I have to confess, after watching Johnny Football, Mike Evans, and Ryan Swope work their magic at the end of the Ole Miss game, I got the fever. Some teams just have a magic about them. It seems that every year some team is labeled with the term "cardiac kids" or a similar moniker because they just refuse to lose. They fight. They inspire. So after watching our team fight and scrap, I concluded that this Aggie team was different. This team is one of those unique teams that will go down in Aggie lore as special; ranking right up there with the 1967 Cotton Bowl team and the 1998 Big 12 Champions. This team has personality, led by inspiring playmakers on offense and defense. This team will be remembered as the team that brought the late SWC era swagger back to Aggieland. I fell in love with this team in Oxford, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see them play against the ranked Louisiana Tech Bulldogs in Shreveport.
I check for tickets and see that there are plenty of good seats available. Not bad on the wallet either, only $50 for some good seats. My sister and her family live in Shreveport, the guest bedroom is available and I get to see my 1 year old nephew as a bonus. My girl is down to join me and being an LSU grad, was eager to learn about A&M football. Even better, the game is set for a late 8:15 kickoff, so I can wake up, watch the early SEC game and Red River Shootout, and then make the four hour drive in the afternoon with plenty of time to spare for tailgating.
We decide to leave Baton Rouge around 2:00. My girl spends the morning shopping for a cute dress to wear for the game, while my roommate, an Ole Miss alum (boy was that awkward last week), and I sit down to watch the Ole Miss/Auburn game, cutting back occasionally to the Texas/OU slaughter. Of course I also have the laptop out to post on Good Bull Hunting and Every Day Should Be Saturday while sipping on a tasty bloody Mary. A great start to the day.
Everything is coming up Milhouse so far. Ole Miss is playing great, Texas is a dumpster fire, and even better… I HAVE SCORED FREE TICKETS! One of my fraternity brothers who lives in Shreveport has two extra corporate seats on the 50 yard line. I was in his wedding, and I’m excited to get to see him again (not to mention, I’m instantly $100 richer). My sister is also going to the game with my brother in law, who is a La Tech grad. They are in the next section over.
And we’re off! We leave a little later than planned, because women be shoppin’, but we still have plenty of time to spare. ETA is 6:30ish. We’re supposed to meet my friend outside Gate 4 ten minutes or so before kickoff.
Uh oh. We’ve hit a standstill on the Atchafalya Basin bridge. Traffic is not moving and we’re stranded. My girl is a former news reporter so she calls the station in Lafayette to attempt to discover what is going on. Apparently an 18 wheeler has burst into flames a few miles ahead. I keep a careful eye on the clock. We’re about 3 hours and 15 minutes away. If I can make Lafayette by 4:30 ish, I’m confident I can make it by 7:45 or so. But that’s cutting it really close. We finally emerge on the other side of the accident around 4:15. My girl asks is we should turn around and head back. The iPhone says its 230 miles and the ETA is 7:54. As a nod to Jerry Reed in Smokey and The Bandit, I tell her "Hold on to your ass, Fred" and slam the accelerator to the floor. It’s time to make I-49 burn.
We hit Alexandria after an hour and a half with the cruise set on 90. The iPhone now says ETA of 7:30. That’s good, but I want better. We press onward into the rapidly approaching darkness.
Welcome to Shreveport! Take that iPhone map prognosticator! We stop at Raisin’ Canes for some quick grub and reconfirm with my friend about meeting up. However, we now hit our second hiccup, pre-game traffic. It takes us 30 minutes to get to the stadium. There is no parking so we eventually pay $10 to park a half mile away. This is what Bruce Wayne’s parents must have felt like when they left that opera. The girl is terrified. I think of Cameron leaving his father’s Porsche in the parking garage in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
We’ve entered the stadium grounds. Mass chaos. Even though kickoff is in ten or so minutes, the lines stretch around the stadium. The will-call line is stretched out into the parking lot (thank God I didn’t go that route). We walk all the way around the stadium in search of the mythical gate 4. Cell phone service is gone. I begin to get antsy. After ten more minutes of looking for my friend we finally spot him around 8:15, and we enter the stadium to the sounds of kickoff and "GIG EM’, AGGIES!" For a man armed with a half assed plan and that hit several speed bumps, I think I’ve done allright.
As we are making our way to the seats, I catch a glimpse of Christine Michael’s 40 yard TD romp. EXCELLENT! I couldn’t think of a better start. When we get to our seats, I see my friend has decided to surprise me as another long lost friend is sitting with us too. I was also in his wedding and this is just another unexpected boon to what is shaping up to be a marvelous day.
Things are going outstanding! We score again and again, running up a 27-0 first quarter lead. Independence Stadium serves beer, which really was quite reasonable at only $6 a bottle, so the revelry has begun in earnest. Life stories and memories are being exchanged at a frantic rate, as the game has become one of those delightful experiences where you can enjoy how well your team is playing without any fear of losing the game. I’m relaying all the Aggie lore I can to my girl. She is fascinated by the yell leaders. "No girl cheerleaders?" She has her eyes peeled for a glimpse of Reveille. She is delighted to learn about our post scoring traditions.
As we enter the second quarter, the glee continues. The Bulldogs have a very NFLAIDS announcer and they pipe in chiming bells and music before every third down when they are on defense. Of course, it’s stupid and doesn’t work…except for us. All of our big play seem to come on 3rd Down. So our rowdy section dubs this "FIRST DOWN MUSIC" and breaks out into dancing every time it plays. Our enthusiasm is contagious. Twenty thousand Aggie fans are just going bonkers.
A sketchy pass interference call gives the Bulldogs new life, and they score their first touchdown with 5 minutes or so left in the half. We’re agitated, but who could really be mad with how things have gone so far? Then, Johnny Football strikes! Manziel throws a perfect pass to Mike Evans on a fly route for an instant touchdown. DELIRIUM. What had been a just an enjoyable game has now become one of those "in your face" games where you show the nation that your team will not be toyed with. I feel like the Ivan Drago standing over Apollo Creed. Sure, the Bulldogs can box, but the Aggies are a machine, and if La Tech dies, they die.
I think at the time that the Evans TD should be the knockout blow. But that’s not what happens. Stubbornly, the Bulldogs drive down the field with alarming efficiency. They score again, and the hairs begin rising on the back of my neck. I’m an admitted sufferer of B.A.S. (Battered Aggie Syndrome for the uninitiated) and I notice that we’re only 3 touchdowns ahead. However, just as I begin to fret, Demontre Moore bursts through and blocks the PAT which is returned for 2 points by Dustin Harris (take note NFL, this is the correct rule).
After an exchange of field goals, we reach halftime. It seems like an eternity has passed. The Sumlin/Dykes show is not for the faint of heart. Despite the fabulous first half, I still notice that we are only up by 23 points. My buddy notices this and is worried also. We ask ourselves aloud, "Why are we worried? WE'RE UP BY 23 points!" But we do acknowledge that our fear stems from the Aggies past meltdowns and experience has taught us that no lead is safe.
I’m excited that the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band has made the trip. You can’t really introduce someone to Aggie Football without having them see the band. They put on their classical show, finishing with the traditional "Block T". My girl is genuinely impressed with their routine. I pop open another beer.
The Second Half
The Bulldogs refuse to go gently into this good night. They take the kickoff and pick up right where they left off, moving the ball methodically down the field to score another touchdown, pulling within two scores. We’ve noticed what Ranger222 would point out later in his breakdown. Tech is employing their "Big Bone" package with ruthless efficiency. They are running to the right nearly every play, away from D’Montre Moore and flowing away from Jonathan Stewart. It really is painful to watch your defense struggle to stop something everyone knows is coming.
Still, the Ags continue to swagger and Coach Sumlin is not taking his foot off the gas. This is the real difference between Coach Sumlin and his predecessors: he takes nothing for granted. Johnny takes the Aggies down the field again. However this time, as Christine Michael is pounding the ball into the end zone, he apparently fumbles. It’s time for the The Penn Wagers Show! Those of us who know SEC football are afraid of Penn Wagers and his band of merry men. He is an agent of chaos. The line judge has clearly marked Michael as down and the whistle was clearly blown. However, for some unbeknownst reason, we go to review. The "review" lasts forever before the officials conclude what was obvious to everyone in the stadium. After a sigh of relief, more Sumlin/Manziel magic as Johnny goes naked on the bootleg and streaks into the endzone. The crowd goes wild as we are now back up by 23 points and seemingly safe.
But it only "seems" that way. After forcing an apparent 4th and long, the A&M second half curse strikes as Dustin Harris and Gavin Stansbury are called for personal fouls after the play. I AM LIVID. I don’t think Stansbury played again the rest of the game, but the real issue is Dustin Harris. Dustin Harris can’t be normal. He either does something incredibly awesome or does something really terrible; and this time its terrible. The refs give Tech 30 yards. Colby Cameron is playing the game of his life and throws for another touchdown to Quentin Patton, who is also having a monster game, just like GBH predicted he might. The crowd knows that now, as David Caruso might say: "it looks like A&M and La Tech are in….(puts on sunglasses)….a dogfight.
The Harris/Stansbury penalties have changed the game. As I look around, I realize that I’m with the exact same group of friends that I watched the 2000 OU game with at Kyle. Now I’m really scared, and it continues to just get worse. Our defense cannot stop the now invigorated Bulldogs. THEY BELIEVE. In a fight, the worst thing you can do is let the underdog think he has a chance to actually win. The "Big Bone" continues to own us, along with timely and ruthlessly efficient passing. Everything is going La Tech’s way. A perfect example comes on a third down when Jonathan Stewart breaks up a pass, which then magically bounces to another La Tech receiver. A long touchdown run where we just refuse to tackle happens on the next play, and La Tech has pulled within 8 points.
Then the thinkable happens. Johnny throws a pick 6. It’s the first turnover of the night and its just brutal. Shakeil Lucas runs the pick into the La Tech student section and the Bulldog fans and their announcer go pure apeshit. Thankfully, they fail on the 2 point attempt, but in reality it feels as if we are just bleeding to death. Just like all those games of yesteryear. Shades of OU 2000, Texas Tech 2002, the 1997 Cotton Bowl, and countless others are racing through my brain.
But still, Sumlin and Johnny are not shaken. The team doesn’t panic. No frantic changes in strategy, no taking your foot off the gas. To my outrage though, we refuse to run the ball. Christine has been forgotten, likely back in Sumlin’s doghouse. But Johnny is throwing the ball well and isn’t rattled. Mr. Football is also Mr. Cool. More Manziel magic concludes with a perfect throw to Thomas Johnson for a touchdown and just like that, we’re back up by two scores.
And now, finally, the defense steps up huge. Moore makes a huge sack, forcing a 3rd and long, and Sean Porter follows with a big stop. The Aggie crowd is amazed when Coach Dykes decides to punt, but hey, we’ll take it! Of course, the punt is epic, and just misses the aforementioned now hated Dustin Harris by inches before settling on the one.
Now what do we do? General football theory is to run three straight running plays into the line and run the clock, but that’s not Coach Swagger’s style. Nope, Manziel fires a perfect strike to Mike Evans, moving the Aggies out past the 30 yard line and a first down. "The game is over!", my buddy exclaims to my horror. Practically he's right, all we need to do now is just run a few more plays to eat the remaining two minutes and maybe punt with just a few seconds left. La Tech shouldn't have time for two scores, but still I feel like my buddy just called out fate.
And as a superstitious man would expect, here is where things go absolutely crazy. Sumlin, the mad scientist he is, calls for an option play. Johnny executes it perfectly holding the ball just long enough to make a flawless pitch to Ben Malena who flies up the sideline, aided by a monster block, for the game sealing TD. BUT…..holding? Whah? The crowd is murderous now. Key penalties and reviews have helped keep the Bulldogs in this game, and now this? Ok, lets just run another play, punt, and get out of here! Shreveport is crazy! I was here at the 2000 Independence Bowl when we blew a 14 point lead in the 4th quarter and lost in the snow. Nothing goes according to plan here. I just want to go home!
But not Johnny. Johnny doesn’t want to go home. Johnny wants blood. He’s pissed at the refs. He’s pissed he threw a pick 6. He’s pissed that this is even a ballgame. So what does he do? He takes the ball 72 yards to the house on the very next play. I can’t even describe the scene. I’m shouting at the top of my lungs "SHOVE THAT SHIT UP YOUR ASS REFS! SHOVE IT! SHOVE IT!" My girl is palpably relieved, she saw how I was after the Texas game. Now she can have a peaceful night with me smiling instead of growling.
But now things get even weirder. We don’t even notice the missed extra point until after our defense goes full "Ole!" mode and Patton scampers 62 yards for ANOTHER touchdown. What’s this? How are they within 8 now? I consult my ESPN Scorecenter app which says we have 60 points and the PAT was good. (Note: the scoreboard operator has been terrible all night. He didn’t give La Tech credit for their 1st half ending field goal until after halftime). Still uncertain, we consult other fans around us: nope, it was no good. OH MY GOD ITS 2002 TEXAS TECH ALL OVER AGAIN. Defeat is being snatched from the jaws of victory.
Now its time for the onside kick. Just catch the ball please! Please! Please! Nope. Your prayers are unanswered, and fuck you Garth Brooks, this is not a gift. After another interminable Penn Wagers review Tech is granted possession. Now we know what is about to happen. My feelings can best be described as that scene in the Matrix where Cypher is about to kill Switch who says simply, "Not like this…..not like this." I know die hard fans are watching this late game. I know the EDSBS commentariat are saying that the game has gone FULL HAM. My friend, the would be prophet, is now pale and aghast and just looks at me briefly before mumbling, "I just can’t watch this. It’s over." He leaves. I don’t see him again.
I don’t leave. I paid for this horror show and I’m going to get the true death. Sure enough, Tech marches right down and scores, on a blown coverage by our exhausted defense. Time for the 2 point conversion. I’m just exhausted. I can’t handle overtime and I know the team can’t. But…the pass is incomplete! Is there a flag? No flag? No flag! Holy hell, are we going to win?
Just catch the onside kick! Please! The battered Aggie in me sees an evil plan emerging. This is what La Tech wants! They want the ball again so they can kick a field goal and win! There will be no overtime! There is no mercy in Sonny Dykes dojo! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
Thank you Ben Malena. Thank you for catching that kick. Thank you for choosing to make a play and not be stymied by fear. Thank you.
It’s past 1 o’clock now as we begin to stagger out of the stadium. We take pics of the scene. My girl and I’s first A&M game. I still can’t believe what I just saw, but right now I’m just hoping we don’t get murdered as we make our way back to the car.
We make it to my sister’s house around 2 a.m. The girl crashes but I stay up until 4 a.m. struggling to come to grips with what happened.
In summation, it was epic. It was a lifetime in 5 hours. The experience encompassed the entire scope of human emotion: Love, excitement, elation, pride, uncertainty, fear, tragedy, and finally redemption. But we should never go to Shreveport to play again, ever. The Independence Bowl is a vortex of college football crazy. It knows no normal.