A&M's Most Important Wins: No. 2

Aggie Websider's David Sandhop counts down the top 20 most significant wins in Texas A&M football history in the 1974-2012 era. We've come to the No. 2 most important game on our list and we go back to the year 1975.

No. 2 Texas A&M 20 Texas 10, 1975 Kyle Field in College Station

Where to begin. Let's start with a little historical perspective. If there's one single game that marked the day Texas A&M football transformed itself from a "have not" to a "have", it was November 28, 1975. It also marked the time period when a small military college in Texas made the transition to a major research university. Earl Rudder started that transformation in the 1960's, but the university's growth skyrocketed in the 1970's that coincided with the rebirth of the football program. When Rudder ended his tenure as president in 1970, Texas A&M had an enrollment of 14,000. By 1977, enrollment climbed to over 26,000 on its way to 40,000 by 1990.

On the football field, Emory Bellard's rebuilding project finally culminated in a powerhouse team in 1975 with a stacked defense that included all-Americans Lester Hayes, Pat Thomas, Garth Ten Napel, and Ed Simonini. This core group of defenders led the 1974 Aggies to a No. 2 ranking in total defense. They became the best defensive unit in the country in 1975. For all the talk about the Wrecking Crew defenses of the 1980's and 1990's, the 1975 defense was head and shoulders above them all.

On offense, Bellard still leaned on his signature Wishbone Offense that he developed as the offensive coordinator at Texas in 1968. The offense led by RB's Bubba Bean, Skip Walker, and George Woodard along with QB David Shipman, rushed for over 3000 yards on 700+ attempts. In stark contrast, the offense threw the ball only 85 times, completing just 34 passes in a 12 game season. The Aggies completed more passes in the Missouri game last season.

Despite playing only four home games through the first nine weeks of the season, the Aggies won all nine with the defense leading the way. A&M opened with a 7-0 win at home against Ole Miss and also shut-out Kansas State in Manhattan 10-0. But they also thrashed LSU in Baton Rouge 39-8 that ended the series for the next decade, and they shelled Illinois on the road 43-13. Until the final regular season game of the year, the A&M defense kept their opponent out of the end zone in six contests.

The Aggies found themselves in the Top 5 throughout the month of November, and by November 28 when the No. 5 Longhorns with young phenom RB Earl Campbell strolled into Kyle Field, the Aggies were a lofty No. 2 in the nation…thus setting up the highest-ever match-up between the Aggies and Longhorns in the series history.

Even though the Aggies were squarely in the national championship discussion, they had history working against them. Texas A&M was in the midst of an eight game losing streak and were 1-17 against Texas in the post-Bear Bryant era between 1957-1974. Since the national championship season of 1939 and the advent of World War II, the Aggies were 3-31 against the Longhorns.

Prior to Bellard arriving in the 1970's, Texas A&M was just another SWC team in the crowd. The Aggies battled with Baylor, TCU, SMU, and Rice for conference mediocrity. The crowds and support were similar and not extraordinary. Texas and Arkansas were the power teams in the conference and battled for supremacy not only for the SWC title, but the national title as well. The others just hoped to play .500 ball. But with the arrival of Bellard and the changing fortunes of the A&M football program along with the parallel growth of the university, the Aggies started taking steps to separate themselves from the pack and had their sights set on the Longhorns and Razorbacks. Graduation day was November 28, 1975 on that day at Kyle Field when a national ABC audience tuned in to watch became one of the most important games in Texas A&M history.

The Aggies quickly took the action to the Longhorns thanks to an opening drive reverse to Carl Roaches who scampered down the east sideline for 50 yards. That led to a short Tony Franklin field goal for the early 3-0 lead. With Texas in Aggie territory, they fumble the ball away and Texas A&M grinds out a 65 yard drive that ends with a rare, short TD pass from veteran back-up QB Mike Jay to future NFL tight end Richard Osborne.

A&M took a 10-0 advantage with two minutes remaining in the first half. Texas comes back when all-American DB Raymond Clayborne returns a punt 65 yards for paydirt to close the gap to 10-7 early in the second quarter.

The game looked to follow the same script from previous years when David Shipman lost two fumbles deep in A&M territory in the second and third quarters. Both times, the Aggie defense stiffened immediately and both times Darrell Royal went for it on fourth down…and both times they failed to move the chains. The game remained 10-7 until early in the fourth quarter when after an interception and long return near midfield by William Thompson, the Aggies methodically ran the ball to the 10 yard-line where big George Woodard needed just two carries to reach the end zone for a 17-7 lead with 10 minutes left in the nationally-televised contest.

A 47-yard field goal by all-American Russell Erxleben brought the Longhorns within a touchdown with seven minutes to play. But on the next drive, tackle Dennis Swilley throws a clearing block that springs Bubba Bean for 73 yards down to the 1-yard line. The Aggies couldn't punch it in, but Franklin's field goal closed out the scoring with a final score of 20-10.

The significance of the win was obvious. The Aggies took down their untouchable rival in a nationally-televised Top 5 battle. The event was famously captured with a picture of Bubba Bean on the cover of Sports Illustrated which was the premiere sports publication of the time. In terms of competing with Texas from that day forward, this game was a huge break-through. Prior to 1975, Texas led the all-time series 58-18, winning 31 of the last 34 meetings. Since 1975, Texas A&M actually leads the series 19-18. 1975 is ground zero when everything changed with this series and with the overall fortunes of the Texas A&M football program.

But it was bittersweet. In a rare scheduling twist, the Texas game did not end the season in 1975 like in previous years. Eight days later, the Aggies had to travel to Little Rock to face No. 18 Arkansas. The Aggies were flat and turnover-prone, and the game wasn't close with the Hogs winning 31-6. The emotion of the Texas game was too much to overcome. The cruel irony of it all is that No. 1 Ohio State was upset in the Rose Bowl by UCLA on New Year's Day. Had Texas been the last game of the season like it had always been in the past, the Aggies would have faced a very beatable Georgia squad that lost handily to Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. That's a lot of woulda-shoulda's, but the national championship was there for the taking in 1975.

Still, the modern era of Texas A&M football was born on that November 28 afternoon on Kyle Field. The Aggies have had their ups and downs over the past 37 seasons, but they were never again dominated and taken for granted ever since. Texas A&M was never again somebody's money game. While A&M experienced many big wins since 1975, none of those would be possible if it wasn't for the difficult strides made by Emory Bellard and the collection of athletes he recruited that made up the core of that 1975 team. It's tougher to build a winner from scratch than it is to sustain existing success. That's why this game comes in at No. 2 on the all-time most significant wins in the modern era of Aggie football.

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