A&M and Oklahoma parallels hard to ignore after Aggies' Cotton Bowl rout of Sooners
Published: Sunday, January 6, 2013
Updated: Sunday, January 6, 2013 21:01
Remember this score well, Aggies, because its symbolism is undeniable. If there was a better way to end A&M’s storybook season, I would be hard-pressed to conceive it.
The Aggies drubbed the Oklahoma Sooners into submission Friday night. Johnny Manziel shut down any and all criticism regarding his claim to the Heisman Trophy by slashing through the Sooners’ defense in any form he saw fit. The defense bent but did not break in the first half before smashing the will of quarterback Landry Jones and Oklahoma offense in the second.
A&M left no doubt who possessed the better team.
The matchup between the Sooners and Aggies provided all the storylines one would want in a thrilling finale. It was SEC versus Big 12; pupil versus mentor; rising power versus established dominance. More importantly, it was a thrashing of a program and coaching staff that once used a decisive victory over A&M as a springboard to prominence – a “here we are” statement to the nation.
If history is any indication, A&M’s future is unquestionably bright. I speak of Oklahoma’s own rise to prominence.
For years, not unlike the Aggies, the Sooners struggled through an extended period of mediocrity until the perfect match made its way to Norman. Oklahoma kissed its fair share of frogs before the Crimson and Cream prince, known more commonly as head coach Bob Stoops, took the program’s reins in 1999. The proud tradition of Oklahoma football endured 11 years without a double-digit win season including three straight losing seasons from 1996-1998.
Enough was enough.
On October 23, 1999, things changed dramatically for Oklahoma football. No. 13 A&M was rolling into town – a team fresh off a Big 12 championship-winning season, BCS bowl appearance and a pre-season top-10 ranking. The Aggies were an established power and had been for over a decade. A&M’s head coach, R.C. Slocum, was greeted in the tunnel by awestruck Oklahoma assistants hoping to meet the architect of the famed “Wrecking Crew” defenses. As OU’s then-offensive coordinator Mike Leach would later write in his book Swing Your Sword, the Oklahoma assistants had to shake Slocum’s hand “because, hey, that was R.C. Slocum.”
The Sooners’ assistants weren’t fazed. Oklahoma proceeded to wreck the “Wrecking Crew” 51-6. OU garnered the respect of the nation despite a 7-5 final record while the Aggies fell to a disappointing 9-3 after high pre-season expectations.
Since OU’s crushing victory, the two programs split in entirely opposite directions. Oklahoma, under the guidance of Stoops and quarterback Josh Heupel, would win the national title the next season and never look back. A&M, meanwhile, spiraled into an era of miserable mediocrity.
No program in A&M’s period of lackluster football since the turn of the 21st century would give the Aggies more on-field headaches than Oklahoma. The Sooners, just as they had in ’99, showed no mercy. Stoops whipped A&M, racking up an 11-2 record against the Aggies while A&M was still a member of the Big 12. In select seasons, OU would win by margins of 28, 38, 55 and, yes, 77.
In a flash of irony, one of those two Oklahoma losses – a 30-26 A&M victory at Kyle Field in Slocum’s final season – would have striking similarity to the Aggies’ most recent triumph. A&M would win with a freshman quarterback, Reggie McNeal, and an up-and-coming offensive coordinator, current A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin. Upon Slocum’s firing at the end of the year, Stoops would snatch the promising coach for himself. It would not be a stretch to say Sumlin learned a thing or two about head coaching while manning his post as an Oklahoma assistant from 2003-2007.
Come 2011, the Aggies were backed up against a wall. A&M hadn’t had double-digit victories in a season since 1998 and were desperate for change. The program had too much potential to continue along its current route.
Enough was enough. The Aggies decided to take a gamble. They would join the most prestigious conference in the country, the SEC. They would hire a well-liked offensive coach with little experience in the SEC, Sumlin. They would hope that an inexperienced but physically gifted freshman quarterback could grow fast enough to keep A&M competitive in the toughest conference in the country.
The gamble paid off.
A&M would usurp the SEC’s program-of-programs, No. 1 Alabama, on its own turf to no one’s expectation. Sumlin would win 11 games in his first season in Aggieland despite a swarm of doubters insisting the Aggies would only fall on their faces. Manziel – capturing and mesmerizing the eyes of the nation – would become the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy, the most prestigious individual award in college football.
11 double-digit win seasons, eight conference championships and one national title later, the Sooners were ready for just another game with a familiar foe. Oklahoma was established and ready to prove it was still the toast of the region.
The Aggies were not intimidated or rattled. These weren’t the same ol’ Texas Aggies Oklahoma had become accustomed to beating in the Big 12. A&M rolled the Sooners, thus setting down the path Oklahoma had treaded 13 years prior.
Needless to say, to steal a phrase from the legendary Bob Stoops himself, the A&M football program had only one word for the elite threshold of college football after a remarkable 2012 season on the sport’s biggest stage.