By a Thumb
Before I make my annual college football commentary, let me give an emotional shout-out to my high school team, the new Texas State Champion 2A Div. II Cisco Loboes! The “Big Dam” Loboes! (That Damn Dam Painting! [April, 2013]) This is their first State Championship EVER! Appropriate accolades need to be made by those who followed them all the 2013 season; since I only got to see them in their last two games of their undefeated (16-0) season — State semi-final and State championship at Jerry World — I need only mention my heart-felt appreciation.
This is a team that, since 2002, made it to the championship game four, count them, 4 previous times and was always a “bride’s maid,” never the “bride.” Fifth time was the charm! Beating Refugio, the team that kept them from state back in the 2011 season, 56-36, they not only received their measure of justice with a thrashing on the field over a physically superior squad, they taught Refugio a much-needed lesson in sportsmanship, taking a knee in the final seconds going in within the Wildcats’ 10-yd line.
Walking out of the victory outside the stadium beside James Stanley Webb, we both looked at each other in disbelief. “Wow, it finally happened! I can’t believe it!”
It finally happened on the 50th anniversary of my graduation from Cisco High School. My class, in a way, had to wait 50 years, but, somehow, we too felt vindicated, as if the joy of State gridiron triumph finally stopped eluding us.
Congratulations to the 2013 Cisco Loboes, Coach Brent West and all his staff, and the community of Lobo supporters both in and out of Cisco. You don’t get to the championship game as many times as Cisco without a great city-wide youth athletic program of remarkable width and depth for a town the size of Cisco. As a football manager/trainer all four years in CHS, I know how much work, sweat, blood, tears, and sacrifice it has taken to achieve the pinnacle and hoist the State championship football trophy. Thank you, thank you, 2013 Loboes, for making it possible for those of us from Cisco who never knew what it was like to hoist that trophy to at least now surreptitiously know, a little bit. Go Loboes!
Now to the 2013 FBS college football season, the last for the idiotic BCS system, thank the football gods! As they say, BCS, “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out!” However, as you will read, such rejoicing is heavily qualified.
I would love to have anyone ask me as an Aggie fan, “How’s that move to the SEC working for you?” “Great, thank you very much!” would be my and many others’ answer, I’m sure. Texas A&M was promised better coverage of their sports programs in the SEC compared to the Big 12, and on that promise the media has delivered. We were promised more $ in the SEC, and a big promise kept in that regard is evident in the A&M coffers. We were promised better and wider recruiting for our athletes in the SEC compared to the Big 12; time will tell, but early indications here in our second year say that promise too is being kept.
No Aggie or no non-Aggie football observer saw these last two seasons, 2012 and 2013, coming, because nobody saw Johnny Manziel coming; just ask U. of Texas and Baylor! What we Aggie football fans have experienced is a nothing-short-of-remarkable juxtaposition of Johnny Football with the “100-yr” decision to go with the SEC. The mix is nothing short of heady and intoxicating. Mostly paid for already, according to 12th Man reports, is the new Kyle Field, which will seat 102,500, the third largest football facility in the US, behind the “Big House” at U. of Michigan, and the stadium at Penn State. In other words, “for sure” A&M will have the largest stadium in the SEC, along with its #1 or #2 ranking (depending on the numbers at U. of Florida) in SEC school size and enrollment. And we are still a couple of years away from the first snap in our anticipated completed facility!
If he had stayed healthy, it would have been difficult to expect Johnny Manziel to repeat his Heisman-winning season of 2012. (See Texas A&M Aggie Football — 2012; Go, Johnny, Go! [Jan, 2013]) And this, even if he had had an average defense. Yet, despite and awful defense compared with the Aggie D in 2012, and despite a not-well-known struggle with little-publicized injuries, he just about repeated in 2013 the numbers of 2012. It could be argued that his Heisman votes might have given him the trophy again or at least 2nd or 3rd place in the balloting instead of the 5th place he received for his second trip to New York City in December. I think he would have had more consideration if the team had improved upon the 11-2 record of 2012 instead of dropping to 9-4 in 2013. To have 4 instead of 2 defeats was not the fault of Johnny performing below 2012 standards.
This is not whining or rationalization; Texas A&M, in the toughest division in the toughest conference, averaged 10 wins in its first two SEC seasons. Any Aggie who would complain about that needs to have his/her head examined! The early struggles of Arkansas and Missouri when they joined the SEC will NOT be a part of A&M’s SEC legacy.
Let me remind the reader of Johnny Football’s, or as I like to say, JFF’s, 2013 numbers in comparison to his 2012 numbers. Then I will remind the reader of the circumstances in the late 2013 season in which he chalked up those numbers. He was responsible for 46 touchdowns in 2013, either by throwing the TD pass or running it into the endzone (47 in 2012); his total offensive yards, running and throwing, was 4,873 (5,116 in 2012). If the reader is paying attention, that is a 2-yr offensive yardage total of 9,989 over 26 games (Bowl numbers are included in NCAA stats.), or 384.2 yds per game! He had a 2-yr total of 93 touchdowns, or 3.58 touchdowns per game! No wonder, as he leaves college football for the NFL, he has in 2 years the top two offensive yards totals in a game for a QB in the SEC! In addition, in his two years at A&M he personally was responsible (running and passing) for 70.46% (2012) and 69.62% (2013) of the team’s TOTAL offense.
[The 9,989 number, 11 shy of 10,000, reminds me of something my College Street Pub friend Bobby Huskins in Waxahachie (See Things I’ve Learned at the College Street Pub, Waxahachie, Texas [April, 2012]) said about Johnny in his first year, when we were speculating about his being at A&M for four years: “If he keeps this up, do you realize he has a shot to accumulate 20,000 yards in four years?” Johnny was on pace to make Bobby a prophet.]
What makes the 2013 season for JFF so remarkable is the evidence that not only did he have an anemic defense to rely upon, he was injured, and injured in a very critical, unlucky way for a QB such as he. I do not think it is “sour grapes” or hyperbole to say that in the absence of his injuries and in the presence of just an average defense that could have made for the offense just a few more stops than it was able to do, this JFF-led Aggie squad stood a very good chance of running the table in 2013.
Here is the evidence of which I speak, evidence not reported by the media thanks in no small part to Coach Sumlin’s lack of injury reporting during the season. Keep in mind I saw in person or on TV every snap of the 2013 version of the Aggies. First, A&M needed just one more stop than it got to defeat Alabama once again, this time at Kyle Field. The next defeat from Auburn came at Kyle Field, wherein Johnny was injured and did not get the benefit of a horsecollar call against him when they were driving for the winning score; he took on a linebacker near the goal line and injured his neck or shoulder or knee, and the Aggies did not get a touchdown to win the game on this drive. You could see him writhing in pain on the sideline when our defense was trying, in vain, to stop Auburn’s offense. In addition, apparently, he injured the thumb on his throwing (R) hand during the home Mississippi State game, after engineering victories over UTEP and Vanderbilt at home at Kyle.
In the last two games of the season, both road losses against LSU (in person) — by 24 and Missouri (TV) — by 7, he played in pain not seen in the three prior victories. Apparently, he had reinjured his thumb (hitting it on a D-lineman’s helmet) during practice before the LSU game, accounting for the throws that went uncharacteristically awry. The same scenario was played out in Columbia, Missouri; on the bench he was in a lot of obvious pain.
The break before the bowl game allowed the thumb to recover (at least ligament damage, I’m surmising, and/or a fracture or fractures in the bones of the thumb) to the point he seemed at least 90% recovered, enough to bring the Aggies back from their greatest football deficit EVER, over Duke.
No ordinary QB could have done what Johnny did under those circumstances. To have reported all that had happened to his thumb would have appeared as excuses for the defeats and might have hurt his NFL stock should he, as he indeed did, forego his last two years at A&M and declare for the NFL draft. As the draft approaches, if I know JFF, any tests he goes through will show no need for concern over any injuries he might have, reported or unreported.
Therefore, it is not too far-fetched, in my opinion, to say, risking sounding like an Aggie “homer,” that Johnny Manziel, Johnny Football, missed a second Heisman trophy and a trip to a top BCS bowl by a thumb. It was closer than most fans imagine; but “close” only counts in hand grenades and horseshoes.
I said in Texas A&M Aggie Football — 2012; Go, Johnny, Go! [Jan, 2013] nothing that subsequently happened could take away from Aggie football fans the magic of the 2012 season; that will always be true. But, much to our surprise, there was a magic in the 2013 season that just about equaled 2012 — how lucky are we Aggie fans? This second dose of magic will also always be with us, and it almost, beyond our wildest dreams, exceeded the first — almost — not quite, but close — by a thumb.
As a final swan song for Johnny on my college blog, let me cite two similar events that sort-of sum up the college football legacy of “the kid” from Kerrville: Despite his being deemed controversial and a lightning rod for trouble, a veritable terrible example of a Heisman trophy winner, he transcended all that to become the most exciting and most watched college football player for two seasons; I give you these two events as proof: During the 2013 season a retail store clerk and a restaurant waiter, both male and in their 20’s, spotted my Aggie cap. Unsolicited, they introduced themselves as NON-college-football fans. But, both said they had their DVR’s set at home to record all Texas A&M games, because they wanted to see every snap Johnny Manziel took. JFF was the player to watch, to watch in a way that exceeded the anticipated performances of great QB’s of the recent past, like Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, and RGIII; people who did not give a crap about football wanted to see him perform.
It is only my opinion, but, I think I know Johnny’s secret: His draw was his unpredictability and his escapability; no one knew, not even Johnny, what he was going to do on a given play, even though the play was “drawn up” to unfold in a particular way; he was reactionary, improvising in time units of fractions of seconds. Not even the machine-like “X’s & O’s” preparation of programs like Alabama could adequately prepare for him. His “secret” compelled his teammates to play differently; they expected the play to evolve in an unplanned way and to, therefore, keep blocking or getting open until the whistle blew the end of the play. It was the spontaneous joy of back yard and playground touchpass we all enjoyed as kids in school. Johnny played with that same joy, and the joy was infectious — infectious for fans and non-fans alike.
Thanks, Johnny Manziel! We will miss you in college football! We can only hope you can take your game to further success in the NFL. NFL owners and coaches know that you can be for them what you were for Texas A&M Football — you were “money!”
Speaking of “magic” and “money” games, how about those two Auburn games against Georgia and Alabama? It took an impressive Florida State team (with a Heisman winner far more controversial and questionable than Johnny) to keep Auburn from extending the SEC/national champion streak. Yet, look at the results and number of participants in the bowl games when trying to evaluate strength of conferences. Despite upsets like Oklahoma’s impressive win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, when the dust cleared it was bowl results reading SEC — 7-3; Big 12 — 3-3; Pac 12 — 6-3; Big 10 — 2-4. Anyone doubt the upcoming SEC TV Network is going to be a success?
The irony is that in a conference where the U. of Texas always acted as if they are the “big brother” of teams, now they are part of a conference that might well be seen as a “little brother” of conferences. Yet, you cannot say that the Big 12 seems weaker than the Big 10. Next season, it will be interesting to see if these trends among the “big four” conferences continue or change.
Some random observations: It was great to see, as an Aggie fan, two great defenses play in that Rose Bowl. It made me pine for the return of the Wrecking Crew, which has not been spotted at Aggieland for quite a few seasons now. Now that they don’t play each other, I don’t hear much about Texas Tech and A&M hating each other; because of Kliff Kingsbury and what he did for Johnny in the 2012 season, I don’t hear Aggies bad-mouthing Kliff or Tech or Lubbock anymore; no Aggie blames Kliff for going to Tech; if anyone understands school loyalty, it’s the maroon and white of College Station. Gotta admit that my son Chad has got me watching the fancy uniforms of the teams like a “fashion designer.” Can’t say I like the predominantly gray uniforms, like I’ve seen Texas Tech, Texas A&M, and Ok. St. come out in. Oregon’s array gets out of hand, but they have so many good ones, I think they should stick with the top 10 and forget about the rest. I also am intrigued by the old guard schools who think they should not change: U. of Texas, Michigan, Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State, etc. I’m looking for a “second team” to follow in the SEC; haven’t found it yet, like I found Okla. St. in the Big 12 — still follow the Cowboys and their “better, brighter orange.” My following is based upon the balanced offenses Ok. St., Oregon, and, now, A&M run. Hate the new Oregon St. beaver head logo, but like the Pistol Pete head of the Ok. St. cowboys showing up more. How about those “mirror” helmets, like Baylor’s? The impressive new Baylor stadium going up on the banks of the Brazos is the “house that RGIII built,” just like the new Kyle Field in a couple of years will be the “house that Johnny Football built.” Went to an LSU tailgate for the first time — rumors about LSU fans tailgating are not exaggerated. Chad and I were treated well, welcomed into tailgates both before and after the game, and given food and drink we will never forget. I hope Aggieland treats those LSU fans in College Station as well as we were treated in Baton Rouge. While there as “Tiger bait,” we thought we saw an interesting division among the fans: because of economic reasons, many had to choose between tailgating and going to the game; it was too expensive to do both. Made me wonder if it is like that at all major tailgate sites, like College Station. Also made me wonder how we can avoid making attending the game something only the well-to-do can do, like it is in the NFL.
Now for my not-so-random annual rant on the college football playoff situation. One might think I am happy and complacent about the new 4-team playoff system for D-I teams (FBS) beginning next season, with a committee chosing the 4 instead of a computer. I am happy all right, but it is only one step in the right direction; I am not complacent.
The new system is better than what we’ve been having: Again, it was like at the end of the NFL season, the team with the best record in the National Conference played the team with the best record in the American Conference in ONE playoff game, called the Super Bowl, and the winner got the Lombardi Trophy! Ridiculous, right? But the new system is not much better: it is like the two top seeds of the National and American conferences play a two-round playoff, with the winner of the second game being the Super Bowl champion! Not much better, you’ve got to admit! The NFL has twelve teams (out of 32) make the playoffs, six from each Conference, with 4 of the 12 being Wild Card teams. Its playoff system lets “Cinderella live;” think of all the NFL Wild Card teams in the past that have gone on to get to or even win the Super Bowl!
The new college system still does not let “Cinderella live.” The upset of Oklahoma over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and the upset of UCF over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl should tell every college football fan that the college FBS football champion, the team that gets the crystal football, is a faux champion, a “chump”ion, if you please. Though it may upset some readers, I think I need stronger language here, as obviously not enough people are paying attention (What Did I Say or Write? WTF?!! (For Adults Only) [Jan, 2013]). The national college football championship is a BS championship, a bullshit championship! I told my friend Jim Burns when he returned from a visit back to his home in Norman, OK, to be sure and remind Bob Stoopes when he saw him that the Sooner national championship(s) are bullshit. (Jim probably needs to stay at arm’s length from Bob if they ever did talk!) And so are all college D-I championships, going all the way back to the beginning, including the 1939 championship of my beloved Aggies.
The true football champions are those who come out on top in a REAL playoff system, like the lower divisions of college football, that have a 16- or 32-team playoff beginning in late November, or like the Texas HS football playoff system that saw my beloved Loboes win this season (see above). Only when our beloved FBS college teams follow such a system will we ever have true champions.
Why don’t we play to a true champion? Because we are still under the influence of the “bowl tradition,” which originated as a “reward” to “deserving” teams at the end of the season as an exhibition to accompany the holiday traditions of pageantry such as the Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA. It’s stupid; it’s archaic bullshit.
The solution is very, very simple, and, amazingly, the solution will make more money for the “bowl traditionalists” than they make now. I’d love to have a 32-team bracket, but I think only 16 is realistic; the 16-team playoff will be played from early December to early January. (The 32 or 16 would be designated by the computer-ranking system we already have in place, with no limits on how many teams from a conference can be in the playoffs; if they are good enough, they are included, no matter how they are affiliated.) Each game will be held at the traditional bowl sites, preferably in the middle of the week so as not to interfere with the NFL regular games and playoff games on the weekends (College classes are mostly taking the break between semesters, so attending classes is no problem for the players. By the way, how come we don’t complain about all the interference of basketball playing with attending college classes during March Madness? It seems hypocritical to complain about college football players missing classes if we have a true playoff system.). Teams not in the 16 can play in the traditional “exhibition” bowls so that all bowls (we had 36 D-I bowls in 2013-2014) can make their money; remember, a 16-bracket championship playoff (with seeded pairings like a tennis tournament) means 15 games (or bowls); a 32-bracket one means 31 games (or bowls). Finally, if such a system is employed, we will have bowls that mean something; we will have more excitement in watching teams survive to the next round; we will have more interest from fans; more money will be made off college football, even more than is now!
Even though the playoffs next season will stink like the cattle lots of my father, my father-in-law, and my grandfathers, I am looking forward to next August for another exciting season to start. Until then, may you have more clarity on the “targeting” rule than I have had, may your year be filled with college football recruiting “soap-operas” galore, and may your love of college football, when distilled down, like moonshine, to its essence, be a vision of Johnny Manziel and you playing with a football in the park. Remember, college football fans, none of us has seen a true upper-level college football champion; we can only hope, at least, most of us live to see one.