One moment spoke for an entire afternoon. Texas A & M linebacker Aaron (the Quiet Avenger) Wallace, so nicknamed for his ferocious but gentlemanly play, had just blown past two Houston blockers and hit quarterback Andre Ware so hard (though oh, so cleanly) that Ware's helmet flew off. Happily, and no thanks to Wallace, the helmet was discovered to be empty once it had stopped rolling on the turf.
The fourth-quarter play—hereafter to be known in College Station as The Sack—squashed Houston's last real chance to score and sealed the Aggies' 17-13 upset victory over the previously undefeated Cougars, who had been ranked 12th by SI. The Sack occurred on a third-and-long at A & M's 37, and it caused Houston to punt, while also giving the Quiet Avenger cause for uncharacteristic celebration. To the frenzied delight of the crowd at the Aggies' Kyle Field, Wallace first held Ware's helmet aloft and then dropped it disdainfully to the playing surface. "Did I do that?" he asked afterward, cringing.
Ware, for his part, rose unsteadily and had to be helped to the sideline. For A & M, his wooziness was the day's final proof that Ware was, in fact, mortal. If the Aggies had come to suspect otherwise, who could blame them? Ware's air strikes had become the talk of the nation. While operating Houston's high-octane, run-and-shoot offense, the 6'2", 205-pound Ware had struck for 390 passing yards against UNLV and 503 against Arizona State and had thrown for seven TDs against Temple. On Oct. 7, Baylor—then the top-ranked team against the pass—was supposed to present the Cougars with their first true test. Some test. Ware led his team to four TDs in one quarter of a 66-10 rout.
Ware's test came a week later than expected. And as it turned out, he did have a relatively mediocre game in him; it just took A & M—and its high-risk defensive scheme—to get it out of him. Ware's numbers on Saturday (28 for 52, 247 yards, one TD) were nothing to be ashamed of. It was, however, most un-Ware-like. He was intercepted three times, sacked six times and harried all afternoon by a wonderful defense designed specifically to defuse the run-and-shoot.
With its profusion of gun rack-equipped pickups and Stetson-wearing Aggie boosters—not to mention A & M's 2,200-member ROTC cadet corps—College Station was an unlikely venue for what broke out Saturday: a veritable Haight-Ashbury of pigskin radicalism. As Houston coach Jack Pardee unleashed his four-wideout, no-tight-end, no-huddle offense, Aggie coach R.C. Slocum countered with a counterculture shtick of his own. He gave his beefy defensive tackles most of the day off and used a defense that stressed quickness. "Sure it's dangerous," Slocum had said Friday, referring to his unorthodox D. "It'll be like tossing a lit stick of dynamite back and forth. But it's our only hope against those guys."
A & M was desperate for other reasons too. It had been stunned 27-24 by Texas Tech on Oct. 7, and a second Southwest Conference defeat would probably knock the Aggies out of the Cotton Bowl picture.
"We don't need bowl games to motivate us," said Houston tackle Joey Banes before facing A & M. A good thing, too: The Cougars are on NCAA probation for some 250 rules violations committed between 1978 and '86; they won't be allowed to go bowling until 1991. "Personal pride motivates us," said Banes. "And, this week, good old-fashioned hatred."
Feelings aside, certain aspects of A & M football also represent what is wholesome about big-time college sports. Is there another Division I-A school that has anything like the Aggies' 12th Man, a collection of walk-ons who make up the kickoff team at home games? And where else do 40.000 students assemble in the stadium at midnight before home games and hold Yell Practice, during which the stadium lights are dimmed for an intermission so that the Aggies might kiss their dates?
The pre-Houston holler session featured a stirring oration by Slocum. "They don't huddle up, and their quarterback is planning to yell the plays out to those wide receivers," he told his listeners. "Something tells me that's not going to work." A thunderous din confirmed that. Emboldened by the crowd's enthusiasm, Slocum continued: "They think they're coming up here for a track meet, but we're going to introduce the run-and-shoot to the blitz-and-destroy!" Rousing cheers ensued. It was the highlight of the night—aside from the dimming of the lights.
It's tough not to root for a guy like Slocum—and not just because it would take thumbscrews to get such interesting and inflammatory quotes out of most other coaches. Seventeen years ago at A & M he waited for eight hours outside the office of Emory Bellard, the coach at that time, before Bellard agreed to talk to him. Once inside, Slocum talked himself into an assistant coach's job. When coach Jackie Sherrill resigned under fire after last season, university president William Mobley could have hunted around for a big-name coach. Instead, he offered the job to Slocum. As A & M's defensive coordinator from 1982 through last season, Slocum was responsible for the Aggies' trademark kamikaze-style defense.