And then there was one. We’ve taken you through the most significant wins in the modern era (1974-2012) of Texas Aggie football and it’s time to name the single most significant victory, and we only have to look back eight months to a little game in Tuscaloosa against the best football program of the past decade coached by the best coach of the past decade. The Aggies not only shocked its new partners in the SEC, but they shocked the college football world on that late afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium when an up-and-coming undersized freshman quarterback from Kerrville, Texas led the upstart Aggies to an improbable 29-24 win.
That win was a springboard for the 2012 team and thrust Texas A&M into the national spotlight. It also vaulted Manziel to the front of the line for the Heisman Trophy, punctuated with the college football play of the year when Manziel lost the ball in the pocket, turned nearly 360 degrees, caught the ball, scrambled and found Ryan Swope in the back of the end zone.
The game certainly bumped Texas A&M into another area code of college football in 2012. It also validated for now the decision to move to the SEC. It also showed that SEC commissioner Mike Slive still has the Midas touch. Even though Alabama went on to win the national championship, the emergence of Texas A&M as a power player in the SEC was the year’s biggest storyline in the league. If a conference wants to stay on top and dominate the national conversation over the long run, it needs new, emerging storylines. The sustained LSU-Alabama dominance in the SEC West has carried the conference narrative for several years, and the national media was restless to find another storyline. Texas A&M and Johnny Football definitely delivered from that aspect. The Aggies have added another dimension to the conference race. The natural rivalry with LSU is ready to blossom. The last ingredient in that recipe was A&M’s ability to compete in the series, and it appears that time is now. Then you have the Alabama in-conference series which began last year as a curiosity among universities that have close ties with common past head coaches Bear Bryant, Gene Stallings, and Dennis Franchione.
Now, the Crimson Tide has revenge on their mind as they come to College Station and this will be the game of the year in college football…and the game of the century at Kyle Field. This year’s game could spawn a rivalry as well. So it’s pretty easy to say the 2012 Alabama game has made Texas A&M the center of the college football universe in 2013. That alone makes the 29-24 win one of the most significant in school history. But while we can look back at history and know how the other significant wins affected the evolution of the program, we don’t know where this Alabama win will take Texas A&M football in the long-term.
We can look back at the success of Emory Bellard’s teams of the mid-1970’s and say this era was truly important in transforming a truly destitute “have not” program and turned it into a “have”. In short, it was the birth of modern Texas A&M football as we know it. It led to the Kyle Field expansion that added the third decks and increased the capacity from 54,000 to 78,000. It also gave Aggie fans a taste of success and a hunger to remain relevant when Bellard left and the team struggled in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. That hunger led to the hiring of Jackie Sherrill, who at the time was considered the top young coach in college football leading the Pitt Panthers to national prominence.
The Jackie Sherrill era in the 1980’s allowed the Texas A&M football program to take yet another step forward and led to unprecedented regional success that included three straight Cotton Bowls and a lot of big wins. But more importantly, for the first time Texas A&M and its traditions and game day atmosphere was seen by the nation via numerous national TV appearances on ESPN and CBS (Cotton Bowl) on New Year’s Day three consecutive years. Texas A&M football was seen as the next big power in the state nipping at the heels of the Texas Longhorns who until the Sherrill era, dominated on the field and with the media coverage. Nine out of 10 wins versus Texas certainly punctuated the new times in the lone star state.
But throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s, while A&M remained relevant regionally and controlled the SWC for nearly a decade, there was one large hurdle A&M still couldn’t jump…and that was national prominence and becoming a top 10 program with realistic aspirations for a national championship.
And that leads us full circle back to the Alabama win. That win, along with A&M’s move to the SEC and the emergence of Johnny Manziel as the most recognizable figure in college football, has created the perfect storm for the Aggies to finally make a serious run at the last hurdle to national prominence.
At this point, we simply don’t know what will happen. The Aggies could have a few good seasons and fall back to mediocrity for a number of reasons, which has happened throughout Texas A&M’s football past. If that’s the case, then the significance of the 2012 Alabama win will shrink over time and move down the list.
However, the Aggies can have another magical season in 2013 and make a run for that first national championship trophy in 74 years. Manziel can have another Heisman season. Kevin Sumlin can be the long-term successful coach at Texas A&M for the next 20 years whose name will be mentioned with the greatest coaches of all-time. And finally, Texas A&M can be mentioned in the same breath as Michigan, Notre Dame, Alabama, USC, Ohio State, and Florida for the foreseeable future. If that happens, then every Aggie fan witnessed history last November. They witnessed the birth of a nationally prominent football program capable of winning national championships, and expecting to win national championships on an annual basis.
The mere fact that we’re on the doorstep of becoming a perennial national championship caliber program is more than enough to earn the 29-24 victory over No. 1 Alabama in 2012 as the greatest win in the school’s 120 year football history.