Things have changed in Texas' Brazos Valley. The Brazos Trail is now known as Highway 6 and about the only livestock to be seen are chrome emblems on Mustangs. That old railroad depot-turned-into-a-town, College Station, has advanced culturally to the point where it has its very own strip of franchise restaurants and chain motels. And the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, home of the Aggies, once an all-male, all-military institution sometimes called "Sing Sing on the Brazos," is full of coeds and civilians, and the name is now Texas A&M University. The A&M part no longer stands for anything, perhaps left in there just to remind folks that in the not too distant past the campus was a curious blend of West Point, the Future Farmers of America and a seminary.
What apparently has not changed at Texas A&M is the spirit. Aggies still build a huge bonfire before the big game with Texas, and at midnight before home games they meet in Kyle Field, 10,000 or so strong, and have yell practice. Later, they form a "spirit" gauntlet from the jock dorm to the stadium for the players to walk through. They stand throughout every home game, calling themselves collectively "the 12th man." By tradition, they kiss their dates after every Aggie score. In short, as other Texans have known for years, Aggies are incurably square and just a little crazy.
To underline the latter, there was the sad summer when Reveille II, the A&M collie mascot, had to be put to sleep. His corpse was kept on ice until the entire student body returned that fall. Then he was given an open-casket funeral and buried next to his predecessor, Reveille I, outside the north end of the stadium. Presumably with full military honors.
What is different this season is that the Aggies have a football team that seems worthy of their tireless lungs and feet. Before last weekend the Aggies had beaten Clemson by 24 points, beaten LSU at Baton Rouge for only the second time in 15 years and knocked off Washington, Texas Tech (on regional TV), TCU and Baylor, losing only to Kansas. Last Saturday afternoon, as the Aggie War Hymn and the Spirit of Aggieland rang out over Kyle Field, A&M whipped the Arkansas Razorbacks 20-10 (six kisses worth), ran its record to 7-1 and improved its chances for the Southwest Conference championship, which Texas has won the last six years.
Normally, Texas A&M and Texas play on Thanksgiving, but this year, at the request of network television, the game will be live on the tube the day after—Friday, Nov. 29. Unless one of the teams is upset in the interim, a fair possibility in this nutty season, the game will decide the conference's representative in the Cotton Bowl. Unfortunately for the Aggies, it will be played in Austin. A&M has not won in Memorial Stadium since 1956 and has only two victories for all its 29 games in Austin.
That there is hope in Aggieland is largely to the credit of A&M's coach, quiet, pipe-puffing, Texas-born Emory Bellard. He was an outstanding high school coach in the state (139-34-3 at three schools, three state championships) before joining Darrell Royal's staff at Texas. He was there for five seasons and invented the Wishbone formation, although he did not personally dream up that name.
In 1972 Bellard took over as head man at A&M, where he continued to tinker with the X's and O's. In his original alignment, the halfbacks lined up a yard or so deeper than the fullback, thus creating the curved Wishbone look. Bellard now has moved his halfbacks up even with the fullback, as in the old straight-T formation, but spread them further out from the fullback than usual. He calls the formation the T-bone. Without delving into the coaching-clinic intricacies of it, he claims his halfbacks now block more effectively, get to the holes sooner and move out as receivers more quickly.
A&M football has made steady progress since Bellard's arrival. The Aggies suffered through a 3-8 record in 1972 but improved to 5-6 last year. This season they were ready to howl, inspiring, naturally, a bumper sticker: NO BRAG. JUST FACT. THE AGGIES ARE BACK.
They bashed Clemson in their home opener 24-0. It would have been more one-sided, and the rooting section would have turned into a passion pit, except for A&M mistakes. They traveled to Baton Rouge and beat LSU 21-14, after which LSU Coach Charlie McClendon said, "Their physical size moved us off the line. They had the size, the players and the experience. You might say they stuffed it at us, and they beat us at the line of scrimmage. In fact, they beat us on the line, on the corners, anywhere you want to look."
Next came a trip to Washington, whose head coach, Jim Owens, had once been an assistant at A&M. He did some reminiscing: "Can you imagine being surrounded by Texas in Austin, SMU in Dallas, TCU in Fort Worth, Rice in Houston—and being in College Station, a little bitty town at that time. The students all lived in barracks, everybody had to wear uniforms, there were no girls. Believe me when I tell you that was one tough sale!"