The '99 Bonfire game against Texas was healing moment for Aggies
"I really felt more pressure in that game than in any game I've ever coached. I just couldn't envision us not winning the game," said former Texas A&M head football coach R.C. Slocum.
Slocum coached the Aggies from 1989-2002. He says his most significant moment was the 1999 Lonestar Showdown with Texas.
"I'm glad to say our players did a great job of playing through all the emotions, did a great job of preparing, and then did a great job of playing against a really good football team," said Slocum.
The 106th meeting of the Aggies and Longhorns almost didn't happen. The Bonfire tack fell at 2:42 a.m. on November 18, 1999. It was a week before it would have burned to mark the rivalry game.
For a few days, thoughts of the game faded into the background. Slocum and his team went down to the bonfire site to help move logs.
"They were still going through a process of removing logs and trying to find if there were any other survivors or causalities, so the team went over there, coaching staff, and said we'll just put everything on hold right now," said Slocum.
After a meeting with Slocum and A&M administration, it was decided that the game would be played.
"My feelings were that the A&M family, our players, our students, rather than all them scattering and going home to families and being out of pocket I thought that we could draw strength from each other if we had the game and stayed around and stayed with each other," said Slocum.
That feeling of friendship and camaraderie echoed in Austin. In a show of support, Texas head football coach Mack Brown led a memorial service instead of the tradition 'Hex Rally.' Eight days after stack fell, more than 86,000 fans packed Kyle Field as A&M took on Texas.
"There had been so much sorrow during that week and emotion and preparation and campus was covered with media. It was the talk constantly in the news cycle, and I didn't want to burden the players down that they had to go win the game. But we owe it, your obligation is to number one have good preparation, and number two play as well as you can play, give great effort, leave it all on the field," said Slocum.
The Aggies jumped out to an early 6-0 lead but found themselves down at halftime 16-6. At the half, the rivalry game paused. The University of Texas band paid their respects with a touching performance. It's a moment many fans remember to this day.
In the second half, the Aggie defense took over only allowing the Longhorns two first downs. With 5:02 left in the game, quarterback Randy McCown threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Matt Bumgardner for what would be the game-winning score.
The defense shut it down from there, Jay Brooks forced a fumble and Brian Gamle recovered it sealing the 20-16 victory.
"The bonfire game and the impact it had on everybody here at A&M that it was a time of healing for us. That we needed to win that game and we did and give us a little relief in how we were all feeling," said Dave South, the former radio voice of the Aggies.
The win was not for the team, but for the Aggie community.