There’s a new book out about Texas A&M football that lists—and ranks—the “greats” and great moments over the Aggies’ past century. Ironically, it begins by spotlighting two men whose football-related achievements involve neither playing nor coaching the game, and concludes with another man who never strapped on a helmet or blew a coaching whistle for the Aggies.
In between those passages are two- or three-page features about 50 men, or especially special teams, who did–and who left their marks, if not as legends themselves then at least as significant contributors to Texas Aggie football lore. Also, some memorable Kyle Field moments are conjured up, as well as recaps of games played elsewhere that figure prominently in some defining Aggie moments.
It’s all included in “100 Things Texas A&M Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.” The 296-page book is written by Rusty Burson, who is the author of eight previous Texas A&M-related books. When he is not writing books, he is toiling at his day job as associate editor of 12th Man Magazine, the publication of the 12th Man Foundation, where he writes almost daily about Aggie athletics.
In addition to prioritizing the things he thinks Aggie fans should know, Burson offers some advice about what they should “do” before they kick the bucket.
First on his “do” list: “Wear a bow tie in honor of Dr. R Bowen Loftin.” The current Texas A&M president gets star status—and the No. 2 ranking overall—for his leadership in making the “100 year decision” resulting in Texas A&M joining the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Also ranking high in the “do” list: “Stay in the stands for the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band.”
The book includes a foreword by Dat Nguyen, the hard-hitting linebacker who won Aggie hearts and opponents’ admiration during the mid-1990s and continued his stellar career as a Dallas Cowboy.
In addressing the “100 things,” Burson gave himself the unenviable task of ranking them. In his introduction, he recalls agonizing about the rankings right up until the day he sent the manuscript to the publisher, Triumph Books. “What I tried to do in my rankings was to take an all-encompassing look of Aggie football that included more than merely the games, players and coaches,” he explains. “Thank God I can’t change them anymore.”
Contemplating disagreements with his rankings, Burson is prepared for feedback: “Let me know your comments, suggestions and even your complaints by following me on Twitter (@12thManRusty).”
Nguyen, who is the second-ranked player in Burson’s list, jokingly emphasizes he had no role in deciding the rankings: “If you have any complaints or serious disagreements, address them with Rusty, not me.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, the first player listed is “Johnny Football,” also known as Johnny Manziel, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and quarterback extraordinaire. Other players prominently cited include (in order) Von Miller, the 1939 Aggies (national champions), John David Crow, John Kimbrough, Kevin Murray, Bucky Richardson, E. King Gill, the “Junction boys,” Kevin Smith, Ray Childress, Edd Hargett, Luke Joeckel, Ed Simonini, Quentin Coryatt (and The Hit), Chet Brooks and the “Wrecking Crew” and Joe Routt. Burson cites numerous other key figures in other listings and sidebars associated with the write-ups about the featured players, coaches and events.
Coaches making the list (in order) are R. C. Slocum, Jackie Sherrill, Dana Bible, Homer Norton, Kevin Sumlin, Emory Bellard, Bear Bryant, Gene Stallings and Charlie Moran. They, too, are each noted in considerable detail.
Memorable games and moments that Burson highlights include (in order) the 1998 Big 12 championship game, the 2012 upset of Alabama, “Stopping Bo” in the Cotton Bowl, the Red, White and Blue Out game after the “9/11” terrorist attacks, the 1986 comeback against Baylor, the 1940 loss to Texas, the 1956, 1975 and 1967 Texas games, the 1998 Nebraska game, the 1967 Texas Tech comeback, the “rise and fall” of the ’57 Aggies, the 2012 Ole Miss game, the 1990 Holiday Bowl, the 1975 loss to Arkansas, the Rice comeback in 1955, the 1968 Cotton Bowl, beating No. 1 Oklahoma in 2002 and the “Hurricane Game” of 1956.
So, who are those two other men who round out Burson’s list?
Top honors go to Gen. James Earl Rudder, a 1939 Texas A&M graduate who served as president of his alma mater from 1959 until his death in 1970. Burson applauds Gen. Rudder “for the best decision ever” for Texas A&M. He salutes Rudder for his leadership overall in laying the groundwork for Texas A&M being the institution that is today—but specifically for his key role in making it possible for women to attend Texas A&M. “Recruiting the top male athletes to A&M suddenly became much easier with female students on campus,’ Burson observes. “Quite frankly, women made winning on a consistent basis a possibility at A&M.”
Rudder didn’t coach at Texas A&M, but he did play a bit for the Aggies. Also, he did some coaching, but it was at Tarleton State. That was before World War II, during which he served with great distinction and became one of the nation’s bona fide heroes. Burson lays out a scenario whereby Rudder could have conceivably coached the Aggies after the war and negated the need to lure Bear Bryant away from the University of Kentucky.
Rounding out the list is Billy Pickard. While he didn’t strap on a helmet on himself, he was present on the field when hundreds of Aggies did. He signed on as a student trainer under Coach Bryan in the mid-1950s and has been an Athletic Department fixture ever since, assuming increasingly responsible positions regarding Kyle Field facilities and equipment other administrative and logistical matters over the years. He’s now formally retired but still arrives on campus at 6 a.m. most days, Burson notes, and in all likelihood will be on the Kyle Field sidelines into the foreseeable future.
Media Contact: Lane Stephenson, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4662