Another football season is almost here, and just out is another Aggie football book – this one unique in that it takes a virtual scrapbook approach, with the text and photos punctuated by sleeves containing memorabilia replicas. It’s the “Texas A&M University Football Vault: The History of the Aggies.”
The pull-out replicas include tickets to a by-gone game, a sideline press pass, pocket-size photos, Aggie-flavored postcards and a page from a publication featuring shots of helmeted players on the 1939 national championship team.
Rusty Burson, who has covered Aggie sports for almost two decades and now writes for the 12th Man Foundation, is the author of the large-format 144-page volume. He chronicles the tales of Aggie football from 1894 through the 2008 season, mixing “10 big games remembered” per era with behind-the-scenes anecdotes and personal stories.
“I’ve done a number of A&M-related books through the years, but this one was particularly fun because of how much I learned about the history of Aggie football, dating back to the earliest days,” Burson said. “Just when you think you have a grasp on just about everything there is to know about A&M football history, you do a little digging and uncover some pretty remarkable things about this place. I discovered some things about the early days at A&M that I found extremely interesting. I included it all in this book.”
Former A&M Head Coach Jackie Sherrill provided the foreword and his successor, R. C. Slocum, penned the afterword.
“I was blessed with the opportunity to coach at Texas A&M, a very special university. With this opportunity came unique challenges and responsibilities to lead so many outstanding and gifted players on and off the field,” noted Sherrill, who coached the Aggies to a record three straight Southwest Conference championships (1985-87).
Sherrill reflected on his revolutionary idea to create the 12th Man Kickoff Team, a unit made up of students who were not on athletic scholarships: “When I started the 12th Man Kickoff Team, I found my missing jigsaw piece. I found the spirit of the 12th Man and the spirit of Aggieland. The spirit of all those Aggies who stood ready when called and offered a special job. The spirit that never found an Aggie unprepared or unqualified.”
In the afterword, Slocum said his “deep affection for Texas A&M” started as a result of a trip to Aggieland when he was in junior high school and was treated to a trip to attend a Thanksgiving Day game between the Aggies and the Longhorns. It was his first time to set foot on a college campus.
“From 1972 to 2002, I coached in every A&M-Texas game except in 1981, when I was John Robinson’s defensive coordinator at the University of Southern California,” observed Slocum, the coach who holds the record for the most Aggie wins (123). “On my way back from California, I vowed to myself that it would be hard to ever get me to leave Aggieland again.” He’s still there.
Sherrill, Slocum and Bryant are prominently reflected in the “10 big games remembered,” as are Coaches D.X. Bible – whose 1917 team was not scored on – and Gene Stallings.
Stallings is featured in a classic photo showing him being given a big bear hug by Bear Bryant after Stallings’ Aggies beat Bryant’s Alabama team in the 1968 Cotton Bowl that followed a storybook Southwest Conference championship for Texas A&M. Stallings is one of the famous “Junction Boys”–the tag given to the Aggie players who endured Bryant’s grueling Hill Country training camp before the 1954 season.
The “Vault” is the fourth Aggie-related football book with which Burson has been associated. He is also the author of “Texas A&M: Where Have You Gone?” and co-author, with Homer Jacobs, of “Standing Together: The Spirit of Kyle Field.” Additionally, he assisted former Aggie and Dallas Cowboy standout Dat Nguyen with a book titled “Dat: Tackling Life and the NFL.”
Aggie football has also been the focus of several other books, including two by Brent Zwerneman: “Game of My Life: 25 Stories of Aggie Football” and “More Tales From Aggieland.” Other Aggie football books include “The Junction Boys” by Jim Dent, “No Experience Required” by Jackie Sherrill with Caleb Pirtle, “The 1939 Texas Aggies: The Greatest Generation’s Greatest Team” by Mickey Herskowitz, “John David Crow, Heart of a Champion” by Steve Pate, “Stadium Stories: Texas A&M Aggies” by Olin Buchanan and “Tales from Aggieland: Home of the Twelfth Man” by Bo Carter and Mike McKenzie.
Burson dedicated his latest book to Spencer Squire, who died in 2007 at age 6 from an undetectable brain tumor that hemorrhaged. Burson refers to Spencer as one of his “all-time favorite Little Aggies.” He adds: “My guess is that Spencer, upon entering the ‘Pearly Gates,’ asked God to scan his 12th Man Rewards Card and then inquired about directions to John Kimbrough’s residence,” referring to the legendary Aggie running back on the 1939 national championship team.
The hard-cover book and its slipcase feature an array of Aggie football notables, including Crow, the Aggies’ only Heisman Trophy winner, and Nguyen, a Wrecking Crew leader and Lombardi Award winner, along with Coaches Bryant, Sherrill and Slocum.
The $49.95 publication is part of the “College Vault Books” series from Atlanta-based Whitman Publishing.