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Original Issue

Yes, Sirr! Behind the heroics of hamstrung running back Sirr Parker and a substitute quarterback, never-say-die Texas A&M brought a crushing end to Kansas State's championship dream

Before the Big 12 championship game between Kansas State and
Texas A&M in St. Louis last Saturday, the senior season of
Aggies running back Sirr Parker had not turned out, as good ol'
boy coaches like to say, the way you'da drawn it up. Sixty-six
carries for 196 yards and one touchdown. Five receptions for 57
yards. The only thing that had drawn up was Parker's right
hamstring, early in the season, leaving him ineffective for much
of the rest of the year. Who would have guessed, then, that
Parker, with only one catch, for eight yards, in nearly four
quarters against K-State, would finish with a flurry, tying the
game in the final 65 seconds with a nine-yard touchdown
reception and a two-point conversion catch and then finding the
end zone on a 32-yard catch-and-run in the second overtime to
give the Aggies a stunning 36-33 victory over the previously
undefeated and second-ranked Wildcats.

"I've always dreamed of scoring the game-winning touchdown,"
Parker said afterward, but even he was surprised how the final
play unfolded. With Texas A&M trailing by three points and
facing third-and-17 on the Kansas State 32, Aggies coaches
ordered Parker to run a quick slant pattern, as if this were a
short-yardage situation. "The call came in the huddle, and we
all looked at each other like, Why run the quick slant?" Parker
said. "I figured we were trying to get a little closer for a
[tying] field goal." It never came to that. Parker, a six-foot,
195-pounder who has the fastest hand-timed 40-yard dash (4.24)
of any Texas A&M player ever, delivered much more. He slipped
past K-State cornerback Jerametrius Butler after catching
quarterback Branndon Stewart's pass at the 27-yard line and kept
free safety Lamar Chapman at bay long enough with a stiff arm to
race to the pylon.

Parker's dream-come-true touchdown put the Aggies in the Sugar
Bowl, where they will face Ohio State. Shell-shocked Kansas
State, meanwhile, not only fell out of a national title game
matchup against Tennessee but also suffered the indignity on
Sunday of being relegated to the Alamo Bowl, against Purdue,
after being passed over by the Sugar, Orange, Cotton and Holiday

"This may be, in their young lives, the most difficult thing
they've had to handle," Wildcats coach Bill Snyder said of his
players following the game, his words punctuated by the sniffling
of senior linebacker Jeff Kelly, who sat to Snyder's left. "The
pain that comes from this comes from having such an investment,
an emotional investment far greater than anyone can imagine."

"It almost seemed too good to be true," Wildcats wide receiver
Aaron Lockett said of the opportunity Kansas State squandered.
"Things like that happen to the elite few. We were hoping to be
in the elite few."

Perhaps someday they will be. Other first-rank programs have
found the road to national championships pockmarked by
embarrassing losses. Florida State endured Wide Right I and II
before winning the 1993 title. Nebraska suffered humiliations by
Miami and Florida State in the Orange Bowl before finishing No.
1 in three of the last four years. Florida lost 62-24 to the
Huskers in the '95 title game and then won it all the next year.
But, boy, Kansas State was close.

Midway through the second quarter, moments after quarterback
Michael Bishop had connected with Darnell McDonald on a 66-yard
touchdown pass to put Kansas State ahead 17-3, the public
address announcer had given the predominantly purple-clad
K-State crowd news it so desperately wanted to hear: "Ladies and
gentlemen, a final score: Miami 49, UCLA 45." Both the crowd and
the Wildcats bench erupted. K-State merely had to hold on to its
two-touchdown lead to reach the national championship game. "I
noticed what they did," Aggies linebacker Dat Nguyen said of the
Wildcats' reaction. "The thing that went through my mind was
that they still had to go through us. They had to finish the
game first."

A five-yard touchdown run by Bishop in the last minute of the
third quarter increased Kansas State's lead to 27-12. Texas A&M
coach R.C. Slocum responded by getting bolder. He told offensive
coordinator Steve Kragthorpe, "Just throw."

Stewart, a fifth-year senior who had gone 0 for 5 with an
interception in the first quarter, was having another
disappointing game in a career full of them. A native of
Stephenville, Texas, he had signed with Tennessee in 1994 and
got playing time as a freshman as did his better-known classmate
Peyton Manning. Once Manning became the starter, however, he
didn't come out for four years. Stewart transferred to A&M after
his freshman season and had an 18-10 record before Slocum
benched him at midseason in favor of junior Randy McCown. But
McCown suffered a hairline fracture of the collarbone in a loss
at Texas on Nov. 27 and was unable to play.

Stewart hadn't taken a snap in two games. Against K-State, the
more he played, the better he got. Time and again, he found
receivers going deep up the middle, and he narrowed the score to
27-19 on a 13-yard pass to wideout Leroy Hodge with 9:20 to go.
Stewart, who finished 15 of 31 for 324 yards, clearly outplayed
Bishop, a Heisman Trophy finalist, in the clutch. Indeed,
Bishop's difficulties holding on to the ball surfaced at a
crucial time. His second fumble against A&M occurred at the
Wildcats' 35 with 2:26 left. Aggies linebacker Cornelius Anthony
recovered the ball, and five plays later Parker tied the game
with his first touchdown and his conversion catch, his first
points since September.

Parker was a high school star in Los Angeles. He chose Texas A&M
over UCLA and Washington because he felt College Station would
offer fewer distractions than his home city or Seattle. As it
turned out, he ended up with a major distraction: a daughter,
Alashea, now just shy of three, who lived with Parker and three
other Aggies for much of his sophomore season. Father and
daughter both took away plenty from the experience: Sirr gained
maturity and Alashea learned from Dad's roommates how to gum the
meat off a barbecued rib.

Parker rushed for more than 1,800 yards in his first three
seasons--including 704 as a sleep-deprived sophomore--but after
pulling up lame this fall, he struggled. He sat out practices
trying to save himself for Saturdays, but that didn't do much
good because, he says, "I kept trying to come back too soon." His
hamstring finally mended after he sat out the Texas Tech game on
Oct. 24.

In Saturday's win Parker and Stewart both made up for the
disappointments of their senior seasons. Stewart even achieved a
goal that he had long since forgotten. "When I went to Tennessee,
I wanted to help the Vols win the national title," he said. "I
think we kind of did that."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY PETER READ MILLER MAKING HIS POINT Injury-plagued Parker showed his mettle with three scores and his second-quarter flash of attitude. [Sirr Parker in game with football]