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Defining moments

A&M rolls over No. 1 Alabama in 29-24 win

Published: Monday, November 12, 2012

Updated: Monday, November 12, 2012 00:11

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Spencer Nealy stood near the circle of referees after the penalty flag that would seal the A&M win, and he heard what he needed to hear. His fist went to the sky. The Aggie sideline lost its collective mind. The Aggie War Hymn sounded. SEC chants echoed.

I won’t dwell on the implications of this win — for the program, for Manziel, for Sumlin, for Alabama, for the BCS National Championship, for the Heisman trophy. I’d rather point out the beauty of that Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

Football is a game of moments, and A&M won all the moments it needed and one or two extra. To beat the best team in the nation — and Alabama was and still is the nation’s best team, even if they weren’t Saturday — you have to be lucky and you have to want it. The win can be condensed in two plays, one lucky and one not.

Ryan Swope played a man’s game. His only touchdown was the easiest of his 11 grabs and it encapsulated the kind of day it was for the Aggie fans. Manziel — who won the Heisman Saturday even if he doesn’t hold the trophy in New York — fumbled on the 10-yard line. It should have been a turnover, but he caught his own fumble off the back of a lineman and wheeled around the edge to find Swope for an easy one.

A friend of mine demanded we buy lottery tickets after the game (we learned, of course, that gambling isn’t legal in Alabama.) With the kind of luck we were having, he reasoned, it would be a crime to waste it. Every Aggie can see what he was talking about. It was that kind of day.

The other moment, the one that — from my point of view —showed the Aggies they might win the thing, was a four-yard gain. Four yards out of 418 on the day. Look closer, though, and those yards meant a whole lot more. On third-and-four, Manziel should have been sacked. I think even Scooby Football himself thought he was going down. Only he didn’t, and he found Mike Evans on the dump-off. Evans was wrapped up well short of the first-down marker and he should have been tackled, only he wasn’t. And he wrestled every necessary inch out of that play and the Aggies moved the chains for the first. They didn’t score on the drive, but the play mattered.

That was a play rooted in emotion. Evans and Manziel wanted it more than the Alabama defense and Alabama head coach Nick Saban knew it. He’s seen enough football in his day that I’d be willing to bet, if asked, that he saw something special from that play. I think he saw what kind of night he would be having from those four yards.

The Aggies won’t win the National Championship, but who would want to play them right now? Manziel won’t win the Heisman, but who would take Kansas State’s Collin Klein, USC’s Marquise Lee, or Oregon’s Kenjon Barner over him right now? No sane coach. They all missed once on Manziel. They wouldn’t miss a second time.

It would be a disservice not to end with a word on Alabama as an institution and as a community, because it’s unmatched. Of all the interactions I had with Alabama fans and other media personnel — and I’d say I had roughly 40 or 50 of them — every single one was positive. I’ve never felt more welcomed by a group of strangers. They gave credit where it was due, they lost with maturity and they retained the perfect level of
school spirit.

“You guys deserved this one,” they said. “Welcome to the SEC. We’re glad to have you here.”

We came home to a note on the door of the family of Alabama graduates we stayed with. “The door is locked,” it read. “Enjoy the car.” It wasn’t locked, though, and breakfast and food for the road were waiting when we woke up. Unrivaled hospitality everywhere we looked.

When they come to town next year, Aggies, treat them with class. Pull out the stops, because they did that and more for us. In the interim, remember this game for the moments. The madness on Twitter or the beautiful mockery we made of the BCS rankings, Swope taking a pop and coming up screaming or Manziel putting the ball on a dime for Malcome Kennedy in the end zone.

When the players walked into the post-game press conference, the icy white uniforms were stained pink and green from the Gatorade-slinging in the locker room. Heisman voters and rankings pundits can’t take that away from Manziel and the team he leads.

But I’d love to see them try.


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