Texas A&M honored its 12 who died in a bonfire construction
accident by upsetting sympathetic Texas
To his elders' ears, Texas A&M linebacker Brian Gamble's
comments were stunning. At 20, Gamble isn't supposed to have
figured out that, as he said last Friday after the Aggies upset
Texas 20-16, "Life is a precious thing. One day it's going to
slip out from under you, and you're not going to be here." But
after eight days marked by tears and funerals for the 11 A&M
students and one alumnus who died in the Nov. 18 bonfire
construction site collapse, wisdom came out of the mouths of
babes--even those who can bench-press refrigerators.
The deaths changed the nature of the Aggies-Longhorns rivalry,
perhaps for years to come. "Frankly, it's because [the Longhorns]
reached out to us," Texas A&M president Ray Bowen said as he
walked across Kyle Field after the game. "We were suffering from
our own grief, looking inward. They came to us in a way no one
could have expected. We love them for doing that."
A blood drive was held in the Longhorn athletic facilities to
replenish blood reserves in College Station, and the Texas bell
tower, which stands out against the Austin skyline, was darkened
in memory of the dead. Before two weeks ago you would have
sooner heard Mambo No. 5 on the carillon in the tower than the
Aggie War Hymn. Texas played the latter during a Unity Gathering
that replaced the Longhorns' annual Hex Rally on Nov. 22. The
Aggies responded at Yell Practice the night before the game by
excising "Beat the hell out of TU" from their cheers. (Aggies
say "TU" to indicate that the University of Texas isn't the
university of Texas.) Yell Practice, attended by some 60,000
Aggies fans, followed a candlelight vigil at the bonfire site.
"I was glad the jerks on both sides didn't have their say this
week," A&M coach R.C. Slocum said after the game. Actually, at
least one of them did. Texas coach Mack Brown received a call at
the Ramada Inn in College Station at 4 a.m. on Friday. The
caller said, "Respect? We'll show you respect. We'll kick your
Meanwhile, Longhorns sophomore quarterback Major Applewhite was
battling a stomach virus that kept him up all Thursday night. He
took two liters of fluid intravenously but didn't feel up to
playing until the fourth quarter. Freshman Chris Simms did a
credible job as Applewhite's replacement, helping Texas take a
16-6 lead deep into the third quarter. But the Longhorns gained
only 89 yards of total offense in the second half, and on
defense they were worn down trying to stop 260-pound tailback
Ja'Mar Toombs. After 110 carries in A&M's first 10 games, Toombs
had 37 carries for 126 yards and two touchdowns on Friday.
Under his game jersey Texas A&M left guard Chris Valletta wore a
ragged, sleeveless T-shirt on which he had printed the names of
the 12 victims in two rows. Beneath the names he had drawn a
cross and a reference to a Bible passage, Proverbs 3: 5-6. His
sweat made the ink run. "We thought of them every play,"
In the hours after the tragedy former A&M athletic director John
David Crow had spoken to Brown on the phone. Crow, whose only
son was killed in a traffic accident in 1994, said to Brown,
"You tell your kids, 'Don't ever hang up the phone from somebody
dear to you without telling them you love them, because it may
be the last time you talk to them.'" When Brown tried to relay
that story at the Touchdown Club of Houston luncheon on Nov. 24,
he glanced over at Crow and began to cry.
Nebraska's Close Call
CORNHUSKERS WIN AND LOSE
So much for Nebraska's displacing Virginia Tech from the No. 2
spot in the BCS rankings. Following a 33-30 overtime victory
over Colorado, which even the Cornhuskers admitted they were
fortunate to pull out, Nebraska, which had trailed the Hokies by
.63 in the BCS rankings, fell to 1.54 behind. That gave Tech a
virtually insurmountable lead, no matter what the Huskers do in
Saturday's Big 12 title game against Texas.
"We needed to win impressively," said Nebraska rover Mike Brown.
"I don't think this looks very impressive. Do you?" Nope. The
Cornhuskers squandered a 24-point lead in the fourth quarter and
had all but conceded the game as the Buffaloes' Jeremy Aldrich
lined up to attempt a 34-yard field goal with the score tied at
27-27 and only one second left. "Man, it really looked bleak,"
said Nebraska junior I-back Dan Alexander, who rushed for 180
yards and three touchdowns but mishandled a pitch that set up
Colorado's final drive with 1:43 to play. "I thought, Hey, this
game is over, and it's all my fault. It was kind of depressing."
Aldrich's kick sailed right, and his 33-yarder in overtime
didn't atone for the miss, because the Huskers answered with a
one-yard touchdown run by quarterback Eric Crouch. Even in the
locker room afterward, they didn't celebrate much. How could
they? They'd won the game, but they'd lost a chance to make up
ground and possibly squeeze into the national championship game.
Coaches in North Carolina
A GAME OF INCHES
On the night of Nov. 11, with 88 seconds left in the game between
North Carolina and North Carolina State, Tar Heels cornerback
Errol Hood stopped Wolfpack wide receiver Chris Coleman at North
Carolina's one-yard line on fourth down to preserve a 10-6 Tar
Heels upset victory. When the game ended, North Carolina coach
Carl Torbush embraced his friend and rival, N.C. State coach
Mike O'Cain, at midfield. Torbush, who had brought a 1-8 team
into the game, was fighting for his job. The Wolfpack fell to
6-5 but could still have qualified for a bowl game.
One of those coaches got fired last week, but it wasn't Torbush.
O'Cain, whose Wolfpack fell--along with its hope for a
postseason berth--to East Carolina 23-6 on Nov. 20, lost his job
after compiling a mediocre 41-40 record in seven seasons.
Go back to Nov. 11. If Hood hadn't made that game-saving tackle,
Torbush wouldn't have kept his job, and O'Cain would be taking
North Carolina State to a bowl. Every play counts, indeed.
Oklahoma State's Stumble
COWBOYS' LOST OPPORTUNITY
Oklahoma State's 44-7 loss to Oklahoma flips the pressure in that
state onto Cowboys coach Bob Simmons. The Sooners stunk the three
seasons before this one, yet the Cowboys didn't raise their level
of play and seize the recruiting advantage. In fact, after going
to a bowl two years ago, Oklahoma State has had consecutive 5-6
For complete scores and stats, plus more news from Ivan Maisel,
go to cnnsi.com/football/college.
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL The inspired Aggies' defense held Texas to 89 yards in the second half.
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Nebraska kept Mike Moschetti on the run, but his three TD passes nearly did in the Huskers.
--Alabama (9-2) vs. Florida (9-2)
The Crimson Tide used its 40-39 upset of the Gators on Oct. 2 as
a springboard to this SEC title game: Alabama went on to win the
SEC West with a 7-1 conference record. The key matchup this
time, as it was in October, will be All-America left tackle
Chris Samuels of 'Bama against defensive end Alex Brown of SEC
East champion Florida. Behind Samuels, tailback Shaun Alexander
ran for 106 yards and three touchdowns in the Swamp. The Gators'
offense struggled late in the season and won't get well in
Atlanta. Send the Tide to the Orange Bowl for the first time in
--Army (3-7) vs. Navy (4-7)
Their records are similar. The teams are not. For most of the
season the young Middies played just well enough to lose: They
suffered six defeats by a touchdown or less. Navy lost at Notre
Dame in the last minute and had a chance to tie in the final
seconds at Hawaii. All that character-building will pay off in
the centennial meeting with the struggling Cadets. Middies
quarterback Brian Madden will be one of the top players to watch
next season. Get a sneak preview on Saturday.
--Nebraska (10-1) vs. Texas (9-3)
The Big 12 North-champion Cornhuskers are 43-7 since the
formation of the conference in 1996, but they've gone 0-3
against the Longhorns, who won this year's Big 12 South crown.
In Texas's 24-20 victory on Oct. 23, Longhorns quarterback Major
Applewhite proved that the Cornhuskers' pass defense, ranked
third in the country, could be had, throwing for 213 yards and
two touchdowns. Colorado quarterback Mike Moschetti proved it
again last week during Nebraska's fourth-quarter collapse in
Boulder. There are probably reasons to think that the fourth
time against Texas will be the charm for the Cornhuskers in this
Big 12 championship game, but none come to mind. Texas will head
to the Fiesta Bowl, Nebraska to the Cotton.