (Well, that may have happened anyways, but it wasn’t because of a cover charge. Roll tide! Wait, no, gig ‘em!)

Gillett’s is the Dixie Chicken of Tuscaloosa. It’s the drinking institution that you just have to see, so we walked there, only to be asked for $30 to enter. ARE THESE PEOPLE INSANE? That buys me a case of beer at the gas station in the front of your bar. Adios, Gillett’s. You aren’t worth it, no matter the weekend.

The next day was Saturday. Oh, game day, how I love you.

There is nothing like waking up with a pounding headache on Saturday morning, only to wash it away with a pot of strong coffee, a hot plate of scrambled eggs and bacon, and a healthy serving of ESPN College Gameday (by the way, let’s give some credit to crazy old Lee Corso. He picked the Aggie upset.)

We then made the trek to campus, where we made a pit stop at the Aggieland Outfitters tailgate before moving on to the real thing – the Quad, and the sorority houses. Yes, I’ll repeat that. The sorority houses.

At the Quad in T-town, Bama fans take my prize for best tents. They have these blown-up monstrosities that look like bounce houses that they use as tailgating tents. They are awesome. I’m buying one, or making one, or stealing one. I have to have one next year.

The Quad is great, with its big trees and green grass and large bells and red bricks (what a thought!) and all, but the belle of the ball is the houses that shelter the oh-so-lovely Bama sorority sisters.

Their sorority houses line the two streets on the east side of Bryant-Denny Stadium. Some of them literally look at Bryant-Denny. It’s incredible. Not only is the location choice, but these houses also serve large catered lunches on gameday. My brother’s lady friend is a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, who apparently aren’t keen on the idea of giving bids to anyone less attractive than a dime. I can’t overstate the amount of hots that were running around this house.

So not only was it the perfect weekend to tailgate, cute sorority girls were hosting us at their house, serving us delicious ribs from the famous Dreamland BBQ.

The game was still two hours away!

And then maybe my pregame highlight – the Aggie Band marching right by the sorority houses on their way into the stadium, with dozens of Aggies following in their path. I don’t know about you, but hearing the band play before the game starts gives me chills. Every time.

The Pulse of Aggieland makes my pants go cray. 

We got into the stadium about an hour before kickoff, which gave us plenty of time to soak in the pregame stadium experience, which included an awesome tribute to Bear Bryant’s Junction Boys. You know the Aggie faithful loved them some Junction Boys.

The pregame routine at Bryant-Denny includes one of the better pregame videos. Alabama’s 14 national titles speak for the Tide, especially in video form. They could probably fill an hour with highlights from national championships alone. It is humbling for an opposing team’s fans to watch that.

The game itself was the best sports moment of my short life. I’m a pretty big supporter of the Texas Rangers and I was fortunate enough to be in Arlington when the Rangers finished off the New York Yankees in the 2010 ALCS. I never thought that would be topped, but Johnny Manziel and the Aggies did just that.

Saturday afternoon and Saturday night were one of those days where you try to slow everything down and note every detail to remember it forever. Everything is moving so fast, and everything is so fun, that it’s tough to really take it all in.

We sat in the Aggie block in the south end zone, which was a good thing. There was a chain-link fence lining our section, protecting us from the Bama fans. Seeing that had me more than a little concerned about the reason why such a fence is in place. The Aggie block stood strong together and yelled our asses off for 4 straight hours. I’m not sure if that was evident on the broadcast (I’ll find out tonight when I re-watch it) but we feasted on the energy our team gave us on Saturday.

Just like the team, we were disrespected, and we had to stick together, if for no other reason than fear. Bryant-Denny Stadium is not a friendly place. It was loud as hell in there, and the fans live and die by the Crimson Tide. This was on full display when the two twenty-something girls behind me were screaming so loud that their shrieks were bouncing off the inner walls of my head, and then sobbing so noticeably when McCarron’s pick killed Bama’s hopes that I couldn’t help but look at them and giggle.

Our whole section bonded that night. If you’ve been to a big win, you know what it’s like. High fives and hugs abound, with Aggies everywhere finding new best friends, if only for a few hours. We all stayed at the stadium long after the game ended, singing the War Hymn, taking pictures, and reliving the high moments.

This is what a beaten stadium looks like.
After the game, the best word to describe the atmosphere is crushed. Parents, kids, students, alumni, and Updykes everywhere couldn’t believe what they had just witnessed. Some were too drunk, putting off their sorrows for Sunday, but most were totally and completely crushed.

That’s when it hit me. Texas A&M had just rolled into one of the toughest places to play in America and spoiled the #1 team’s undefeated season. Kevin Sumlin had just planted his program of the front porch of college football, sending us all the message that his team had heard and taken to heart all season long: these aren’t the Aggies we have grown up watching. These are Sumlin’s Aggies, led by Johnny F***ing Football, on a mission to destroy the will of everyone they play.

They’re here. May Saturday night be the first of many that we as Aggies get to be a part of crushing others’ dreams, instead of ours. May this weekend be the spark that takes this program to new heights, only thought possible by the most optimistic of us. May this weekend be the signature win that becomes the norm, the custom, the… tradition. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Prior to the season, the media largely dismissed Texas A&M’s SEC chances, writing them off as irrelevant for a couple years while they adjusted to the size and speed of their new home.  Maybe it was fair at the time, maybe not.  But guess who is getting the last laugh now?

I’ll admit it’s hilarious to look back at the tweets and columns written by respected “experts” who are paid to provide their opinion and analysis to those of us that didn’t want to spend their four years in college studying journalism only to graduate and be lucky to find a low-paying job with a dying local newspaper. (The guys at Good Bull Hunting put together a fine compilation of the media’s misses. Give it a look if you want to laugh.)

It’s also good fun to taunt friends and family that support a team in the Big 12, the conference that now looks so cute and cuddly, that we now shrug off as if it wasn’t our conference home for more than 15 years, whose teams we now gladly swipe at for being so inferior.

And now we can ride high on our horse because we took down the Tide, ushering ourselves into the upper echelon of college football, as if we expected it all to happen just like this, so early.

The media didn’t respect the Aggies, and neither did our friends. Our new conference rivals didn’t see it coming. Did we?

The 2012 season has gone better than any of us ever imagined, like never-in-our-wildest-dreams-are-you-freaking-kidding-me kind of imagined. In fact, this season has completely surprised us all. If you say otherwise, I’m calling you a liar or an idealist, because no one in their right mind saw THIS coming.

We knew this season was different, just not right away. It took some time.

Some Aggies may say they saw the light during the Florida game, when Johnny Manziel and friends came out and punched the Gators square in the mouth for the first 30 minutes. (Never mind the familiar second half letdown that had all of us moaning and groaning that the stink of the Sherman regime was still hanging over this team like a cloud.)

Some may say they realized this team was for real when they embarrassed SMU in Dallas in front of more Aggies than Mustangs. (Then again, it was a team that started Garrett Gilbert at quarterback, which has typically only been a good thing if you are a fan of Lake Travis High School, but hey, if you saw something at Ford Field that convinced you the Aggies were back, then more power to you.)

For me, I knew this season was different when Texas A&M destroyed Arkansas at home, a team with top-10 talent but was in total disarray, a team that hung with the Aggies for a quarter, before Johnny Football really, actually, definitely showed us why we call him Johnny Football, shredding that Arkansas defense that now doesn’t look so bad.

For others, it may have been the wild ride in Shreveport, or the comeback in Oxford, or for the doubters, the skeptics, dare I say the realists, it probably wasn’t until this tough stretch on the road began with utter eviscerations of Auburn and Mississippi State (#failstate) that everyone in the Aggie bubble was completely on board this train of good times.

For the nation, the coming out party was unquestionably Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, against the beast, created by the little man that rules by fear, the beast that claims 14 national titles (some using tactics recently borrowed by our own University), the beast that stole Bear Bryant from us all those years ago, that is bigger than anything in that big state, that has occupied the hearts of minds of men, women, and children for generations old and young for a hundred years now and inspires people to poison the rival’s famed trees.

If there was any doubt among us entering the showdown in T-town that Sumlin’s men could shock the world, I wasn’t hearing it last week. We were sure that the Aggies would at least scare the Crimson Tide.

But beyond our little corner of the universe, the doubts were loud – the Aggies had lost to the only two really good teams they had played, the Aggies can’t finish games, the Aggies don’t have the depth up front on defense to stop Bama’s bruising offense, the Aggies up-tempo offense couldn’t succeed against the Tide’s vaunted defense, the Aggies would wilt under pressure at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Johnny Football hadn’t played all that great against LSU so just wait till Bama gets him… I could go on forever.

And that’s just what the Aggies of Texas A&M couldn’t do, never mind what they were saying the Crimson Tide of Alabama could and would do.

I was fortunate enough to be in Tuscaloosa this weekend (for that experience, you’ll have to wait until later this week) and really get in with the Alabama students and alumni. My younger brother is a student at Bama.

I can’t tell you how many times I was laughed at, to my face, when I tried to tell them they should be scared of Johnny Manziel. I never said we’d win, and I never mocked their confidence and bravado. They had earned that swagger, and you have to respect that. But their lack of respect for what Manziel and the Aggies could do to their beloved Crimson Tide was shocking.

In the end, they got shocked. (It’s so nice to say I told you so, right?)

They mocked us and laughed at us in that way that older siblings do to younger siblings, noting how cute it is that we can puff out our chests and tell them we belong.

We tried to tell them, but they wouldn’t listen. They didn’t respect us.

That’s what this game was about for me – respect.

This team, for once in what seems like forever, has embraced the “nobody believes in us” mentality and has become a winner. They have grabbed the proverbial bull by the horns and turned this program into something to be proud of once again. They have emboldened us as former students, energized us as fans, and given us a shot of confidence that was sorely lacking among the fan base over the past decade.

I had grown so tired of being disrespected as an Aggie because of my football team that it really didn’t even elicit a response from me anymore. I think I speak for all of us when I say I had grown accustomed to being made fun of because of the team I supported so ardently.

That’s what was shattered to pieces on Saturday night. The doubts were gone, the critics were silent, and the proud were humbled. I had something to be thrilled about, to be passionate about. I was fired up again. I was hugging strangers. I was drunk on pure adrenaline.

I was respected.

Thank you, Kevin Sumlin. Thank you, Johnny Manziel.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The "Levels of Opponents" and Other Friday Morning Tidbits

A little Friday morning email exchange to get you geared up for a prime time Saturday showdown in Tuscaloosa!

Ben: This week has gotten off to a fine start. Not only is it Bama week, but up here in the Northeast, the effects of Superstorm Sandy are subsiding, and it's getting cold. When it gets cold, I think football. When I think football, I get happy.

Ever since you mentioned last week your "Levels of Opponents" a la Bill Simmons, I have been thinking back on this season. How would our opponents have stacked up BEFORE the season, and how do they stack up looking back? 

To recap, here are the levels (and readers, keep in mind this is from the Aggie point of view. You NEVER show pessimism):

1. Should be a blowout. This opponent resembles early 2000's Baylor.

2. Should be a solid win.

3. Toss-up. Could go either way.

4. Needing a small miracle.

Before the season, I would have slotted our opponents like this:

1. SMU, South Carolina State, and Sam Houston State

2. Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss, and Missouri

3. Florida, Arkansas, Auburn, and Mississippi State

4. LSU and Alabama

Now that we're 9 games in, here's how I'd slot them:

1. SMU, South Carolina State, Arkansas, Auburn, Sam Houston State, and Missouri

2. Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State

3. Florida and LSU

4. Alabama

What do you think? Any you don't agree with?

Scott:  I love that you have already embraced the "Levels of Opponents".  It is a great way to categorize the season and explore various possibilities.  I do feel like the "Levels" can be better described (as I did in our previous, unpublished exchange).

1. Should be a blowout, Easy, Can of corn, no excuses.

2. Should be a win, but the other team isn't a powderpuff.  Good teams RARELY lose these games.

3. A toss-up, Good teams win more of these than they lose.  Home field plays a big role here.

4. A small miracle.  The opponent is a monster.

The beauty of these "Levels" is that they are all subject to discussion... lots of gray areas in between.  It is often easy to see when teams are in level 1 or level 4.  FCS schools are always level 1, national title contenders should always be level 4.  Levels 2 and 3 are the fun ones.  A loss to a team in level 3... it happens sometimes, but a loss  to a level 2 team, that won't be tolerated.

Your rankings before the season were spot on.  Zero argument.

The problem with your rankings up to this point... is the benefit of hindsight.  I think these "Levels" are better served as a predictive tool.  Granted those predictions were way off on some teams (Auburn), that is part of the guessing game.  

My reaction to your rankings up to this point: I think you could argue LSU is a level 4, maybe even Florida too.  Missouri is not level 1; don’t be ridiculous.  Obviously we are very capable of blowing out level 2 teams and I think that is where your lack of description creates flaws.  We should beat Missouri 8 times out of 10.  That should be level 2.  Same goes for Auburn and Arkansas (both in disarray, but both have legitimate talent).  And you could make an argument that LA Tech (away game, dynamic offense) and Miss State should be level 3.  

You are a bit jaded with a lack of respect my friend.

Ben: My apologies. Sumlin has me amped! When you watch your team utterly dominate two games in a row that (before the season) were supposed be toss-ups, it's tough not to disrespect the opponent. Watching Johnny Football absolutely light up Auburn and Mississippi State has me soaring right now. The all-black uniforms have also injected another level of confident swagger into this already “drunk on hype” fan base.

What'd you think of the uniforms?

Scott:  Absolutely loved the uniforms.  I think the all-black unis were a great break off from the norm.  Nothing outrageous (like that of Miss State); just a cool branch-off to our traditional garments.  Great move all around.

Back to the "Levels" as I said, I think it is more of a predictive tool, and you can bet I will be whipping it out in the off season next year.  And how fantastic is that we get Vanderbilt and Missouri next year from the East... WOW.  I mean Vandy isn't quite the pushover that most people see them as, but avoiding Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina... that is huge.

Another topic of discussion with the "Levels" (which will serve a dual purpose in also calming your raging swagger), is the discussion of where we think the Aggies are going forward.  An honest fan has to remind themselves of the early season expectations from time to time.  That is why the thought of 9 - 3 gets me pumped! A 9 - 3 inaugural SEC season.  It has a great ring to it.  What about next year?  I mean you have to think 10 - 2 is the goal right (regular season that is)?  Holy cow how times have changed...

Ben: It does blow my mind to think about this season of Aggie football. I set my bar at 6-6. Anything over that and I'd be a happy camper. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we'd surpass that in just 9 games.

We all underestimated A&M coming into the season, but did we also overestimate the SEC? Arkansas has been horrible (because of extenuating circumstances, but still), Auburn has been atrocious, and Mississippi State didn't put up the kind of fight we expected from them (or maybe they did, but they just aren't very good).


As far as personal accolades go, I don't think he'd become the Heisman favorite (Collin Klein has that on lock barring a catastrophe) but he'd at least leapfrog into the conversation and the forefront of voters' minds.

As for the team, beating Bama paves the way to a 10-2 season, with those two losses against top-10 programs by a combined 8 points. I don't believe A&M could jump LSU in the standings because LSU would most likely own the tiebreaker on account of their BCS ranking. However, if A&M finishes 10-2 (the same as LSU), you have to guess that the Cotton Bowl would extend the invitation to A&M.

That would be awesome.

I know A&M sucks at Jerryworld, but the thought of playing in the Cotton Bowl is salivating. Especially if our opponent would be Texas or Oklahoma, I think A&M could smoke either of those teams.

What's your prediction for the rest of this season?

Dreaming is fun...

Scott:  I have to predict a narrow loss to Bama, despite all of my wild Kool-Aid inclinations.  Next week we obviously tear Sam Houston apart, and I think we finish with a bang when we blow out Missouri.  The Missouri game is important to me, I want to absolutely crush the notion that they are stronger addition to the SEC.  They are from Missouri, for goodness sakes, what great things comes from Missouri?  Yea, keep pondering that one.

We end 9 -3 and patiently wait for our bowl bid… we will all secretly hope a Cotton Bowl miracle occurs, but it seems as if we are destined for something like the Chick Fil A bowl (from what I have read).  While that doesn’t carry the clout of a new years day bowl, I would be content. 

Heck, I love Chick fil A, those spicy sandwiches are magical.