Memorable Game: Texas A&M @ Rice 11/12/1955
John David Crow
"I was too busy praying."
You couldn't blame the spectators among the 68,000 in Rice Stadium who began leaving with five minutes to go in what had been a boring game.
- Throttling sophomore RB John David Crow, Rice led Bear Bryant's second Aggie team 12-0. Inept all afternoon, A&M's offense might score one TD but two? No way.
- In the press box, Clark Nealon, sports editor of the Houston Post, told his young reporter Mickey Herskowitz to head down to the A&M dressing room for the post-game interview.
- The only writer who went with Bear's maiden Aggie squad to Junction TX for the brutal preseason practices of 1954, Mickey didn't relish facing Bryant after the loss. He's very superstitious, and he'll blame that big story I did on him this morning for getting beat. He'll chew me out for jinxing him.
- As Mickey waited for the cumbersome elevator to arrive, he heard a loud roar from the crowd. He assumed Rice had recovered a fumble.
- As the elevator ponderously descended, the passengers heard another roar. Guess Rice scored, thought Herskowitz.
- When the lift finally reached ground level, Mickey elbowed his way through the standing spectators to get to the field. Just as he came in view of the action, Aggie Don Watson scored a TD. Well, the Aggies at least scored. Then Mickey glanced at the scoreboard, and his jaw dropped: A&M 20 Rice 12
- By the time the writer battled his way into the jubilant A&M dressing room, Bear was sitting on the steps, his head buried in his arms.
Coach, I got caught in the elevator. What in the world happened?
I don't know. I was too busy praying.
- The Aggies had pulled victory from the jaws of defeat by scoring three TDs in the space of two minutes and 18 seconds.
With a 5-1-1 record, A&M entered the game as a touchdown favorite.
- On the other hand, Jess Neely's Owls, besieged by injuries, had lost four straight games, causing rumblings among the fans that the veteran coach's days were numbered.
- Neely had his defense focus on stopping Crow, whom Bryant would call the greatest player I ever coached. The 6'2" 215 pounder was a punishing runner who also backed up the line and played safety in that limited substitution era. (It would be three more years before Paul Dietzel would concoct his three-platoon system at LSU and show coaches how to have offensive and defensive specialists.)
- The Aggies never threatened during the first three periods as the Owls, stacking nine men at the line of scrimmage, also stopped hard-charging FB/LB Jack Pardee.
- Bryant had aided the opponent's task by starting Watson, normally a HB, at QB because he was dissatisfied with the play of his other three signal-callers. Don was a quick runner but couldn't pass worth a damn.
- Rice finally put together a 56y drive in Q3 before petering out at the 10.
The home team broke the scoring ice in the final period.
- Taking advantage of a short Aggie punt, QB King Hill completed several passes to put the ball on the 7. From there, Paul Zipperlen carried it across. The PAT kick sailed wide.
- The Owls were back in business immediately when Bill Dendy fumbled while returning the kickoff and Rice G Lew Harpold fell on the ball at the A&M 31.
- The Rice backs alternated toting the lather until Zipperlen again did the honors around LE on fourth-and-1 from the 5. The Aggies blocked the PAT try to keep the score at 12-0 with eight minutes left.
- To make matters worse, Crow was carried off the field on the A&M's next possession. Since he didn't start the quarter, he couldn't return even if he recovered.
The Aggies finally scored with 3:18 left.
- Desperate to shake up his offense, Bryant inserted Jimmy Wright at QB with 4:31 to play. Wright had gotten into Bear's doghouse by passing too much.
- Still, it was a run that finally got the Aggies going. Speedy sophomore HB Loyd Taylor from Roswell NM, playing in Crow's absence, took an option pitchout from Wright and set sail around LE. Ends Bobby Keith and Gene Stallings took out the nearest defenders to allow Taylor to streak down the sideline until HB Ken Williams lassoed him at the 3.
- Carries by Pardee and Wright failed to penetrate the Owl defense. So Taylor took over again and slanted off LT into the EZ. He also booted the EP to make it 12-7.
Everyone still in the stands knew what was coming next.
- Neely gathered his kick return team on the sidelines and warned them to watch for an onside kick.
- Jack Powell's kick spiraled toward the left sideline. With the widest Owl too far inside, Bear's favorite player, Stallings, beat everyone to the ball on the Rice 43.
- Fearing that the Watson experiment might not work, Bear had told Wright before the opening kickoff, If we get behind, you're goin' in. I want you to throw it deep. Keep an eye on number 15 [Zipperlin]. He's a sucker for the long pass.
- So Jimmy called a play that required Taylor to go deep. I ain't worked on it, said Loyd. But Wright assured him: All you gotta do is run past number 15. I'll throw it to the flag. Just make sure you get there.
- The play worked like a charm. Loyd roared past Zipperlin and caught Wright's pass just as he entered the EZ. Taylor added the PAT for his 14th point in 46 seconds.
Suddenly and shockingly behind with a little more than two minutes to play, Rice took to the air.
- But Hill fired the ball right to Pardee. Jack rambled down the sideline for 40y to the 8.
- After Rice was penalized to the 3, Watson, able to return to the game since he started the period, followed Pardee's block into the EZ to complete the stunning comeback. This was the play that Herskowitz had thought was A&M's first score.
- Three TDs in 2:16 - the fastest comeback in college football history. 20 points in only four snaps.
Needless to say, the two dressing rooms provided a contrast in moods.
- The exultant Aggies doused Wright with cokes. But it would take more than one TD pass for Bryant to trust him. That's why he had put Watson back in after getting the lead.
- Bear told the press, We were lucky to win it. They outplayed us for three quarters. But I'm lucky to be coaching a bunch like this, and I'm not surprised at anything they do.
- A&M President Dr. David Morgan was one of the first to congratulate his coach. I don't believe it, Coach. Tell me it's true. Bryant: I don't believe it either.
- Bear admitted he had tried to take Taylor out of the game after his 55y run. I knew he was tired. I wanted to put Bobby Conrad in, but I couldn't get him in. Maybe I was lucky.
- Taylor, lisping through two missing front teeth: It was nothing. All I had to do was run hard.
- The usually impassive Neely wore an obvious pained look in the somber Rice locker room. It's hard to understand. We knew the only way on earth they could beat us, even after that first touchdown, was to try an onside kick. ... There was no sense to it, playing so well for all that time, then doing so badly in the last few minutes.
The Aggies could win their first Southwest Conference crown since 1939 by defeating Texas on Thanksgiving.
- A&M had beaten the Longhorns only once since that championship year.
- But even if they won, they couldn't represent the conference in the Southwest Conference because they had been put on probation by the conference and the NCAA for recruiting violations.
- That factor became a moot point when A&M once again lost to Texas 21-6.
- The Aggies would not win the elusive title until 1956, but their probation, which the conference voted to end but the NCAA didn't, prohibited their participation in a bowl game.
References: Football: The Greatest Moments in the Southwest Conference, Will Grimsley (1968); The Junction Boys, Jim Dent (1999)
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Memorable Games Archives - I
1912: Carlisle @ Army
1921: Centre @ Harvard
1924: Michigan @ Illinois
1929: Rose Bowl
1939: Texas Tech @ Centenary
1940: Bears @ Redskins
1941: Sugar Bowl
1941: Willamette @ Hawaii
1964: Alabama @ Georgia Tech
Memorable Games Archives - II
1947: Eagles @ Cardinals
1953: Iowa @ Notre Dame
1959: Oklahoma @ Northwestern
1966: Notre Dame @ Michigan State
1967: Ice Bowl (Dallas @ Green Bay)
1971: Nebraska @ Oklahoma
Memorable Games Archives - III
1967: Unlikely Hero (Super Bowl I)
1968: "Harvard Beats Yale 29-29"
1969: Believe in Bo
(Ohio State @ Michigan)
1974: "Who Won the Damn Game?" (Ohio State @ Michigan State)
1979: "You Shoulda Passed" (Sugar Bowl)
1980: Revenge Is Sweet (Kentucky @ Tulane)
1985: Greatest Finish No One Knows About (Principia @ Illlinois College)
Memorable Games Archives - IV
1982: Kellen Gives His All (Chargers @ Dolphins)
1982: The Dolphins Wuz Robbed (Dolphins @ Patriots)
1984: No Tie for Tom (Orange Bowl)
1985: Let Sleeping Beavers Lie (Oregon State @ Washington)
1993: "Game of the Century" a Week Later (Boston College @ Notre Dame)
1997: Why It's Called "Foot"-ball (Nebraska @ Missouri
Memorable Games Archives - V
1948: The Snow Bowl (Cardinals @ Eagles)
1958: The Game That Made the NFL (Colts @ Giants)
1962: NFL Championship Game
1984: "We Don't Want No Stinkin' FG"
Memorable Games Archives - VI
1929: Ernie's Record-Setting Day (Cardinals @ Bears)
1934: Gopher Deception (Minnesota @ Pitt)
1939: Why Didn't You Kick? (UCLA-USC)
1942: We Will Have Our Rose Bowl Trip!
1943: Sid Luckman Day (Bears @ Giants)
1952: Evy Surprises Woody (Ohio State @ Iowa)
1956: Unlikely Hero (Rose Bowl)
1963: Birth of Instant Replay (Army-Navy)
1965: A Day to Remember (49ers @ Bears)
Memorable Games Archives - VII
1942: East-West Shrine Game
1943: Del Monte Pre-Flight @ Pacific
1949: Notre Dame @ SMU
1950: The Snow Bowl (Michigan @ Ohio State)
1965: Chiefs @ Oilers
1969: Texas @ Arkansas
1970: Oregon @ UCLA
1972: Auburn vs Alabama
1984: Holiday Bowl
1986: Auburn @ Florida
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