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IT WAS AN UGLY DAY,
JOHN ED BRADLEY
August 16, 2004
exactly as forecast. A steady mist was falling; the air was cold. The thing about football is, nobody worth a damn ever ran out on the field believing he couldn?t win.
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August 16, 2004

It Was An Ugly Day,

exactly as forecast. A steady mist was falling; the air was cold. The thing about football is, nobody worth a damn ever ran out on the field believing he couldn?t win.

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Among Franchione?s players that day was redshirt freshman John Ray, whom the coach had selected as the team?s 12th Man. As such Ray, who was on the kickoff coverage team, wore jersey number 12 and represented the student body on the field. It was the realization of a dream for the reserve strong safety from Giddings, Texas. Ray comes from a family of A&M alumni, and he had attended ?every home game since I was a baby,? he says. ?My mom tells the story that when I was little, she was at a game against LSU, and all the Tigers fans around us were pointing at me--this tiny kid!--and saying ?Tiger bait, Tiger bait.??

Several small colleges recruited Ray when he was a high school senior, but he turned them down because he wanted to attend A&M. ?Being the 12th Man is kind of ... well, it?s humbling,? Ray continues. ?It almost didn?t seem real, because all my life I saw things about the 12th Man everywhere I looked. You?d see 12th Man Magazine, for instance, and all of a sudden you?re like, ?I?m the 12th Man,? and you?re that guy down on the field that everybody?s looking at.?

Ray participated in only one play against Oklahoma: the kickoff that opened the second half. Because the Aggies didn?t score in the game, it was the only time their kickoff team got on the field. Ray lined up on the far right side, second from the end, and avoided a block as he sprinted downfield and trailed the action. The Sooners? Jejuan Rankins received the kick on his own 10yard line and returned it to the A&M 41. Ray was more than a little relieved that Rankins didn?t score. ?It was embarrassing,? he says of the game. ?You come back home, and everyone?s like, ?What are you all doing? You?re not even trying.??

Ray prefers to remember something else about the Oklahoma game. At one point he turned and glimpsed the other 12th Man, the student cheering section, still standing in the stadium, there to the end no matter the score. ?That?s the great thing about A&M,? says Ray. ?The 12th Man will never boo. It will never say anything bad against the team. And they stay up on their feet no matter what. If you?re winning or losing, it doesn?t matter. They?re behind us always. It was cold and raining, and we were getting killed. There they were.?

It was an ugly day, even for those who stayed home and watched the game on television. In the town of Burnet, Texas, some 60 miles northwest of Austin, a 6'3", 210-pound high school senior named Stephen McGee watched the massacre for as long as he could stomach it, which happened to be about halfway into the second quarter. He turned off the set and went outside. Back in April, McGee, one of the state?s top recruits, had committed to sign with A&M, choosing the Aggies over Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma and USC. It had been a difficult decision for the young quarterback, perhaps the toughest of his life. When the pressure was at its worst, McGee had trouble sleeping at night. As a boy he?d been a devoted fan of the Longhorns, but he could?ve been happy at several universities. He prayed for an answer and received one: Georgia or A&M. He prayed more, and finally it was only the Aggies. ?I felt like A&M is where God wanted me to be,? he says, ?and so I came.?

McGee had his family?s support, but his choice wasn?t popular with many of his friends and schoolmates, most of whom wanted him to play for Texas. On the Monday after the Oklahoma game McGee got an earful when he showed up at school. ?They?d throw out comments like, ?Hey, that was a good game you played,? or, ?That was a close one this weekend,?? he says. ?It was tough to hear, but I just smiled and said, ?Sometimes it?s hard to see the future. You don?t have to believe in us now, but one day we?ll remember what you said.??

McGee took the loss personally, feeling pain even though he wasn?t yet a member of the A&M football team. The Aggies? humiliation was big news in the state, but McGee says he never wished he?d chosen a different school. ?I was already there, even if I wasn?t there,? he says. ?Whether it was 77?0 or 7?0, I knew a hundred percent in my heart that I was going to the right place, and no one was going to talk me out of it.?

Back in College Station, Kim Franchione also watched the game at home on TV. Sometime in the second quarter, when it began to make her feel sick, she went into the kitchen and started cooking, which is what she usually does when she needs a distraction. ?I just felt for all the coaches and for the kids,? she says.

She and Dennis had been married nearly 27 years, and she?d lived through her share of disappointing games as he built his career. Dennis took the hard road as a coach, beginning humbly at high schools in Missouri and Kansas before graduating to the college ranks and working at two little-known Kansas schools, Southwestern College and Pittsburg State. Over 11 years, in four major college head coaching jobs-- New Mexico, TCU, Alabama and A&M--he established a reputation as a master at turning around troubled programs.

Kim had invited guests over to watch the Oklahoma game with her, and a few wives of Dennis?s assistants had shown up, though none stayed long. Kim had plans for later in the evening, but she canceled them when she realized the magnitude of what was happening in Norman. As a rule she greeted Dennis at the door when he returned home after a game. Win or lose, she made a point of being there. ?Sometimes after a loss I don?t know what to say to him,? she says. ?I usually just say how proud I am of him. I tell him it makes me feel good to be his wife, knowing the kind of person he is and the way he handles things.?

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