published Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

New SEC member won '39 national title

  • photo
    Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant lifts Texas A&M coach Gene Stallings after the Aggies upset the Crimson Tide, 20-16, in the 1968 Cotton Bowl.
    Texas A&M photo

Last weekend was not the most normal in Southeastern Conference football history.

Sure, Alabama continued its recent mastery of Arkansas and Florida extended its long mastery of Kentucky, but then came Sunday and the official word that Texas A&M would become the league's 13th member in 2012. SEC commissioner Mike Slive said Tuesday that there are "no institutions currently under consideration by the SEC's presidents and chancellors," so let the awkward chore of scheduling a baker's dozen begin.

Since that will be left to a yet unnamed transition team, here are some basics to know about the SEC's newcomer. Among Texas A&M's most recognized graduates are Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry and musician Lyle Lovett, and among its plethora of NFL products are Denver Broncos rookie linebacker Von Miller and former Oakland Raiders defensive back Lester "Stickum" Hayes.

Here are some other basics about the Aggies:

The Twelfth Man

Texas A&M's tradition of the Twelfth Man dates back to 1922, when the Aggies faced Centre College.

The Aggies were underdogs and had to delve into their reserves when coach Dana Bible remembered he had another player available. That was E. King Gill, who was in the press box helping reporters identify the players.

Gill was summoned to the field, so he suited up and stood by Bible for the rest of the game, which the Aggies won 22-14.

"I wish I could say that I went in and ran for the winning touchdown, but I did not," said Gill, according to school records. "I simply stood by in case my team needed me."

Gill and his eager spirit for service became known as the Twelfth Man, which the student body quickly built upon by opting to stand the entire game, a tradition that continues today.

In the 1980s, coach Jackie Sherrill enhanced Twelfth Man lore by allowing regular students to serve on the kickoff coverage teams. Those units were among the best in the Southwest Conference, but successor R.C. Slocum reduced it to just one representative on kickoff coverage.

The 1939 Champions

Homer Norton's Aggies shut out six teams on their way to an 11-0 season and the program's lone Associated Press national championship. National champs were crowned before bowl games at that time, but top-ranked Texas A&M capped its special season with a 14-13 win over No. 4 Tulane in the Sugar Bowl.

The Aggies allowed just 1.8 points a game, along with 41.5 rushing yards a game and 34.8 passing yards per contest.

Tennessee became the first SEC team to win the AP national title when the Vols finished No. 1 in 1951, but Texas A&M soon will be an SEC team with the earliest AP title. The '39 Aggies remain the only team in program history to notch an AP top-five finish.

The 1968 Cotton Bowl

Gene Stallings had only one winning record in his seven seasons as Texas A&M's coach -- a 7-4 mark in 1967. The Aggies concluded the regular season with six consecutive Southwest Conference wins, but they were decided underdogs in the Cotton Bowl against No. 8 Alabama.

Stallings and Jack Pardee had been two of the top Aggies during the mid-1950s under coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, but now Stallings was facing Bryant's Crimson Tide in a student vs. teacher pairing.

Midway through the third quarter, Wendell Housley ran 20 yards for the decisive touchdown as Texas A&M pulled out a 20-16 upset. When the coaches met at midfield, Bryant hoisted his former pupil and began carrying him off the field.

Bryant would guide Alabama to six national championships, and Stallings led the Crimson Tide to their first national title of the post-Bryant era in 1992.

The 1999 Bonfire

The Texas Aggie Bonfire was instituted in 1909 to symbolize the school's burning desire to beat rival Texas.

It began as a way for students to bond but eventually became a recognized college football spectacle that drew anywhere from 30,000 to 70,000 people. In 1967, the construction responsibility shifted from the Yell Leaders to the Red Pots, who were students selected to design and build the stack.

According to school tradition, if the structure burned but remained upright after midnight, the Aggies would defeat the Longhorns.

In 1963, the bonfire was constructed but then torn down in tribute to President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated days earlier in Dallas.

The second and final time the Bonfire didn't burn was in 1999, when it collapsed early one morning under construction and killed 12 Aggies. Five years later, a Bonfire Memorial was erected on the location of the '99 tragedy.

A Long Way Away

According to MapQuest.com, it takes a really long time to get to Texas A&M, not that such information comes as a surprise. College Station is more than 500 miles from every SEC campus except LSU, and to get there by driving would take more than 10 hours from every SEC locale except Baton Rouge and Fayetteville.

To drive from South Carolina to Texas A&M would take 16 hours and 58 minutes and encompass 1,075 miles and two maintenance services. The longest driving trek currently in the SEC is from Arkansas to Florida, which has a 16:07 estimated time to cover the 1,005 miles.

"Obviously we hope our fans will travel, but the decision to take Texas A&M factored all those elements of the relationship into consideration," Slive said. "We reviewed that, and we understand those issues, but on balance we felt the addition of Texas A&M was worth doing, and obviously we still feel that way."

The most frequent way to College Station is flying into Houston and then making the 95-mile drive.

THE DRIVE THAT NEVER ENDS

The distance from Texas A&M and the rest of the SEC, as well as the drive time:

SCHOOL / MILES / TIME

Alabama / 665 / 10:27

Arkansas / 519 / 8:25

Auburn / 780 / 12:12

Florida / 953 / 14:45

Georgia / 933 / 15:01

Kentucky / 992 / 15:50

LSU / 363 / 5:55

Ole Miss / 652 / 10:20

Miss. State / 608 / 10:02

South Carolina / 1,075 / 16:58

Tennessee / 975 / 15:15

Vanderbilt / 782 / 12:37

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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