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Johnny University

James Sullivan: A&M already has its figurehead - the 12th Man

Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 15:01


Josh McKenna


After just a single semester, public perception of A&M has been entirely redefined. Behind the efforts of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, the Aggies fought their way to an 11-2 inaugural record in the Southeastern Conference, silencing critics and transforming A&M’s national image.

None of the above has any grounds for debate, discussion or dispute.

For the first time in well over a decade, the state of Texas belongs to the Aggies — top recruits are doing more than just returning first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin’s phone calls, they’re finding excuses to visit campus. On a nationwide scale, Texas A&M’s relevance has skyrocketed beyond any and all expectations.

All this hype is due to the gridiron results of one man: Johnny Manziel. The Aggie quarterback sensation impressed voters enough last fall to earn himself a spot in history as the first freshman awarded college football’s most prestigious individual decoration.

From an outside viewpoint, Manziel owns all the characteristics necessary to stand as the “symbol” of this university. The young signal-caller has a proven edge — he’s confident without showing arrogance and creative while sticking to a game plan. He even has the catchiest of nicknames: “Johnny Football.”

It’s an extremely rare, not to mention effective, combination.

The practice of establishing a program figurehead has emerged as extremely common in college football. When one envisions Alabama, junior quarterback A.J. McCarron might come to mind first; the same can be said of Notre Dame and senior linebacker Manti Te’o or Ohio State and sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller.

For Texas A&M, however, neither Johnny Manziel —nor anyone else for that matter — should be granted the glorified position as the icon of the University. Unlike other powerhouse programs such as Alabama, Notre Dame and Ohio State — in addition to multiple others — A&M is unique, particularly when it comes to its highly involved fan base and independent football culture.

The basic ideals and core values that have stood for more than a century as the pillars of A&M’s foundation are highlighted by a single principle that consistently appears throughout the University’s history — unity.

The very essence of the 12th Man is grounded in the roots of the word. The student body at A&M even takes it one step further, boasting a distinctly unusual attribute in that they feel accountable for the actual success — or failure — of their team. Other home fields have no such sense of responsibility.

Granting a single individual such a high commendation as “figurehead” would not only serve to depreciate other Aggies’ value but would isolate Manziel from the very entity he plays for every Saturday.

During Manziel’s Heisman acceptance speech, the freshman phenom himself solidified the importance and presence of unity at A&M.

“I believe the 12th Man is one of the greatest traditions in all of college football,” Manziel said to the nation. “Forty thousand students standing not as fans, but as members of our team. To the 12th Man, Texas A&M, Kerrville and Aggies everywhere, this Heisman Trophy is for you.”

Launching the Manziel-figurehead monster is just purely un-A&M. Period.

The unwritten directives that have shaped the University since its inception oppose it. The entire idea steps outside the bounds that makes Texas A&M the proud institution it has evolved into over the past century plus.

Will Johnny Football continue to receive recognition, praise and all available support from the A&M faithful? Most certainly and without a doubt.

Should, however, the young star be placed upon a silver-lined pedestal solely because he can dominate a football field?

No, plain and simple.

As the Corps of Cadets says it, “Through unity, strength.”

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