As the ball floated helplessly through the air and nestled in the arms of LSU safety Grant Delpit, I watched with dismay as another chance for an Aggie football breakthrough disappeared like a puff of breath on a cold night. Delpit slid to a stop, and I turned to the aisle, unwilling to watch the inevitable kneel down that followed the Gatorade bath enjoyed by LSU coach Ed Orgeron. I’m sure the young defensive back was already rehearsing in his mind the answers he would give to a swarm of reporters about how it felt to seal a game that sent his team to a New Year’s Six Bowl.
But I was stopped in my tracks by the wholly unanticipated announcement: “The previous play is under further review.” An inadvertent touch of knee to ground nullified the interception, and an improbable 4th-and-18 conversion, followed by a sideline catch and a “just in time” spike, left the Aggies hanging by the slenderest of threads, with one play, and one second, to go. No one could have imagined the bedlam that was to follow over the next hour and a half.
This is our 13th year as Aggie season ticket holders, and nothing could have prepared us for what we were about to experience. It reminded me of watching the end of the first Rocky movie, when both fighters were punching with everything they had and yet barely standing up. The overtimes that followed Quartney Davis’s touchdown on the last play of regulation consisted largely of a series of momentum swings, devolving into two offenses running roughshod over defenses depleted by the weight of nearly 200 plays. For the first time in 100 years, it looked like the 12th Man might actually be needed on the field.
Still, the Aggie fans stood tall and provided almost visible energy as the team teetered on the brink of extinction. This was especially true as LSU turned an eight-point deficit into a six-point lead in the sixth and seventh overtimes. Roaring over top of the incessant cacophony of the LSU band, they gave heart to their team when it was needed most. With the game approaching five hours old, the seniors who lead this team dug in for one more attempt to hold off the invading Tigers. It was their last chance to experience the type of win that Aggies tell their grandchildren about.
Even in the seventh overtime, with the game tied, three penalties on the two-point conversion provided a window into the game’s controversy, the frustration boiling under the surface, and the mental exhaustion of players who were never intended to play this long. But for one play from outside the five-yard-line, Aggie quarterback Kellen Mond waited patiently in the pocket for Kendrick Rogers to escape the near-hero Delpit and slide open in the back of the end zone. His 49th pass of the night released the ghosts of beatdowns past, driving fans onto the field en masse.
I will admit to stepping into the aisle and hugging total strangers. I screamed so loudly into my wife’s ear that she feared permanent damage. You could sense a release in the entire stadium of something that is hard to define exactly, but has been building up for a number of years.
All around A&M there has been a sense that we could be more, that we were meant to be more. I came here, in part, because I saw the immense potential that existed—in my department, in my college, in the university. I did not come because I longed for the football team to be great; there were plenty of people here already who wanted that.
But I have found here people who are in it for the long haul, and who will never turn their backs on this great place, no matter what happens. They will endure the derision that goes with people finding fault with the culture and highlighting the inevitable failings and hypocrisies that are revealed when imperfect people are trying to do a great thing. This is true in all families.
It is the Tuesday after a great win on the football field, a demonstration of courage and endurance within the confines of 120 yards of grass that I don’t expect to see again in what remains of my lifetime. I left with great respect for how hard it is to beat a worthy opponent, even when you get most of the breaks. Standing toe-to-toe with the likes of LSU is not for the faint of heart.
But I was also reminded of what the great dream is around this place, and that is to be significant and to have an impact on society. The decisions of the last decade have not been about playing it safe, but of using our solid foundation as the Aggie family as a launching pad to change the world.
Saturday night the young men on our football team showed us something of what it means to discipline yourself for a long time with a great task in mind, and to persevere until that task is completed—or to fail face first. That A&M team was not going to go quietly, even if it was eventually vanquished. Some of them will go on to become great men, in part because of their preparation here.
And I owe them the same level of discipline and dedication when they enter my classroom this week at the end of another long semester. Only my best is good enough.
I’ve learned that here.