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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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Terrence Murphy, a junior receiver for Texas A&M, believed with utter certainty that the 4?5 Aggies were destined for the biggest upset in college football since they had defeated an unbeaten and No. 1? ranked Oklahoma team the year before, spoiling the Sooners? national title hopes. Murphy, who?d caught two touchdown passes in that game, was sure that history was going to repeat itself on this day, Saturday, Nov. 8, 2003. All week long, in practice and in meetings, players had vowed to shock the world with another upset of the Sooners. Their coaches, on the other hand, were experienced enough to avoid such grandiose predictions. They said instead that the Aggies would surprise some people, which is the most optimistic assessment of his chances that any coach with half a mind is ever likely to give.

Each day leading up to the game, the Aggies watched tape of the 9?0 Oklahoma team, whose offense averaged 45 points a game, the best in the nation, and whose defense looked as tough as any ever assembled. They saw a squad loaded with All-Americas on both sides of the ball--and with a quarterback, Jason White, who was a virtual lock to win the Heisman Trophy. Yet they came away from these sessions convinced that they could get the better of the Sooners.

Beat Oklahoma and the Aggies would improve their record to 5?5. Win the last two games of the year, against Big 12 opponents Missouri and Texas, and they?d be 7?5 and invited to a bowl game. Saturday?s game would be the biggest of the season. It would be the game people would look back on when they looked back on Dennis Franchione?s first year as coach of the Aggies.

?You coach college football, and you know there?s always a way to win,? says Franchione (pronounced Fran-CHO-nee), who?d left Alabama the previous December to take the A&M job. ?It doesn?t matter who you are and who you play--it happens. We?ve all seen it. We had an excellent week of practice. Our coaches devised a good game plan, and our players prepared well. During the pregame meal I looked around and saw their faces and thought we were ready. I believed we would win.?

Some 83,000 fans crowded into Oklahoma Memorial Stadium that day--including the A&M band and a large contingent of students from College Station who, as the collective body known as the 12th Man, were standing when the Sooners kicked off to start the game. From where he waited near the goal line, Murphy watched the ball sail past him for a touchback. A roar came up as the Aggies? offense and the Sooners? defense ran out for the first play from scrimmage, and the casual observer saw nothing more than the astute one: The players on the Oklahoma side of the ball looked little different from those on the A&M side.

In the huddle Murphy faced quarterback Reggie McNeal and got the call: 353X-Go. Rather than start modestly with a running play to see who won first licks up front, Franchione had called Murphy?s number. He was going deep.

Murphy listens to gospel music and movie sound tracks before each game, and fragments of an instrumental from The Lord of the Rings trilogy were still kicking around in his head. He trotted out wide to the right and lined up opposite Oklahoma cornerback Brodney Pool. Murphy looked left to watch McNeal call the signals, and on the snap he took a few hard strides up the field before pushing to his right and streaking past Pool. McNeal faked to the tailback crashing into the line, then turned and hardly looked for Murphy before letting the ball go.

Numbed halfway to sleep by too much preparation, players often start in low gear, and this seemed to be the case with Pool. Murphy was wide open. He glanced up and found McNeal?s pass floating toward him. But even in the dense fall weather the ball looked as though it had too much air under it. Murphy had been taught never to leave his feet and dive for a pass, so he resisted the impulse. He took an extra step and attempted to stride to the ball, shooting his hands out at the last instant. ?It might?ve barely touched one finger,? Murphy said, ?but if it had got in my hands, there?s no question I would?ve caught it.? The ball hit the turf and bounded away, and Murphy slid five or six yards on his back, clutching air.

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