January 1, 1986 Texas A&M; vs. Auburn
The Wrecking Crew is the staple of modern Texas A&M; football. And being an Aggie fan myself, I can vouch for everyone when I say that no one in Aggieland will be okay with the Wrecking Crew being something that was a tradition for only a little while. Texas A&M; football built itself into the powerhouse that it was during the mid 80's to the late 90's by fielding an always-speedy, aggressive, stifling, hard-hitting defense. Sacks by the Texas A&M; Wrecking Crew defense were a common occurrence, as were stops behind the line, and strong secondary play that rarely allowed the opposition to complete enough passes to keep the front seven honest.
In the 1985 Cotton Bowl, the "Wrecking Crew" moniker was born in dramatic fashion.
In Texas A&M;'s first trip to the Cotton Bowl since 1967, the Jackie Sherrill-coached Aggies led the Auburn Tigers early in the fourth quarter, 21-16. But that lead was threatened when Auburn drove deep into Texas A&M; territory, setting themselves up with a first and goal situation inside the 6 yard line with that year's Heisman Trophy winner, Bo Jackson, lining up in their offensive backfield. The Aggie defense needed to respond.
On first down, the Tigers went to Jackson over the left side of the offensive line, and he found a hole down to the three. On second and goal, quarterback (first name) Burger gave the ball to Bo Jackson straight up the middle. He managed a yard before the Texas A&M; defense swarmed and brought him down to the Cotton Bowl turf.
Third and goal. Auburn went to Jackson again. Aggie defensive lineman Sammy O'Brient slipped under his block on the offensive right side, and caught the Heisman Trophy winner's ankle just as he was launching himself over the pile of humanity toward the end zone. Jackson's flight stopped immediately, and he crashed to the ground at the two like a bird shot out of the sky. No gain.
It was fourth and goal decision time for head coach Pat Dye and his Auburn Tigers. He burned a timeout to talk it over with the brain trust on the sidelines. But with the Heisman Trophy winner in Auburn's backfield, was there ever any real doubt as to what Dye's decision would be?
He was going for the lead.
The noise in the Cotton Bowl had built to a crescendo, the partisan Aggie crowd eliciting a deafening roar in support of their defense that had stood tall so far. A&M; had already surrendered two touchdowns to Jackson earlier in the game, and they did not want to give up a third.
Texas A&M; radio play-by-play announcer Dave South: "There's the handoff to Jackson. He did not make it! And the Aggie fans go absolutely bonkers!"
The Aggies stuffed the Heisman Trophy winner not once, not twice, but four times inside the 10 yard line to preserve their lead, and the legend of "The Wrecking Crew" was born with that final stop. Texas A&M; quarterback Kevin Murray and the Aggie offense took over on downs, and went on to score fifteen more points to win the 1985 Cotton Bowl, 36-16.
From January 1, 1986 through the end of the 2003 season, the Texas A&M; defense was known both far and wide as the Wrecking Crew. But former A&M; head football coach Dennis Franchione stripped the moniker from the squad following the 2003 season when the Aggies gave up a school record 465 points. Then-defensive coordinator Carl Torbush told his defense that they were going to have to earn the name back by playing like the Wrecking Crew defenses of old.
Texas A&M; never returned the defense to its former glory under Dennis Franchione, but new head coach Mike Sherman, who has previously served two stints as offensive line coach at Texas A&M;, understands the tradition that is Aggieland, and is on a mission to restore Texas Aggie football to its glory of the 1990's.
And where there is that glory there will always be "The Wrecking Crew."
November 11, 2006 Florida vs. South Carolina
In what had been a monumental defensive struggle, the Florida Gators saw themselves leading the Gamecocks of South Carolina by one point late in the ball game at Florida Field. Under a night time sky, the Gator faithful built to a crescendo as South Carolina's Ryan Succop lined up to attempt a game-winning 48-yard field goal.
Under the lights in Gainesville, the ball was snapped and spotted, and even kicked. But the ball never made it past the line of scrimmage. Not in flight, anyway, but in a careless wobble, like a duck that had been shot out of the sky.
Florida defensive end, Jarvis Moss, leapt high in the air and got just enough elevation to get one or two fingers on the potential game-winning kick to send the ball careening off to the right and well short of the goal post. The crowd erupted as their beloved Florida Gators found a way, yet again, to win another football game on their way to what would eventually be a National Championship season.
October 8, 1994 Texas vs. Oklahoma
The Red River Shootout is one of the most exciting rivalries in all of college football. Year in and year out, the Texas Oklahoma clash always sees hard-nosed, slobber-knocking football at its best.
The 1994 edition was no different.
With forty-three seconds remaining in the game, the Oklahoma Sooners had the ball at the 3 yard line, trailing the Texas Longhorns 17-10 in a hard-fought defensive battle. Defense would again take the stage for the dramatic finish to the 89th game of the series. On fourth and goal, Sooners' quarterback Garrick McGee dropped straight back, looking into the right flat, trying to get the Longhorns' defense to bite on what looked to be setting up as a halfback screen. Instead, McGee handed the ball off to tailback James Allen on a reverse. Allen took the ball and made a mad dash to the offensive left side with two blockers in front. But UT defensive lineman Stoney Clark wasn't fooled, and skated down the line of scrimmage to meet Allen with the force of a freight train, leveling him at the 2-yard line. The Longhorn crowed erupted. Clark scrambled to his feet, thrusting a triumphant fist into the air, and was mobbed by his teammates.
The 1994 Red River Shootout belonged to the Texas Longhorns.
October 14, 1989 Texas A&M; vs. Houston
College Station, Texas
Four games into the 1989 college football season, the University of Houston Cougars had yet to lose a game, sitting at 4-0, ranked eighth in the country, and owned the nation's best total offense (647.3 yards per game), passing offense (559.8 yards per game), and scoring offense (59 points per game) in all of college football. Their offense, dubbed "The Wareforce," was led by the man that would go on to win the Heisman Trophy later that year, quarterback Andre Ware.
On October 14, Houston head coach Jack Pardee led his Cougars into Kyle Field, the home of the Texas A&M; University Aggies. The odds-makers in Vegas were betting on another UH blowout in College Station, but A&M; had something different in mind.
Everyone knows that the Twelfth Man at Texas A&M; is known as one of the loudest crowds in the country. Unfortunately for Andre Ware, he and his offense would get a formal education on a partly cloudy afternoon at Kyle Field.
First year defensive coordinator, Bob Davie, had to know the task ahead of him was daunting. No one had been able to come close to slowing down the Cougar offense in their first four games, and with an A&M; defense that had given up 46 points in their two losses to that point, the chances of them shutting down the Wareforce were slim at best. But with the backing of his head coach, R.C. Slocum, who had run the defense for many years prior to becoming the head man, Davie used his young, fearless thirty-five-year-old mind to devise a scheme out of A&M;'s base 3-4 alignment that he thought had the best chance at keeping the Houston offense out of the end zone. What Davie did has been used by many defensive coordinators around the country, particularly as of late, to counter the trend of the speedy, wide-open spread offenses that most teams seem to be adopting. Davie put his fastest and best tacklers on the field, including on the defensive line, which he staffed with linebackers in an attempt to beat the Cougar O-line off the line of scrimmage instead of trying to out-muscle them, which no other team had been able to do.
Davie's scheme worked. From the first snap of the ball game, the Houston offense was frustrated as quarterback Andre Ware had to walk from one side of his offensive formation to the other to change the play because his receivers couldn't hear him over the deafening roar issuing from the lungs of 70,000-plus Aggie fanatics. In the third quarter, Ware lost his composure and threw the football into the turf, which resulted in a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. The Aggie secondary stayed with the Cougar receivers all afternoon, not allowing them the running lanes on short passes that they were used to, and the front seven was constantly in Houston's backfield, creating turnovers by forcing Ware to throw the ball before he was set.
By the time the cannon sounded for the final time on that Saturday afternoon at Kyle Field, Texas A&M; had pulled off the biggest upset of the 1989 college football season to that date, shocking the Cougars, 17-13. The Wrecking Crew held Houston to 47 points below their season average, forced four turnovers, and sacked the eventual Heisman Trophy winner six times.
The Wrecking Crew put their final stamp on the game when Aggie linebacker Aaron Wallace recorded the sixth and final sack of Andre Ware late in the fourth quarter. As Ware went down, his helmet came off, and Wallace picked it up off the Kyle Field turf, and slowly raised it into the air, holding it aloft, in triumph, sending the 12th Man into a frenzy. It was a moment that told the tale of the entire afternoon and set the standard of what would be expected from Bob Davie's defenses from then on. Texas A&M;'s performance on the afternoon of October 14, 1989 would go down, not only as one of the greatest defensive moments in the college game itself, but as one of the greatest defensive performances in the long, storied history of Fightin' Texas Aggie Football.
January 8, 2007 Florida vs. Ohio State
BCS National Championship Game
I have always wondered why the Heisman Trophy is given out before the bowl season begins. How many times have we watched the Heisman Trophy winner go into their team's bowl game just a month after accepting the hardware and come out on the wrong end of a lop-sided loss, or give the poorest performance of their college career?
Such was the case for Ohio State's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Troy Smith, in the 2007 BCS National Championship game.
The hype surrounding the game was focused squarely on the Ohio State Buckeyes. For weeks, the sports media talked about the mismatch that the Bowl Championship Series had given college football fans. Ohio State was an undefeated machine that had rolled through the Big Ten Conference unscathed, including pounding Michigan at Ohio Stadium and taking an early-season cakewalk through the Texas Longhorns in Austin. The Florida Gators, on the other hand, were a one-loss team that had dropped a game at Auburn earlier in the year, 27-17. That one loss, I guess, constituted an Ohio State route over the Gators, in the minds of the sportswriters around the country. By kickoff of the BCS National Championship game, the sports world had effectively written off the Urban Meyer-coached team. And, to the credit of those sportswriters, it sure looked like the game would turn ugly quickly in Ohio State's favor when the Buckeyes' Ted Ginn, Jr. returned the opening kickoff for an electrifying touchdown. But the Gators responded immediately, and would go on to score twenty-one unanswered points to take a 21-7 lead before Buckeye tailback Antonio Pittman scored from eighteen yards out to cut UF's lead to 21-14.
Unfortunately for Ohio State, that was as close as they would get to the Gators for the rest of the night.
Behind a steady dose of redshirt freshman quarterback Tim Tebow running the football, and senior quarterback Chris Leak through the air, the Gators built a 34-14 lead by halftime, and managed to get into the end zone once more before the final whistle to win the national title going away, 41-14.
As much as Florida's offense played a part in annihilating the Buckeyes that night, it was the Gator's defense that stole the show and put a stamp on the University of Florida's second national championship.
The 2006 Ohio State Buckeyes possessed one of the most explosive offenses in the country, scoring an average of 34.6 points and racking up 384.5 yards per game. Ohio State also boasted the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner, Troy Smith, a dual-threat quarterback with scrambling ability comparable to Vince Young. But on that night, the Florida Gators held OSU's powerful offense to just 82 yards of total offense. The ever-elusive Troy Smith was smothered, rushing ten times for -29 yards, including five sacks. The Buckeyes had just 47 net yards on the ground. Florida's pass defense wasn't shabby, either. Smith was the only quarterback that took snaps for Ohio State that night, and the Gators allowed him to complete just 4 passes for 35 yards.
By the time the game came to a close in Glendale, Arizona, Florida head coach Urban Meyer was pumping his arms in the air, asking for the Gator faithful to show their appreciation for their beloved team, and once-confident Ohio State stood stunned by one of the all-time greatest defensive performances in all of college football, courtesy of the Florida Gators.