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November 6, 2012

Some things are never forgotten

An interesting bit of trivia - or, if you believe in such things, a portentous omen - has been making the rounds this week, a tidbit involving Texas A&M football history.

It was 10 years ago this very weekend that the Aggies last defeated a No. 1 team, knocking off Bob Stoops' Oklahoma Sooners 30-26. Adding to the novelty - or, again depending on your preference, the relevance - is the fact that current Aggie head coach Kevin Sumlin was A&M's offensive coordinator at the time.

There was something else going on at that exact time, something that touched directly on both Alabama and Texas A&M. Because even as R.C. Slocum was guiding the Aggies to that memorable upset of Oklahoma, the Texas A&M power brokers were working on a deal that would oust Slocum and bring a new coach to College Station. That coach, of course, was Alabama's Dennis Franchione.

That move became official Dec. 6, 2002, and reaction was immediate. A&M thought it had pulled off a coup that might make up, at least in part, for Alabama taking Paul "Bear" Bryant away from College Station more than 40 years earlier. (Alabama fans simply regard that as Bryant "coming home.")

Franchione's reasons for leaving involved a number of factors, many of them related to the dreadfully stiff NCAA penalties that had been levied against Alabama in February 2002. Those penalties, Franchione feared, would make it difficult for Alabama to compete. Whether he doubted the patience of the fan base, the resolve of Alabama's leadership or simply his own tolerance for playing short-handed against Southeastern Conference competition, Franchione thought that he would be better off leaving.

The reaction from Alabama fans was swift and angry. There was a sense of betrayal. In two years, Franchione had gone 7-5, then 10-3 (one of those losses, ironically, to that very same Oklahoma team that Texas A&M would later knock from its No. 1 perch) and Crimson Tide fans thought he would be around as they weathered the sanctions, that he would stay loyal to players he had encouraged to remain.

When he did not, outrage ensued. Ill will was primarily directed at Franchione personally, but some of that rancor naturally spilled over to Texas A&M itself. For the next five years, many Alabama fans pulled against the Aggies every weekend with about as much ardor as Texas fans do. Those fans regarded it as pure karma that whatever magic Franchione had in Tuscaloosa never arrived in College Station, and they were well-satisfied when his dismal run was terminated in 2007.

After that, Alabama fans more or less ignored A&M. If there was any thought given to the Aggies at all, it was more affable, memories of Bryant's Junction Boys, or the ever-popular Gene Stallings or even former UA player and Aggie coach Jackie Sherrill. Both Stallings and Sherrill are expected in Tuscaloosa on Saturday (Franchione not so much).

Both programs are enjoying successful seasons. Saturday's story lines will come from the Aggies trying for a historic upset, or the Crimson Tide trying to contain dynamic Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel.

For the most part, the past is forgotten - although not entirely.



Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.


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