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Home | Sports | College / NCAA |

Pardon the Swagger: A New Spirit in Aggieland


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Welcome to the Lockr Room. The youngest student-athlete to ever play quarterback for a major college football team, former Texas A&M star David ‘Moon’ Walker, provides his weekly insights on the Aggies and the SEC.

Follow David on Twitter: @davidmoonwalker and @12thManQb.

Lockr Room Legends Q&A: David “Moon” Walker, 12th Man QB

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For the first time in a generation, not a soul in Aggieland is turning their lonely eyes to Jackie Sherrill, or, for that matter, even to R.C. Slocum. While these are certainly the two heavy-weights of our day, we now find ourselves with someone in the cockpit as nervy and slick as any of the the ultra-conservatives at A&M could’ve ever imagined. Change did Happen — and for the best.

That’s some prowess bold there, brother. Top Gun.

Hey, we’re talking football here. It’s taken 35 years to transition from a no frills, full-house Wishbone offense (shh … three things happen when you pass) to the “Spread” offense peppered with occasional “No-Back” sets. This is tasty stuff, although for some old-timers, this latest craze equates to, dare I say, jet-black uniforms. While the decision-makers (fantasy GM legends in their own minds) were looking down their noses at the Run and Shoot and the Fun ‘n Gun and all the Shotguns out there, time was passing us by. While we were staying with the Old School Option (disguised by Fran with a two-back set) while ditching defense (‘Okay, you line up here’), Texas was winning a national championship in the “InVincible” formations with a former A&M assistant calling all their plays.

With all due respect to these two fine gentlemen and the other head coaches whom A&M has given equal positions of authority, I’ve got to call “Jackpot” or “Bingo” or “Whoop” or something extraordinary here in this case. Don’t you? Maybe running out into the streets and screaming at the top of our lungs might do it.

Johnny Manziel prior to his record breaking performance against Oklahoma (Image courtesy David Walker)

I mean, can winning the lottery be any more exciting than this football season was? Okay, this may be stretching it a tad — but it is a darned good feeling.

More records fell than most folks could count but the one nearest and dearest to my heart was the one I’ve been fretting with you about all season from my Gamedayr perch. Other than the 20 points George Woodard scored in the ’76 season’s Sun Bowl — still an all-time bowl record for A&M — only one other offensive record from our era in the ’70s still stood. It was mine; the 35-year old single game rushing record for an Aggies quarterback.

This story wasn’t deemed a ‘story’ by A&M or the other media outlets, so this will be its only publication, just for grins.

With barely less than 12 minutes remaining in the Cotton Bowl, Johnny Heisman already had 176 yards rushing. Yes, I was keeping track in a scorebook for posterity. Wouldn’t you have been? I was tweeting the countdown to my Twitter followers, most of whom were hungry for obliteration. Okay, I get that.

When they announced that Johnny held the all-time record for one half’s rushing yardage for all the quarterbacks in Cotton Bowl history, I had a hunch he was definitely on pace to kicking my butt as well. You see, I spent 11 years of my life teaching children the intricacies of Algebra.  I knew it would depend on what kind of kick I had at the finish and I was preparing myself for the challenge. This is Johnny ‘Football’ Manziel we’re talking about here — the Sugar Ray Leonard of college football who I had to get ready to stave off!

Sometime in the second quarter, when I suddenly felt it slipping away, I calculated his progress and tweeted that he was on a 260-yard pace. It’s hard to turn that kind of locomotive around when it’s coming at you at full tilt – and who wanted to? Oklahoma? You’ve got to touch him to tackle him, hombres.

My record of 182 yards was now nothing more than a sitting duck waiting for its inevitable fate. Road kill, but still upright. This Stun Gun offense of ours didn’t need no stinkin’ Zone Read! It just needed “Sweet Feet” back there playing flag football with a few of the intramural boys over there on defense.

Then right on cue on a second down play, Johnny Manziel skipped off on a beautiful 16-yard run to eclipse the summit I’d finally reached after playing 40 games of hard-hitting, smash-mouth, Wishbone triple-option football. He blew by my little peon record by a full 10 yards on this scamper, and as former Aggie referee Red Cashion used to say so eloquently in the NFL, “First Dooooown.” The play call? It was what we called “18 Option” in high school which we ran once a game like A&M does. It’s the lead option, in this case to the right. Beaten by the option — How fitting.

A record breaking 16-yard gain by Johnny Manziel (Image courtesy David Walker)

I slumped further into my seat. Sure, I’d given the three and was winning my sixth bowl game in a row in my office pool, but I was somehow feeling nauseous. At 57 years of age and on the outside looking in, there may not be a whole lot more records out there left for me to achieve. I mean, I’m no marathon runner.

Think about this for a minute. The option game of Franchione’s was long gone (and so was Stephen McGee) and I knew Sherman wasn’t going to run his quarterback helter-skelter from his multiple B.S. Pro sets that he was so enamored with, so when Coach Sumlin was hired, I was home free, right? He certainly wasn’t going to run any OPTION! I watched them at Houston! Throw, throw, handoff, throw, touchdown! Yes! This record of mine would live until Judgment Day came along!

And it barely lasted through the sixth game of the season in Shreveport.

Johnny wasn’t yet done, though, not on this night, pounding the other troops in Jerry’s House as though one day he’d own it, too. He kept piling it on; a 5-yarder here, a 31-yarder there, smiling from ear to ear, and I sat tweeting and Facebooking about what a marvelous game the Aggies had just played. For the record, Johnny Heisman rushed for an emphatic 229 yards against the vaunted Oklahoma Sooners, winners of eight of the last nine against the Ags and pre-game favorites in at least ten straight.

Happy? Ecstatic? Would it be ungracious of me to use the term “tempered excitement?’ I mean, this wasn’t Alabama where I jumped out of my chair on that goal line stand, or breathing a deep sigh of relief when Johnny took a knee at La. Tech with 181 yards to his name. No, somehow I had to be bigger than this.

I figured when all the writers called to ask how it felt to lose my record in such magnificent fashion, I’d say all the right things, like, “This really sucks. We didn’t need to be running Johnny with that big lead. How come he never slides or runs out of bounds? And by the way, why does he always tuck the ball away in his left arm when he takes off? How come nobody’s asked him that yet? Can you tell me?”

“I’ll be okay. Now, can you excuse me?” See? This is how you handle the Press when inquired about delicate situations.

Yeah, I’d be okay. I texted my daughter and said, “He’s done it. I’ve left the building.” She replied, “But Dad, it took a Heisman guy to break that record, and after 35 years at that. That’s a heck of a lot of games.” She had me there.

The congratulatory handshakes between Bob Stoops and Kevin Sumlin (Image courtesy David Walker)

But wait, this was Texas A&M and Oklahoma. These two teams, along with Alabama and Texas, ruled the Wishbone world for a decade or so, even longer at Oklahoma. I thought about what long-time OU coach Barry Switzer must have been thinking. “This kid has over 200 yards and he’s not even in my Wishbone? Heck, did I have a single quarterback ever break 200 yards in my Wishbone? What’s going on here? They’re not even running the loaded option. Man, if I’d only had Johnny Manziel in my Wishbone.”

As one of the few true triple option guys who ran the Wishbone, I was wondering the same things myself. Johnny’s runs all look like so much fun. Ours resembled coming out from behind a bunker with lead flying everywhere, barely escaping through walls of barbed wire before a grenade went off in your head. Johnny dances from one end zone to the next as smoothly as a hot-shot cutting through San Francisco traffic on roller blades. It looks so graceful and effortless, and sometimes kind of impossible.

These are two different teams and two different eras. Right, Coach Switzer?

One more quick point and we’ll get back to the future. It’s been noted that this is the first time since the 1939 and 1940 teams that the Ags have won two consecutive bowl games. What I find a little more mind-blowing is that this is only the seventh time the Ags have won their last GAME two years in a row since ‘39 and ‘40. That’s right. What is that, seven for 72? Crazy.

We repeated in ’50 and ’51, took 27 years off and then started racking them up season after season. We were on our way.

Surprisingly, there was only one Texas A&M coach who never lost a season finale between 1951 and now, besides Kevin Sumlin, of course. He was my offensive coordinator and the guy who stepped in when Bellard said “Adios” to Wishbone haters everywhere – Tom Wilson. Coach Wilson had back-to-back season-ending victories on all three of his opportunities, from 1978 to 1981 (going 4-0 overall), before being blindsided with Jackie Sherrill’s sudden million dollar arrival. “You can just sit tight out there in Midland, Coach. Jackie won’t need our plane back for a couple of weeks. Hey, you’re the greatest; thanks for everything. Way to finish.”

What’s troubling is that since Tom’s last season here in 1981, we’ve accomplished this feat only three more times, including 2011-‘12. Before now it was 1994-’95 under R.C. and before that it was 1984-’85 under Jackie. That’s it! As I said; crazy.  This is also the only time since 1951 that two different head coaches have sealed the deal (Sherman and Sumlin now; somebody and somebody else, then).

Just like the torrential downpours we’re now having in the Valley, the drought certainly appears over for the Fightin’ Texas Aggies. Provided our two new starters on the offensive line fall into place and the Titan behind them stays healthy, 2013 will be the dream season some of us Old Bloods have been awaiting for years. Johnny has won the USA Today’s first-team All-Bowl quarterback spot and is the first unanimous choice for the Manning Award.  The fact that Jake Matthews is returning says a lot. He says we have a chance to do something very special. Our chances just got better.

The 12th Man Celebrates (Image courtesy David Walker)

What I find amazing is that Johnny had his fourth-worst game against Oklahoma from the ‘NCAA Passer Rating’ perspective, yet still found a way to rack up 516 total yards, breaking the Cotton Bowl record of 407. Obviously the “Passer Rating” does not a complete quarterback make, but given time and experience, Johnny has all the tools to be pushing the No. 1 guy, A.J. McCarron of Alabama.

Johnny finished the season ranked 15th in the country and 11th among returning underclassmen. Most had excellent bowl games, including McCarron, Aaron Murray of Georgia, Tajh Boyd of Clemson (the Coaches 1st Team All-American) and Conner Shaw of South Carolina.

Keep those legs movin’, Johnny. We don’t need a No. 1 guy in Passer Rating to be No. 1 in the country. Johnny’s attaining No. 1 in Total Offense in the country by almost 20 yards per game is very special. When has thathappened before at Texas A&M? My first guess is never. Thanks for the terrific offensive scheme, Coach Sumlin, and I doubt anyone ever says Johnny’s a “product of the system.”

Johnny also broke probably the oldest record on file, the single-season touchdown record of 19, which led the country at the time. It had been held by the original No. 8, Joel Hunt in 1927. Hunt’s record was later matched by Darren Lewis in 1990 and Jorvorskie Lane in 2006.

It was also Johnny’s seventh 100-yard rushing game, breaking Greg Hill’s freshman record of six in 1991. Manziel’s 229 rushing yards broke the NCAA bowl record for rushing yards by a QB. The old mark of 201 yards was set by Dwight Dasher of Middle Tennessee State in the 2009 New Orleans Bowl. I wonder if it was Mike Mosley’s 180 yards in the Bluebonnet Bowl that Dasher broke. It’s possible, but the sports information department is a little sluggish and I’ve got a deadline to keep.

The career receptions leader at Texas A&M, Ryan Swope, added the school record for career receiving yards to his long list of accomplishments. Swope’s 104 yards overcame Jeff Fuller’s old record of 3,092 yards. Swope finished his career with 252 catches for 3,117 yards. His 24 touchdowns were No. 2 in school history. He’ll be a tough player and personality to replace. We wish him all the best in the NFL. I think he’d be high on the list of the Patriots at this point.

Defensively, we were outstanding against Oklahoma, repeatedly holding them to field goals in the early going. Oklahoma became the first team to score in the first quarter since Ole Miss pulled the trick in game 5 of 2012. We had two games with miracle finishes; the Ole Miss game offensively and the Alabama game defensively. Hold that thought … and keep the white helmets on; they’ve proven unbeatable.

Coach Sumlin instructing his guys. (Image courtesy David Walker)

His was the only team in A&M history to have the grit, belief, confidence and determination to turn an 0-2 conference record into double-digit wins by running the table — besides my seventh-ranked 1976 team that won the Sun Bowl. In an earlier article I hoped for two things after beating Alabama; a Heisman for Johnny and a Top 5 finish for the Aggies for the first time since Bear Bryant’s 1956 team. We got both.

The Vegas boys have moved us from 8th to 5th after the bowl games in terms of winning the national championship next season. The only teams they deem have a better shot are Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State and LSU. LSU is losing a lot of underclassmen suddenly to the NFL draft. The odds may change yet again, and very soon.

Johnny is favored to win another Heisman. Some of the quarterbacks I mentioned will be right there with him. One thing I’m fairly certain of is that a defensive player will have hell getting into the Top 3 again for a long time. In the minds of the voters, as soon as someone starts gaining pundit awareness, he’ll get Te’o’d pretty quickly. Manti didn’t represent the nation’s defensive players very well in the BCS championship game, as we all noticed.

It looked like he was wearing Chanel No. 5, not his normal No. 5.

As long as Johnny doesn’t get Tebow’d himself, we’ll be alright. As you know, Tebow failed to win another Heisman after winning his first as a sophomore. Oh wait, we don’t want Johnny getting Clowney’d either. My God, did you see that back’s helmet fly?

Remember what catcher Gus Sinski told Billy Chappel (played by Kevin Costner) in the movie, “For Love of the Game?” “The boys are all here for ya, we’ll back you up, we’ll be there, cause Billy, we don’t stink right now. We’re the best team in baseball, right now, right this minute, because of you. You’re the reason. We’re not gonna screw that up. We’re gonna be awesome for you right now. Just throw.”

And run.

As the BCS title game was winding down, I had only one vision dancing in my head.

“Somewhere the Bear is smiling, marking September 14 at Kyle Field on his calendar, taking one more drag on his smoke, and one last shot of whiskey.”

The way the A.P. works and its penchant for setting up pivotal games for maximum interest, I predict Alabama will be ranked No. 1 and Texas A&M will be ranked No. 2 when the first pre-season polls are posted. Hey, it will be cool to be Number 2. It already is.

Later folks. Let’s Bring in the Ringers. Signing date’s only a month away.

 

The 12th Man Quarterback, still the author of “I’ll Tell You When You’re Good!”

It’s the Greatest College Football Story Ever Told

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