clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Texas A&M in film: Scott Glenn in "The River"

Joe Wade was a hard man. And the man he looked up to most was former Texas A&M coach Emory Bellard.


The thing about Joe Wade was that he wasn’t a bad guy. Not inside. He’d come up in the valley too. His family had had to choose in the end, just like he was asking these farmers to. But that’s exactly why they resented him: he was a local face to an outside menace. The big man here to squash the small-timers, even though he was just trying to hold the whole place together.


He felt for the farmers, he really did. He’d grown up here on his father’s homestead. He admired the way of life: deeply-rooted in the land, noble, yet completely beholden the whims of nature and the raging torrents of the river and the modern economy. There was a way out, he knew, and he was the only one in this valley to give it to them. But it was going to take some sacrifice. There would be homes lost, lives uprooted. There would also be jobs waiting with new lives on the other side.

This valley never should have been farmed. The river here was too narrow; too wild. Anytime there was sustained rain over the course of a couple years the river completely reshaped its channel. But it was all the farmers here had: the last parcels of land to be doled out for resettlement two generations before in the New Deal. This year was the fourth straight bad harvest and there was no end in sight, and never any indication that nature would let up.


Hydroelectricity. It was a menacing word on the surface: full of foreboding futuristic uncertainty. But at its core it was simple: harness the wild and unpredictable power that had wreaked havoc on this valley for generations, and turn it into something everyone needs to thrive.

Progress requires two things: wealth and vision. And Joe was the only one around here who had both in plenty. He also had the added advantage of growing up in the valley. These were his neighbors and family friends. If anyone should be able to convince them to take this plunge was him. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, but he never knew it would be near-impossible.


Sitting in his large empty office, the rain outside emphasizing the lonely silence inside. The scale model of the hydro plant his only company. His thoughts turned as gray as the thunderheads stifling the treeline beneath his window. It was all so plain for him to see, yet impossible to convey: an old way of life for a new one. But also the chasm between the old and the new. He’d bridged it, so why was it nearly impossible to convince these folks to do the same? Time was running out. He needed numbers. He needed a win. He stared down at the raindrops pattering in the roiling mud and it took him back. Back ten years to another muddy field out west, watching his Razorbacks get trampled and stained by the unstoppable wishbone formation of Emory Bellard’s Aggies.

Wade had been transfixed. He’d heard of the offense when he was in high school and it came to prominence at Texas. Raw power and speed and misdirections, defensive players bumping into each other as multiple backs plowed over them. And when he was offered a baseball scholarship to Arkansas among several other schools closer to home, the chance to see it live in person was too good to pass up. He’d volunteer to help drive the bus along with a couple other varsity lettermen from other sports and they’d slog all the way down to College Station every other year. And slog back worse for wear.

What impressed him most wasn’t that it was complex, or even original: it had probably been done here and there before, and it was a simple shift. Move the big fullback closer to the line of scrimmage to minimize the distance he had to go. What impressed him was that it was so damn effective, and the Bellard was the master at exploiting every single wrinkle imaginable associated with it. Shade your defensive end over? We’ll hit you with a trap. Bring a safety up for run support? We’ll hit the tight end on a quick seam for eleven yards. He knew the offense inside and out, how to adjust an alignment slightly here or sub in certain personnel just there. It was his finely tuned machine and he could coax the utmost performance out of it every single time he put it on the field.

And that’s how Joe saw himself: master of this valley. He knew how to maximize its vast resource, but shifting those moving parts around to make it work was proving more difficult than he’d ever imagined. He wanted to be able to exact that kind of performance out of a vast array of components. What would Emory do? How would he re-draw this plan? Should he call him? There wasn't anyone else he could talk to who would understand.


A few years ago he had been down in Starkville, watching his cousin play baseball. And right down there on the third base line had sat Coach Bellard, then the head man for the Bulldogs. After a few minutes’ internal debate, he’d gone down and introduced himself. Said he’d played baseball in Fayetteville and had watched his Aggies in '72 and '74. It was a cordial conversation of mutual respect, but he was guarded when Joe skirted the issue of the wishbone. He’d worked in a couple of oblique questions into the inner workings of the offense that Bellard had deflected readily and defensively. He was guarding his world fiercely. In the end, they’d exchanged contacts and parted amicably. His next trip to Houston, Joe bought himself a Texas A&M cap to help himself remember his meeting of the man.

But no, Joe didn’t think he’d call him after all. This was his collection of barriers to sort out: he’d have to find the proper alignment and personnel all by himself. It was out of his hands to change the whims of the farmers, just like it was out of their hands to hold back the force of the river. He just had to stand ready as the torrent ate away at farm after farm until they finally decided they'd had enough. Then he'd be ready to help the rest of them move and build the dam.

Erosion is the simplest of concepts: apply constant and unyielding pressure over and over. Discover a weak point and apply it there. Wait for collapse. No one could stop it, and it is the most profound case of patience being absolutely worthless as a defensive asset.


The River was inevitable and larger than any one valley full of farms. But that didn't make it evil. Eventually it would alter its course yet again, leaving this valley fertile and save, and then eventually dry altogether when it snakes away further. Emory Bellard finally left Texas A&M to the collective relief of all his foes. Everything changes course, you've just got to change with it.

"Sooner or later, there's gonna be too much rain."