12th Man

Chadd and Amy French

My mind would not let me rest in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

It’s just a game I kept telling myself.

I’d tried the same tactic all throughout the football game. Over and over on Saturday night as my beloved Aggies revealed what their fans have known since the season started—how talented and capable they actually are—I kept thinking it. It’s only a game.

Moms say it to lift a downtrodden spirit. Naysayers dismiss an outcome they aren’t pleased with and those who don’t enjoy sports say it about grown men getting paid to play a game.

Sleep alluded me as I kept replaying with excitement the newly-found poise of Zach Calzada and the toughened offensive line and the two touchdown catches by Ainais Smith and the 96-yard kick return by Devon Achane. I tried to settle my mind with the stupid mantra.

It didn’t work.

It also didn’t work the week before when they’d lost a heartbreaker to Mississippi State, when Calzada left the field visibly discouraged and dejected.

My sleep-deprived brain wrestled with the words and why they didn’t work.

Maybe it isn’t true.

In 1921 E. King Gill was a sophomore at Texas A&M who played football and basketball and baseball. He left the football team to focus on basketball. But when the football team faced No. 1 Centre College, Gill was in the stands watching his former teammates. Through the first half, they suffered multiple injuries. When things looked grim, Coach Bible asked for Gill’s help. Gill dressed and stood ready on the sideline to go into the game if needed. He did not have to, but he was ready and willing to do what was necessary for something beyond himself.

When No. 1 Alabama visited Kyle Field on Saturday, the entire student section stood, as they always do, for the entire game to show they are prepared to do the same—contribute to something more than themselves.

And those players recognized the support they had. When no one gave them a chance to win this kind of game, the Aggie faithful with more than 106,000 in the stands were there to let them know they believe.

“I think they (the 12th Man) played a big part in our win,” said running back Isaiah Spiller. “I’m thankful for them coming out and supporting us even after a couple of rough weeks.”

Thousands more watching on TV were hopeful, invested. Players, coaches and their families have put so much in, but were there to give even more.

In my home, Texas A&M is almost like another member of our family. The traditions mean something, specifically caring for one another, investing in each others’ lives. The reward is not always winning, but the celebrations are so much greater when you have been there for all of it—the up and the down.

There is a bonding between friends and families and even rivals. More than one Georgia fan sent congratulations on Saturday night and even an Ole Miss fan who professed they just wanted a break from Nick Saban.

Though it is just a game, it is a game that can change and enrich lives.

Junior high and high school athletes often get their first taste of self discipline on a playing field, in a weight room. They learn there is inherent reward when they sacrifice for something more than themselves. They learn what comes of working for a common goal and to celebrate the success of a team. And as hard of a lesson as it can be, they also begin to understand it isn’t only winning which teaches us.

In an age increasingly focused on “I,” it is one way to chip away at utter self-centeredness.

It was a total team effort, every player had to succeed in their job for the outcome to be achieved, to give Seth Small the opportunity to bend it through the uprights.

After Saturday’s game, Coach Jimbo Fisher said he didn’t care about accolades like being the first former assistant of Nick Saban’s to defeat him. He cared about a team growing, coming together.

Every school has their traditions, no doubt. To say A&M is rich with them is an understatement and in this 100th year celebration of the 12th Man, everyone came through.

In 1921, the Aggies stunned the No. 1 team in the country.

The 2021 team did it again on Oct. 9.

It may be just a game, but it is just the kind of game I love.

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