I’ve never seen more joy in a college quarterback than Johnny Manziel following Saturday’s game versus Mississippi State. All questions about his future aside, it was a moving moment. Certainly many of us felt the warmth as we observed a group of kids and their team’s quarterback singing a school song with everything they had.
Far from all of our minds was the upcoming matchup in Baton Rouge that will have drums beating and hearts fluttering. The Undefeated Manziel Rock ‘n Roll Road Tour storms into Death Valley for possibly its one and only appearance in history.
I once led an unranked A&M team to an upset victory over No. 7 LSU in one of the biggest games in A&M football history. This next game for the Aggies means the world to me.
I was a Louisiana All-State QB at the age of 16, started for the Aggies at 17 and walked into Tiger Stadium at 18 – roundly booed and generally despised for switching to A&M after first signing with LSU. It was ugly from the start, yet so beautiful when it was over.
After the win, we jumped into the top 10 for the first time since Bear Bryant was A&M’s coach, sold out Kyle Field the following Monday for the remainder of the season and never played again in a stadium that wasn’t packed. We would find ourselves ranked in the top five during portions of our next four seasons, and plans were laid to enlarge the stadium by almost 50% — from a capacity of 48K to 70K. All this was a result of one game in 1974. It was as signature as signature gets.
But as players, the university’s warm afterglow of growth that followed for decades will never compare to that one night of hard-nosed, unrelenting man-on-man football under the lights, before an unmatchable, deafening roar. We were both heavyweights in every aspect of the game, and it was decided in our favor late, 21-14. We had three backs carry for over 100 yards each, combining for the most rushing yards gained against the Tigers in LSU history. It was a classic.
Now here we are almost 40 years later, and I realize I haven’t been back inside Tiger Stadium since that gorgeous, raucous night with my teammates in 1974.
My only wish is for Johnny Manziel to play in the real LSU atmosphere before he leaves college football. Of all the college venues I’ve played in around the country, there is simply nothing that compares to a night game at Tiger Stadium. And there’s nothing like winning there, either.
There may be only one other stadium as daunting, and of course that one sits in Tuscaloosa. The Tide has won 38 of 41 there, with one of the three losses to Texas A&M. Still, the LSU Tigers are 29-1 in the home of Mike the Tiger, with their only loss coming last season when Alabama’s two-minute offense scrambled the Crimson Tide to an unbelievable win.
Alabama – that’s it in 30 games. All others who’ve tried have wilted.
For Johnny, sunshine or night, just winning inside Death Valley will be “signature” enough, and almost as much fun.