There comes a point in every summer when the staleness and frustrations of waiting for football season becomes so repetitive that you almost want to avoid any thoughts of the sport. Almost.
Media days are in the books, all-conference teams are out, and we're already hearing reheated discussions and it's not even August yet for another couple of weeks. Desperate for a reprieve, you find yourself watching golf on a Sunday and worse yet, you find yourself watching the Longhorn Network for exclusive coverage of one golfer. (It will get better eventually.)
And there's also the internet. It is unavoidably amplified during this vacuum of activity, but the trend lately seems to focus on who can be first, who can dish out the sharpest take, who can affect the most cynicism.
I am as guilty of it as anyone. I've found myself reacting to something in a game by hurrying to react on Twitter as quickly as possible instead of simply enjoying it (or agonizing over it) in the honest confines of my own space. It's why we watch: sports were meant for enjoyment, and college football is our standard because of its uniqueness and unpredictability in all facets.
Sometimes we need a reminder of the fun. I know I certainly do. I've found myself digging back into old highlights less and less often recently and I should remedy that in the next month and a half. In the meantime, here are some Aggie players who were not only great, but fun. They had that spark, and you knew they were just born to play football for the sole purpose of thrilling people like us.
I first heard about Dat when I was in high school. He was undersized, not-too-fast, and he was from a small town that wasn't in one of the major metro areas of Texas. He stood out. It was a big deal back then to start as a true freshman: recently we have done so with linebackers out of necessity, but in those days it had to be earned against plenty of worthy competition.
I got to Aggieland in time to see Dat play for his last couple of seasons, and watching him live was so much cooler than watching him on TV: he was really everywhere. Sideline to sideline, messing up routes, coming up from the bottom of endless piles, stuffing running backs, and pretty much everything else an inside linebacker is supposed to do. There used to exist somewhere on the Aggie Internet a grainy video file of Dat returning an onside kick for a touchdown in 1995 against Middle Tennessee State. To me, that has always summed up his MO: surprise everyone else on the field before they know what's happening.
This is another clip I love because he's got the presence of mind to lateral this ball. I think probably only he could have gotten away with this without the coaching staff getting upset.
This is obvious, but there's no way to not mention Johnny when discussing football players who were fun to watch. I was fortunate enough to see him play in his first and last ever games as an Aggie. (To me, Johnny will always be synonymous with the beginning of GBH as well.) His play was unconventional and brilliant; he was a riverboat gambler who would've surely been called out for cheating in the old west. He saw the field from about ten angles at once and could contort his body in ways that other quarterbacks only dream of.
I got to watch him play live five times over 2012-2013, but my favorite game was the meticulous second-half dissection of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.
"They're not booing, they're saying Toombs." In the early days of message boards and forums, this was a heavily mocked phrase in the Aggie digital world because every time there was a game at Kyle Field the announcers would invariably have to explain this several times. But it was true: Toombs was the first Aggie offensive player to electrify the crowd like that since Leeland McElroy in the SWC days and we embraced it.
Toombs did one thing and he did it as well as anyone before or since: he ran the dang ball. He did it by running over, through, and past defenders. He was so good because he was unstoppable. Obvious running downs were even more obvious back then, and RC was not too cute for his own good. Everyone knew he was going to get the ball, but they still couldn't do much about it.
My favorite Toombs play was in the 1998 Nebraska game. He had a long run and at one point he looked up at the Jumbotron, saw where the Cornhusker pursuer was, and adjusted his direction slightly to get more yards. That's one of the moments when I realized that college football is about fun.
This is my second-favorite Toombs play:
Probably the most misspelled Aggie name of all time, J-Train was a bright spot in an otherwise dark stretch of Aggie Football. He could hit people, and he could barrel over them, but he wasn't just a Toombs 2.0. He had the nimblest feet on a 270-pounder imaginable. He could dance and tiptoe when a defender least expected it just as they were bracing to get bulldozed like they had been the play before.
Lane was also a very good receiver out of the backfield. He had the ability to just get lost in the middle of the field like on the key 4th and 13 grab he made against Oklahoma State in 2006 on the game-tying drive late in the fourth. In 2007 I stood pouring sweat with everyone else and watched him score a touchdown with under two minutes left and two more in the overtimes to knock off a feisty Fresno State in the hottest game I've ever been to.
Later that season he did this. I was at the game with my cousin who was in high school at the time, and he turned to me and said "he can do that too?"
Brooks is kind of a personal favorite. He was somehow always around the ball. Brooks scored three touchdowns in his first two seasons: a fumble return, an interception return, and a blocked punt return. One of my best Kyle Field memories was beating Texas in 1999. When Brian Gamble recovered the fumble to seal the win, it was Brooks who had made the sack and forced the ball out.
When he got benched as a junior, "Big Play" Jay begged the coaches to get on the field in any way possible. They told him to block punts, so he did. In 2000 he blocked four of them, including a key play against #1 Oklahoma. He could block on punt returns, too. He played nickel, corner, and safety during his career depending on where he was needed.
When your very first college game is against #2 Florida State in the Kickoff Classic in East Rutherford, NJ and you score on defense, you're going to get a reputation as a playmaker. And he lived up to it.