ARLINGTON, Texas — A euphoric group Texas A&M players had congregated in perfectly symmetrical lines in the corner of the end zone at JerryWorld. Arms locked, swaying, per tradition as the Aggie War Hymn played and The 12th Man sang in unison.
It was one of those amazing scenes you only get from college football. And it was at this moment quarterback Johnny Manziel executed his best run, sprinting from his postgame TV interview duties to join his teammates just at The Fighting Aggie Band had reached the “saw Varsity’s horns off, saw Varsity’s horns off” portion of the presentation.
For all of y’all not from Texas, “Varsity” is the University of Texas, and beating The Longhorns biggest rival in Oklahoma, 41-13, in this Cotton Bowl felt almost as good as taking a saw to Bevo. Especially because, afterward, Sooner Nation had to tip their caps and admit they had been Johnny Football-ed.
“He’s the best player I think I’ve ever played,” Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “He’s got magic in him. He’ll have a chance to win four of them Heismans if he stays healthy.”
For any of y’all who did not have a Manziel crush on Johnny Football before A&M’s Cotton Bowl W, welcome aboard.
A few quick things: This is not simply about his stats, although that is where most will focus. Yes, the redshirt freshman helped A&M to 7,000 yards this season, a first by an SEC team. Yes, in this win, he rushed for 229 yards and two TDS, and passed for another 287 yards and two more TDs. Yes, he had a huge role in beating Alabama and getting them to this game. Yes, he won the Heisman. These are just numbers and awards. The impact of Johnny Football, the real impact, is much bigger and much harder to quantify, especially if you are not from around here.
What Johnny Friggin’ Football did was justifiy The SECession of A&M from The Big 12 this season, provided a solid slap to this four-team playoff The BcS plans to unleash on us in a year, re-established Aggie dominance in the fight for football hearts and minds in Texas and even provided fair warning for Oregon coach Chip Kelly.
Can a single kid, a freshman at that, do all of this?
Yes he can. So you start with Johnny, you have to start with Johnny because he is the catalyst. A&M athletic director Eric Hyman tells a story about the first time he watched the Aggies practice. It was August. He had just taken the job, coming from South Carolina in the SEC.
So did he think A&M had what it took to compete in that league?
He looked at the defense and he thought about a Prozac prescription. Then he looked at the offense and thought “damn,” as in wow. He told Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin that he really liked this quarterback. It was at this point Sumlin told him that was the backup. He then pointed to the slightly smallish kid wearing No. 2 and said, “That is our starter.”
In the coming weeks and months, he came to appreciate the kid who played the game like a video game. What he did Friday, slaloming through the Sooner defenders and tip-toeing along the sideline, was very much what he did all year.
And by doing so, he pumped life into what has otherwise been an yawn-fest of a BCS bowl season. Anybody want to defend no playoff now?
We had a chance for an Oregon-A&M shootout in a playoff game with that winner possibly facing the winner of ‘Bama Notre Dame, or any of the delicious other possibilities that come with an eight-team playoff.
“We knew what the rules were before the season. You have your schedule. You play your games. You try to win ’em all. That’s the way college football is set up right now,” Sumlin said, artfully dodging if he wished for a playoff considering how well his team is playing. “That means every game you play is important.”
Well, every game except the last one.
“The way things are set up now, no, there’s no reason to ask (what if),” Sumlin said.
Instead we watched Oregon pound Kansas State and Louisville beat Florida and yet another beat-down of Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Can we just let them win one? So in a bowl season marred by mostly boring, inconsequential, noncompetitive games played in front of blackmailed fans and universities and empty seats, the Cotton Bowl was a bright shining star.
It was packed. It was electric. It was not competitive after halftime.
A quick word on Oklahoma and more specifically coach Bob Stoops: He got clowned. His short staccato answers afterward revealed his embarrassment that Big Game Bob has gone from a nickname to a punch line. And herein lies the lesson for Kelly and possibly ‘Bama coach Nick Saban as well.
Leave. Leave now.
Because Stoops used to be Kelly, a highly coveted college coach, mentioned for various NFL openings and this Dallas Cowboys job in particular. He stayed because Sooner Nation loved him.
What he has learned is love is fleeting, and absence not permanence fuels desire. And just like in all levels of football, you are only as good as your quarterback.
He also got Johnny Football-ed. We all did really.
Coming into this season, virtually nobody thought A&M was going to be competitive in its first season in the SEC. They were giggling from Tuscaloosa to Death Valley.
“You know when I went to SEC media days hearing all that negative talk about how they didn’t think we were going to be able to compete,” Aggie offensive lineman Luke Joeckel said. “Me and the other guys that came back went to the weight room, went to the field and told everybody and put a chip on the entire team’s shoulder to prove them all wrong.”
It was not just at SEC media days. Varsity was giggling, too.
The thought in Austin was they had screwed up in College Station. They were stepping into an arena in which they could not compete. They were destined to be No. 2 in Texas for a while.
Absolutely, the Aggie players, coaches, administrators and fans were thinking about this as they swayed in the corner of the end zone and “goodbye to Texas university, so long to the orange and white” just as the quarterback the ‘Horns passed on joined them.