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College Football
Ivan Maisel
December 06, 1999
Fitting Tribute Texas A&M honored its 12 who died in a bonfire construction accident by upsetting sympathetic Texas
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December 06, 1999

College Football

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Fitting Tribute
Texas A&M honored its 12 who died in a bonfire construction accident by upsetting sympathetic Texas

To his elders' ears, Texas A&M linebacker Brian Gamble's comments were stunning. At 20, Gamble isn't supposed to have figured out that, as he said last Friday after the Aggies upset Texas 20-16, "Life is a precious thing. One day it's going to slip out from under you, and you're not going to be here." But after eight days marked by tears and funerals for the 11 A&M students and one alumnus who died in the Nov. 18 bonfire construction site collapse, wisdom came out of the mouths of babes—even those who can bench-press refrigerators.

The deaths changed the nature of the Aggies-Longhorns rivalry, perhaps for years to come. "Frankly, it's because [the Longhorns] reached out to us," Texas A&M president Ray Bowen said as he walked across Kyle Field after the game. "We were suffering from our own grief, looking inward. They came to us in a way no one could have expected. We love them for doing that."

A blood drive was held in the Longhorn athletic facilities to replenish blood reserves in College Station, and the Texas bell tower, which stands out against the Austin skyline, was darkened in memory of the dead. Before two weeks ago you would have sooner heard Mambo No. 5 on the carillon in the tower than the Aggie War Hymn. Texas played the latter during a Unity Gathering that replaced the Longhorns' annual Hex Rally on Nov. 22. The Aggies responded at Yell Practice the night before the game by excising "Beat the hell out of TU" from their cheers. (Aggies say "TU" to indicate that the University of Texas isn't the university of Texas.) Yell Practice, attended by some 60,000 Aggies fans, followed a candlelight vigil at the bonfire site.

"I was glad the jerks on both sides didn't have their say this week," A&M coach R.C. Slocum said after the game. Actually, at least one of them did. Texas coach Mack Brown received a call at the Ramada Inn in College Station at 4 a.m. on Friday. The caller said, "Respect? We'll show you respect. We'll kick your f——- ass!"

Meanwhile, Longhorns sophomore quarterback Major Applewhite was battling a stomach virus that kept him up all Thursday night. He took two liters of fluid intravenously but didn't feel up to playing until the fourth quarter. Freshman Chris Simms did a credible job as Applewhite's replacement, helping Texas take a 16-6 lead deep into the third quarter. But the Longhorns gained only 89 yards of total offense in the second half, and on defense they were worn down trying to stop 260-pound tailback Ja'Mar Toombs. After 110 carries in A&M's first 10 games, Toombs had 37 carries for 126 yards and two touchdowns on Friday.

Under his game jersey Texas A&M left guard Chris Valletta wore a ragged, sleeveless T-shirt on which he had printed the names of the 12 victims in two rows. Beneath the names he had drawn a cross and a reference to a Bible passage, Proverbs 3: 5-6. His sweat made the ink run. "We thought of them every play," Valletta said.

In the hours after the tragedy former A&M athletic director John David Crow had spoken to Brown on the phone. Crow, whose only son was killed in a traffic accident in 1994, said to Brown, "You tell your kids, 'Don't ever hang up the phone from somebody dear to you without telling them you love them, because it may be the last time you talk to them.' " When Brown tried to relay that story at the Touchdown Club of Houston luncheon on Nov. 24, he glanced over at Crow and began to cry.

Nebraska's Close Call
Cornhuskers Win and Lose

So much for Nebraska's displacing Virginia Tech from the No. 2 spot in the BCS rankings. Following a 33-30 overtime victory over Colorado, which even the Cornhuskers admitted they were fortunate to pull out, Nebraska, which had trailed the Hokies by .63 in the BCS rankings, fell to 1.54 behind. That gave Tech a virtually insurmountable lead, no matter what the Huskers do in Saturday's Big 12 title game against Texas.

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