November 25, 2011

Don't fret, Cotton Bowl will bring Texas, A&M together again

Future Texas-A&M gatherings will take place in JerryWorld.

Officials at the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic have yet to begin formal deliberations about participants in their Jan. 6 game at Cowboys Stadium.

But if you're seeking the ideal matchup for next season's bowl game in Arlington, let's book a rematch of Thursday's epic, regular-season finale in the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry.

That IS possible, with A&M sliding into the Southeastern Conference pool of teams in the Cotton Bowl equation for the 2012 season and Texas remaining on the Big 12 side of the matchup.

Cotton Bowl president Rick Baker loves the idea of a Longhorns-Aggies game in JerryWorld in January 2013.

"I think we'd have to have two or three stadiums worth of seats for all the demand," Baker said.

Especially after Texas kicker Justin Tucker's 40-yard field goal as time expired provided the impetus for a 27-25 victory in College Station, followed by some tongue-wagging from fans and players on both sides.

"Sending them off to the SEC with a sour taste in their mouth feels pretty good," Tucker said after helping No. 25 Texas (7-4, 4-4 in Big 12) defeat A&M (6-6, 4-5) in the 118th and final scheduled meeting in the series.

A&M tailback Ben Malena fired back, downplaying the long-term significance of Thursday's outcome.

"We're going to the SEC next year. So we've got bigger and better things to worry about," Malena said.

Maybe so.

But throughout Kyle Field, where almost all of the 88,645 fans were wearing maroon and screaming before being silenced by Tucker's decisive kick, you received the distinct vibe that nothing was more important than sawing off Varsity's horns one last time and securing bragging rights over A&M's longtime rival for the foreseeable future.

Malena tried to redirect the focus. But A&M teammates drove home the gut-wrenching disappointment of Thursday night, from their perspective, in a downcast postgame news conference.

Hunter, a senior team captain, called it "by far the most painful loss" of his A&M career. Receiver Jeff Fuller, a fellow senior, agreed.

Any series that means that much to the participants -- and you can bet Texas players would have shared similar sentiments if the roles had been reversed -- is one worth preserving.

"It's a game we should have won and we didn't," said A&M coach Mike Sherman, echoing a season-long mantra for a team that squandered double-digit leads in five of its six losses, including a 13-0 edge against Texas. "This is a devastating loss for our team ... I've never experienced a season like this and I don't plan on experiencing a season like it again."

For the growing legion of A&M fans who would like to see Sherman experience the 2012 season on someone else's sideline, here's a reality check: The steep exit fees required to move to the SEC (an estimated $28 million, based on Big 12 bylaws unless a lower figure can be negotiated) and the buyout of Sherman's contract (between $7 million and $9 million, said A&M sources with knowledge of the situation) make it unlikely that the Aggies will change anything other than conferences for the 2012 football season.

So, angry Aggies are urged to dig deep and contact A&M President R. Bowen Loftin. Otherwise, get ready for life in the SEC without regular matchups such as the classic that unfolded Thursday night against Texas.

It's a shame for college football fans in this state, regardless of their rooting interest, that this rivalry will disappear as a November staple. Eventually, you have to think ruffled feathers, bruised egos and misplaced priorities will be set aside and the rivalry will be resumed -- some day. It's too important to bury forever.

"You grow up with it, watching it as a child, and ... it just becomes ingrained into something that is just a part of your life," said Texas offensive guard David Snow, a senior who capped his playing career with a 3-1 mark against the Aggies. "I appreciate it right now. I'm sure I'm going to appreciate it even more when I'm old."

Series history, combined with Thursday's dramatic finish -- a last-second kick, capping a drive aided by a borderline (at best) personal-foul penalty on Hunter -- begs for a rematch ASAP. The Cotton Bowl can provide that, as soon as January 2013.

Baker said it "didn't take long" for those in the Cotton Bowl office to begin discussing the idea of matching the Aggies and Longhorns once A&M announced its move to the SEC in September.

A week of nostalgic, pregame reports about the series' impending demise only added to the momentum for a future matchup, from all indications.

"Everyone sees all this gloom and doom. We certainly can see a scenario where there would be future meetings," Baker said. "It would certainly be one of the more memorable ... Cotton Bowls, without a doubt, to bring those two storied programs together."

The sooner, the better. After Thursday's dramatic finish, I think I can speak for all Texans in saying that.

Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

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