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September 10, 2013
Courtesy: Texas A&M Athletics
(photo: Texas A&M Athletics)

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A&M football will continue to be a national story in future years

by Homer Jacobs
12th Man Magazine

It wasn’t too long ago that the Texas A&M media relations department for football enjoyed some downtime in the spring, quietly monitoring the 15 football practices in March and April and overseeing the production of the football media guide in preparation for summer media days.

In the college football universe, Aggie football was the ultimate afterthought.

In 2013, the media relations group’s football offseason was spent sifting through hundreds, if not thousands, of media requests for interviews and credentials leading up to the 2013 football season.

No other sports information department in America (maybe the Florida crew handling Tim Tebow came close) has been slammed with so much interest from the national media. The days of a few beat writers hanging around the practice field seem so distant.

“I got my first credential request in January for the Alabama game, said Alan Cannon, A&M’s associate AD for media relations. “It’s awfully nice to be relevant again in the national conversation.”

It can be a pain, too.

Just take a ride down the social media expressway these days. Johnny Manziel stirred up a media hornet’s nest with his appearance in the Rice game, fascinating a nation again with his swashbuckling—sometimes overzealous—style of play.

Writers and talking heads chimed in from all corners, some with obvious agendas as we watched a break down the Aggie Code of Honor in the days leading up to Texas A&M’s season opener.

"We’ve worked very hard over the last 18 months to try and make this program be relevant and playing relevant and meaningful games on the big stage. (The increase in attention) comes along with it. It’s something that you want as a coach."

- Kevin Sumlin

It was surreal to walk through a packed Kyle Field press box for a game with the Rice Owls. This wasn’t Florida last year for A&M’s SEC debut. It was Rice, the old SWC whipping boy from Houston.

And yet, there were national writers and national television crews ready to opine on Manziel’s every move and hand gesture.

There were so many satellite trucks from Houston outside Kyle Field you would have thought George Smith was having a come-clean press conference circa 1988.

Sure, this was all a part of Manziel mania, and the media circus will continue throughout the season. The hit parade toward Manziel, and unfortunately Texas A&M, has been equal parts annoying and exhausting.

Crapshoot journalism and media bias certainly has festered around Aggieland for a while now.

But in the big picture, and once the Manziel story simmers down, Texas A&M will remain in the headlines, a staple of the SportsCenter scroll because the program is wide awake after lying dormant for 15 years or more.

A&M now has the silky smooth coach kids want to play for, while running away in the facilities race in 2015 like Secretariat down the backstretch at the Belmont.

“It’s the SEC move, but it’s also being competitive and being relevant,” Cannon added. “You can tell by the recruiting class that’s come in here, but Coach (Kevin) Sumlin isn’t resting on that but working on the next class. It’s a process, and we’re not there yet.”

Indeed, A&M is not Alabama, a dynasty with multiple national titles in tow. It doesn’t have the historical pedigree of Notre Dame, the glitz of USC or the NFL-like, jersey-wearing following of Ohio State.

But its brand and name is bigger than ever, thanks in large part to the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner.

Even when Manziel decides to leave the program for the NFL, don’t look for A&M to fall back into the abyss. Contrary to what some on the national scene have tweeted, the redevelopment of Kyle Field did not hinge on one quarterback in one season.

The stadium sold out two years in advance in season ticket sales because the fans can’t wait to watch another talented quarterback lead another competitive team through the SEC.

“The increase in attention, in many ways it’s been great,” Sumlin said. “I’m very fortunate to be the head football coach at Texas A&M and all the things that go along with that. I realize where we are: Playing in the SEC brings out a lot of enthusiasm from our fan base and everyone across the country. We’ve worked very hard over the last 18 months to try and make this program be relevant and playing relevant and meaningful games on the big stage. All that comes along with it. It’s something that you want as a coach.”

The ultimate example of relevancy for Aggie football will unfold on Saturday. It’s flat-out the biggest game in Kyle Field history, and the attention focused on Aggieland for days will be unprecedented.

The Crimson Tide players have felt the rematch with A&M is so relevant that they have been seeing references to the Aggies in their locker room for the entire offseason.

If Bama players haven’t seen the clip of Manziel’s Heisman Trophy moment in Tuscaloosa, they might catch a glimpse on ESPN a bit in the coming days.

The Aggie-Tide clash could be the sport’s biggest regular-season game since the battle of unbeaten between Ohio State and Michigan in 2006 when ESPN’s platforms featured a countdown clock ticking for a week.

And now the most talked about and anticipated game of 2013—if not over the last few years—is taking place in College Station?

“You couldn’t say that about Texas A&M a few years ago,” Cannon said.

In fact, a few years ago Texas A&M was not in the national sports conversation, outside of Acie Law’s magical basketball season and A&M’s run to the national title in women’s’ hoops.

Yet a bold move to the SEC (which stirred potshots aplenty from the pundits), a grand hire of Sumlin and a flamboyant freshman have changed everything.

The Aggies didn’t look like world-beaters against the Rice Owls, and Alabama may have its way with a young and inexperienced A&M defense.

The national attention might even subside a smidgeon if the Aggies don’t replicate an 11-win season.

 But with Sumlin leading the way, Texas A&M isn’t going to sink back into the shadows when Manziel leaves. There are too many pieces in place on the big campus, and more are arriving inside stellar recruiting classes.

The Aggies are all the talk these days, warriors of the water cooler. It certainly beats some of the nation’s old attitude toward Texas A&M football—utter indifference. 

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