You know what you do, don't you, when a Texas Aggie throws a hand grenade? Sure. You pull out the pin and throw it back. This is the kind of thing that circulates around Texas—Aggie jokes, as opposed to Polish jokes in Chicago, Italian jokes in New York and Samoan jokes in Honolulu. Of course, the Aggies don't think they are any funnier than the Poles, the Italians and the Samoans do, but because A&M is a military-oriented school stuck off in a part of the state that nobody likes to drive through and because there is not much for Aggies to do in College Station except try to remember what girls look like, they were foredoomed to hear a lot of jokes about themselves.
Last year, with a joke of a football team that even the Aggies had a hard time believing, A&M almost made Texans stop laughing when it won the Southwest Conference championship and then upset Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. Virtually that same team is back for Coach Gene Stallings this season, and it is so talented that it might not have to rely on the wild plays that somehow carried it through 1967.
A&M is the kind of place best described by an Aggie, so listen now to a young man named Billy Hobbs, who started out unhappy in College Station and became an All-America linebacker last season: "There is just nothing to do, and my first year I didn't think I would be able to stand it. But it slowly gets to you. Here's what happens. We lost our first four games, and we had been picked high. So we're big flops. But the night before the Texas Tech game, when we're 0 and 4, the students hold a pep rally in the pouring rain. They kept it up for an hour. An hour in the rain for a losing team! You respond to that. You find a love, a special feeling, for the place."
Hobbs's love, and that of several other Aggies, was helped along the following day when Quarterback Edd Hargett ran 15 yards for a touchdown on the last play of the game to get A&M its first victory.
Once the Aggies discovered they could make the big play, they kept it up. Hobbs intercepted a pass and ran 100 yards for a score against TCU. Hargett threw an 80-yard pass to Flanker Bob Long to whip Texas. And before anyone knew it, A&M had won its first championship (with a 6-4 record, of all things) in 10 years, or since young Stallings himself was a player for his old tutor, Bear Bryant.
All the wonder makers are back. They include Hobbs and Hargett, whom Arkansas' Frank Broyles calls "one of the two best quarterbacks in the nation, along with Terry Hanratty." This may seem like high praise for a quarterback who is slightly under six feet and sometimes hobbles around on a bad knee. But he has proved that he has more than a strong, accurate arm. Cool, ever cool, he is a fine thinker, surprising runner and a young leader who has the rare good sense to keep foisting off the credit on others. "The defense will win for us this year," he says. "They'll keep giving us the ball at midfield." Indeed, Hargett has drawn raves from almost every coach who has seen him. Says Bo Hagan of Rice: "He made the big play for them all year. The great impromptu play. Time after time he would go back on third-and-long and we would have him boxed in and yet he'd make the play. He beat us."
Also back from '67 are Halfback Larry Stegent, Tackle Rolf Krueger and Bob Long—a fascinating athlete who is an All-SWC baseball centerfielder, plays par golf and caught eight scoring passes for the football team last season—and Safety Tommy Maxwell. In all, seven offensive starters and 10 defensive regulars return. In short, it is a loaded team, but one with something else that many teams don't have—confidence.
Texas' Darrell Royal was talking about this aspect of the Aggies recently. "They're like we used to be," he said. "You make those big plays and you start winning, and so you get to thinking you're good, whether you really are or not. You know you're gonna win a football game even when you're behind. They did it last year, and now they have a lot of folks back and nobody is going to beat them easily."
Stallings agrees that he has a few players of extraordinary quality, but he worries about what will happen if any of them gets hurt. There is no depth at A&M, he claims. There is only one Hargett, one Long, one Hobbs, one Stegent, and so on, as he lists the players who were mainly responsible for his shocking 20-16 upset over Alabama on New Year's Day, giving A&M a victory streak of seven in a row.
"We can be an improved team," says Stallings. "And if we're not, I'll be disappointed. If we're a great team, it will be because the quarterback has a great year and doesn't throw many interceptions."
Hargett shouldn't do that (he had seven passes intercepted last year), largely because he will have Long, Stegent and, at times, Tommy Maxwell, out there catching. Maxwell, an All-Southwest safety, occasionally comes in to add his speed and hands to the offense at split end. "I have him on defense because I happen to need a safety worse than I need a receiver," says Stallings. Hargett prefers throwing to Long. "He doesn't run patterns," says the quarterback. "I just look for an open spot and throw because that's where he'll be."
On defense it is not so easy to tell where Billy Hobbs is. He is everywhere, literally, fighting off teammates like 240-pound Rolf Krueger to make tackles. Hobbs not only covers sideline to sideline against running plays, he intercepts passes, seven of them last season when the Aggies stole opposition throws 27 times.
A&M will have the most proved defense in the Southwest as well as the surest offense if everyone stays well, and Stallings knows he will need both when he looks at a schedule that includes not only Texas but LSU and Florida State, all away from home.
Success seems to come in spurts at A&M. Back in 1939 John Kimbrough started the Aggies on a three-year stretch in which they won 29 games and lost only three. After a drought of 14 years, John David Crow arrived and led A&M to three years of prosperity. Now, 11 years after that, the Aggies are winning again. It is like the big sign in Gene Stallings' office says: MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN.
A&M already has. If the Aggies keep it up another year, the only guys making jokes will be the Aggies.