Culpepper's Commentary: Texas-Texas A&M Preview

Until television contracts decided when and what time college football teams play their games, the Texas vs. Texas A&M contest was always played in the afternoon on Thanksgiving Day. It made for a short game week for both teams.

For the Longhorn teams of the 1960s, the Aggie game came four days after playing TCU. For me, the most vivid one of those is the 1961 upset by TCU and the subsequent game at Kyle Field. Heading into the game vs. the Horned Frogs, the Horns were riding the crest as the nation's No. 1 team in all the polls. I was a junior linebacker on that football squad which had a terrible swift sword of an offensive unit. In the backfield, we had Ray Poage at fullback, Jack Collins at wingback and a brilliant threesome at halfback in James Saxton, Tommy Ford and Jerry Cook. All of them could take a pitch or handoff for a score. They were also wicked blockers for each other. At quarterback, Austin's own Mike Cotten was a smart and tough leader. This group averaged 33 points per game coming into the TCU contest and under the line coaching of Jim Pittman reached levels of remarkable play. Earlier in the season against Arkansas in Fayetteville, the Longhorn forward wall did not have a single busted assignment.

But on a sunny day in Austin, TCU played ball control offense and solid defense to beat us 6-0. Our national championship dream was gone.

Darrell Royal was at his best, though, in turning a team's attention to the task at hand. In that somber dressing room under Memorial Stadium, Royal said firmly but subdued, "What we lost today we can't get back. Our next goal is to beat Texas A&M and win the Southwest Conference Championship." Then, as I remember, his voice got louder and he straightened out his tie, "We have four days to become a great football team again."

This year, after the Horns' title dreams were squashed by the third quarter of the Oklahoma game, Mack Brown's challenge has been to turn Texas into a great football team. The verdict is still out on that, although a win over the Ags would be UT's sixth straight since Oct. 11 in Dallas and would virtually guarantee UT's first-under-Brown BCS bowl appearance. A win in College Station would also give Texas four straight wins in the A&M series.

As much as things have changed, they've also stayed the same. The Aggies, under Jackie Sherrill and then R.C. Slocum, dominated the series vs. Texas from the mid-80s thru the mid 90s. But John Mackovic turned that around with consecutive wins in '95 and '96, and Mack Brown has continued the trend, losing to A&M just once in five tries (in the aberration that was the '99 "Bonfire Game"), similar to the success that Royal's teams enjoyed over the Ags. Football facility improvements, initiated largely by Frank Denius, coincided with the hiring of Mack Brown and as the Aggies fell behind in facilities and in recruiting, so too did their fortunes on the field against the Longhorns.

Last year's dismissal of Slocum was directly related to the success of Mack Brown.

Enter Dennis Franchione as the new A&M coach. Everything looked perfect until the day he actually had to coach the Aggie football team. His system quickly fell apart. Largely the same team that upset the Oklahoma Sooners with a raw true freshman quarterback under Slocum suffered the worst defeat in A&M history a year later with the same quarterback under Franchione's direction. His worst error was to disband the alignment and tradition of the Aggie's Wrecking Crew defense. The current A&M defense ranks right up there in ineptitude with John Mackovic's defenses. Only the ghosts of former great Aggie defenses survive. This season for A&M is a disaster and Franchione has a mess on his hands. (Interestingly, one year ago the Aggies said they had the talent but no coach and now they claim to have a coach but no talent.)

Regardless, Coach Fran and A&M are ready to salvage the entire season with a win over the hated Horns, much like the Aggie team me and my 1961 Longhorn teammates faced.

I remember the bus ride to Kyle Field on Thanksgiving morning and the Aggie band in concert as we warmed up. The teams were introduced live on national television just before kickoff and the closest I can get to the emotion of our team that day is present-day road rage.

We shut the Ags out 25-0 and accepted a Cotton Bowl invitation to play Ole Miss. That old makeshift dressing room below the east stands at Kyle Field rocked with Texas Fight that afternoon.

It should again this Friday. The current Texas team, which has reinvented itself in six weeks much like the '61 team did in six days, has larger goals within reach – no conference championship, but a Fiesta or Rose Bowl berth and another 10-plus-win season – goals that should bring out that "rage" that wins football games in College Station.

Pat Culpepper played for The University from 1960-62 and graduated from UT with a B.A. degree with honors in history. He coached college football for 12 years as an assistant at Texas, Colorado, Tulane, Baylor and Memphis State and was head coach at Northern Illinois from 1976-79. He also spent 16 years as a high school coach in Texas at Midland, Lufkin, Galveston Ball, Westfield and his hometown of Cleburne. He was selected to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1991. His commentary will appear regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at

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