A&M's Most Important Wins: No. 8-10

Aggie Websider's David Sandhop put together his list of the top 20 significant wins for Aggie football in the 1974-2012 era. In this third installment, Sandhop takes a look at games No. 8-10 and discusses the details and reasons for its importance to the historical landscape of Texas A&M football.

No. 10 Texas A&M 28 Nebraska 21, 1998 Kyle Field in College Station

I had a hard time with this game and where to place it. It was a big win at the time, but was it a worthy of a Top 10 ranking? After looking at the numbers, it was worthy. First, in all of the program's success in the 1980's and 1990's under Sherrill and Slocum, the Aggies never beat a Top 5 team. The highest-ranked teams Sherrill defeated were No. 9 Arkansas and No. 10 Washington. Ironically, Slocum's highest-ranked win to this point came in his first game as head coach in 1989 when he upset No. 7 LSU at Kyle Field where Larry Horton returned The Opening kickoff for a touchdown.

In fact, going to the record books, you have to go back to the 1956 season to find a top 5 win under Bear Bryant. On a personal note, that 1956 game against TCU (in what at the time was called the "Hurricane Game" because of the heavy winds and storms) is particularly significant to me. My parents had one of their first dates at Kyle Field for that game. Who knows, had the Aggies lost that day, I may not be here to shower you with this kind of unparalleled Internet entertainment.

By 1998, Slocum's lack of a signature wins was haunting his career and the program. Earlier in the SWC, the conference had become so weak that an undefeated conference record meant very little on the national scene, and the many disappointments against highly-ranked non-conference opponents was an anchor around the program.

So now in the Big 12 with Kyle Field stripped and under construction, A&M faced No. 2 Nebraska, still in its hay day under Tom Osborne and a dominant force the new league. One side note to this game. The Aggies begged Nebraska to switch home dates so they could have a stadium with full capacity to host the big game in 1999. In 1998, A&M played without the historic horseshoe before The Zone was completed which left Kyle Field at a smaller capacity. A&M officials were not thrilled at Nebraska's refusal. I'm not saying that development off the field had anything to do with what happened on the field, but it was a just karma I suppose.

The most memorable play had to be the Jamar Toombs run where he bulled his way into the open field on a long run and he was watching himself on the video board as Nebraska defenders finally drug him down inside the 5-yard line. Chris Taylor caught a long TD pass and Jason Glenn made a huge play in the end zone for a defensive score. But during the game, A&M fans were holding their breath because the Aggies had troubles closing out big games and this one was no exception. The Huskers battled back from a 28-7 deficit and came within a score at 28-21, and were driving in the middle of the field. But, Sedric Curry intercepted a Bobby Newcombe pass in A&M territory with 30 seconds remaining to seal the victory.

The win over the defending national champions ended the nation's longest winning streak. It also removed a huge monkey off the back of R.C. Slocum and the Texas A&M fans. The Aggies actually won a big game over a Top 5 opponent, and it wouldn't be the last one in 1998 either.

No. 9 Texas A&M 19/10 SMU/Ark 17/6, 1985 Kyle Field in College Station

I cheated a little bit on this one, but when I looked back on that groundbreaking 1985 season, these two games come together for me. Why? I see these two games as the ESPN games. Back in 1985, the all-sports network was about less than a decade old and still a little bit of a specialty cable channel. The network was in transition between small budget programming that included table tennis championships and Australian Rules Football, and a larger, more significant sports network that broadcast the major U.S. sporting events. Late at night during the week, you could still get your fix of U.S. table tennis champion Denny Doyle trading cut shots and overspin slams with the Korean champion, and then catch some decent college football games on the weekends.

Texas A&M and the SWC fit into that sweet spot for ESPN in 1985. ESPN couldn't compete with the major networks on the big national games, but they could get some good regional match-ups that produced modest ratings. Given that Texas A&M had been a sleeping giant for over a decade and the Longhorns were the natural choice for ABC, the Aggies were rarely selected for a national game with the exception of the A&M-Texas game a few years. So when A&M started winning a little in 1985 and then just happened to host two ranked teams in SMU(#19) and Arkansas(#9) in November, ESPN jumped on it. ESPN had already picked up the rights to the November 28 A&M-Texas game at Kyle Field.

So basically, for the entire month of November 1985, veteran broadcaster Jim Simpson and color commentator Paul Maguire camped out at Kyle Field and got to know Texas A&M football and the university's traditions very well. Thus, by the third broadcast, the 12th Man Kickoff Team received celebrity status from the ESPN crew. They would isolate guys like Jodie Mudd on kickoffs and would prominently feature the Aggie Band and other unique A&M traditions around the stadium.

In fact, some people started calling Texas A&M the ESPN team. And rightfully so, because it was a perfect storm for the Aggies and ESPN. The network got a hot football team with a huge following (by their standards at the time) in the southwest playing some great teams in some great games. They basically broadcast the birth of the Wrecking Crew, which at the time was very unique in college football where speed was a bigger priority over size.

SMU was on the backside of their dominance in the early 1980's, but still a formidable Top 20 team. A&M was only 5-2 at the time with losses to No. 16 Baylor and No. 20 Alabama. A loss to SMU and you can forget about the hoopla with Arkansas or Texas, and with two losses the Cotton Bowl would be out of reach. My memory isn't what it used to be and frankly there's just not much on the Internet about the game to refresh my recollections of the game. I do know that it came down to the erratic leg of Eric Franklin (younger brother of legendary 1970's kicker Tony Franklin) and he barely squeezed in a couple of field goals that had me sweating that night.

After a bye week, the stakes were raised as both A&M and Arkansas were 4-1 in the SWC and the loser was out of the title hunt. The Razorbacks were ranked No. 9, and surprisingly the Aggies were still unranked. That would change after another dominating Wrecking Crew performance that held Ken Hatfield's offense to just 188 yards and only three pass completions. Kevin Murray's 18-yard pass to the Roger Vick accounted for the only A&M TD in a 10-6 slugfest. Again, the Wrecking Crew was showcased on ESPN along with the 12th Man Kickoff Team. For many football fans outside of Texas, this was one of the first opportunities to get a prolonged, detailed look at the Kyle Field experience.

The game itself propelled the Aggies into the top 25 for the first time and set-up a rare showdown with the Longhorns with a prestigious Cotton Bowl berth on the line. Yes, for any of you under 40, the Cotton Bowl was a big deal in 1985. In fact, it was a huge deal.

Because of the ESPN intangibles and the fact that A&M took down two ranked SWC opponents in route to a showdown with Texas for the Cotton Bowl makes these back-to-back games significant.

No. 8 Texas A&M 35 Notre Dame 10, 1988 Cotton Bowl in Dallas

This was the pinnacle of the Jackie Sherrill era. Despite a hugely disappointing season opening loss to No. 6 LSU, the Aggies closed out the 1987 regular season with a seven-game winning streak and their fourth straight triumph over the Texas Longhorns. The Aggies were given a dream match-up against the media darling Fighting Irish that featured Heisman winning receiver and return specialist Tim Brown.

Sherrill rotated his quarterbacks, but lance Pavlas came off the bench in the second quarter with A&M down 10-3 and sparked the A&M offense in what was his best passing performance of his up-and-down college career. That first drive with Pavalas ended with the Daren Lewis halfback pass to Tony Thompson and the Aggies behind the running of Bucky Richardson and the throwing of Pavlas dominated Notre Dame the rest of the way.

The most memorable moment occurred during a dead ball situation after a seemingly routine kickoff return by Tim Brown. In reviewing the replays, Brown is brought down in a sea of 12th Man Kickoff walk-ons. While still on the ground, one of the walk-ons can be seen tugging at something on Brown's belt. He pops up and starts returning to the sideline. Brown jumps up and chases down the walk-on all the way to the A&M sideline and tackles the guy. As expected both teams swarm the field. As it turns out, the walk-on had taken Brown's towel off his belt for a souvenir and the Heisman Trophy winner was understandably upset. Despite the thorough 35-10 beat down of the Fighting Irish that day, most Aggies remember the 1988 Cotton Bowl for the Tim Brown towel incident.

At the time, nobody knew it. But that Cotton Bowl triumph was also the last hurrah for the Sherrill era. The Aggies would later be placed on probation and the 1988 season opened with three straight losses to Nebraska (2), LSU(17), and the Barry Sanders-led Oklahoma State Cowboys (18). In what was Texas A&M's toughest non-conference schedule in program history, all three games were played away from Kyle Field. In adding insult to injury, this was also the year of another "Hurricane Game" when Alabama refused to travel to College Station for the scheduled September match-up because of a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico that did not hit anywhere close to Houston. Many speculated that Alabama didn't want to play without its star player who was not available for the game, but whatever the case the game was moved to the end of the season and the Tide won handily 30-10.

It was Jackie Sherrill's last game as the Texas A&M head coach as President William Mobley pressured Sherrill to resign due to the myriad of allegations of NCAA violations and the threat of the death penalty.

But going back to January 1, 1988, Aggie fans were on top of the mountain after taking down the most storied and successful program in college football history in one of only a few New Year's Day bowl games on national television in that era.

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