During a golf-focused trip to Birmingham in the summer of 2015, former Texas A&M head coach R.C. Slocum was stopped by numerous Alabama fans who had made the voyage to Aggieland in September 2013 to watch the early-season showdown between the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide and the sixth-ranked Aggies.
In the aftermath of the Aggies' stunning upset victory over the Tide in Tuscaloosa in 2012--the signature moment of Johnny Manziel's meteoric rise from relative obscurity in September to rock star-like luminary in December--the media hype leading up to the rematch in '13 was unprecedented in Texas A&M football history.
Remarkably, the 2013 game actually lived up to its big-time billing, as Manziel produced 562 yards of total offense against Nick Saban's vaunted defense. If only the Aggies could have played a little defense Manziel's magnificence would have been enough. Instead, the national television audience--the highest-rated afternoon regular-season game on CBS in 23 years--was treated to an offensive shootout in which Alabama prevailed, 49-42.
The atmosphere inside Kyle Field was so electric, with a capacity crowd of 87,596 roaring like a jet engine, that the Alabama fans who made the trip were still raving about the greatness of game day in Aggieland nearly two years later. Slocum says he appreciated their genuine respect regarding the stadium where he served as either an assistant or head coach for roughly three decades.
He also challenged those fans to return this year when the Aggies play host to the Tide Oct. 17, 2015.
"I told them that if they thought Kyle Field was impressive in 2013 that they really needed to come back this fall," said Slocum, who first arrived as an assistant at A&M in December 1971 and became the winningest head coach in school history from 1989-2002. "Think about how much the stadium will have changed from that day in 2013 to when Alabama comes back this year. We're talking about a night-and-day difference.
"It's really pleasing to me to see this university take such bold steps in a relatively short period of time. I am happy for the coaches, student-athletes, fans and everybody associated with Texas A&M. It makes me so proud to see Texas A&M taking the lead in football facilities in so many ways. I'm delighted because, throughout the history of the university, we have typically drug our feet and responded very slowly in building athletic facilities just to catch up with other programs across the state. The (redeveloped) Kyle Field is a bold step in the right direction, and I can't wait to see how A&M benefits from this for years to come."
Indeed, the $485 million redevelopment of Kyle Field, along with the sparkling $20.8 million overhaul of the Bright Football Complex, makes A&M the envy of the college football universe in terms of the capacities, amenities, luxuries and eye-popping, head-turning, recruit-wowing niceties that will soon be in place in Aggieland.
A&M is now positioned to reap the benefits on multiple fronts--maintaining and/or attracting top coaches, recruiting elite student-athletes, generating increased revenues, improving the home-field advantage, etc.--immediately and for the foreseeable future.
From a football facilities standpoint, A&M has never been in this trendsetting position before. And perhaps the massive investment in facilities will lead the Aggies to a place they have not been since 1939: college football national champions.
Ultimately, that's the goal, and that certainly does not seem out of the realm of strong possibilities considering how A&M athletic department officials, head coach Kevin Sumlin and 12th Man Foundation donors have continued to build upon such an impressive foundation for future success ever since the decision was made to move to the SEC.
While it's impossible to predict just how much of a lift the new facilities will give A&M in the future, it is interesting to look back to see how facility investments in Kyle Field have boosted the Aggies in the past. Virtually every time A&M has made a major investment in Kyle Field, the Aggies have reaped benefits on the field in attracting top coaches and players that have produced championships. Here are a look at a couple of those previous investments and the positive results:
Heralded as "the largest sports facility of its kind in the Southwest" upon its completion, the University of Texas unveiled the first concrete stadium in the Lone Star State with a seating capacity of 27,000 in 1924.
Three years later, A&M responded by cementing the first five sections of a new Kyle Field, and 16 more sections were added in '29. With temporary seating in the south end zone, Kyle Field's capacity entering the decade of the 1930s could extend to almost 38,000.
Concrete was first poured at Kyle Field in 1927. In 1929, several more concrete sections were added to the north end zone of the stadium to increase capacity to more than 38,000. The improvements eventually helped coach Homer Norton attract the players who won the 1939 national championship.
The concrete investment became extremely important a few years later. Dana X. Bible, who led the Aggies to five SWC championships and two national championships (1919 and 1927, awarded retroactively), left A&M for Nebraska prior to the 1929 season.
Without its "Bible," A&M went straight to hell.
Well, not exactly to hell, but A&M was merely mediocre under Madison Bell, who went just 8-14-3 in the SWC from 1929-33. Some of the more frustrated former students at A&M College were in favor of dropping the football program prior to the 1934 season instead of spending funds to hire a new coach.
Cooler heads prevailed, however, and a contingent of A&M officials offered the head coaching job to Homer Norton in January 1934, boarding a train in College Station and traveling to Shreveport, La., where Norton had spent the previous 10 years coaching at Centenary. It would have been much easier to buy Norton a train ticket so he could have traveled to College Station, but A&M officials knew he would have never taken the job if he toured the drab campus.
Even in the midst of the darkest days of the Great Depression, A&M's appearance in the early 1930s took despair to new depths. There were not many curves of note in the campus topography, and there were no curvaceous students like today.
Nevertheless, the Aggies' contingent painted a rosy picture in Shreveport, and Norton was ultimately persuaded by the description of the majesty of Kyle Field. The moon-faced Norton accepted the job, sight unseen. Then he arrived in Aggieland. What he found was not exactly the way it had been portrayed or what he had expected.
While he was impressed by Kyle Field's splendor, he was equally disturbed by the stadium's bonded debt of $210,000. Times had been so bleak in 1933 that the athletic department only managed to pay the interest of its debt. Tickets had been slashed to $1.50 apiece, but in the midst of economic uncertainty, filling seats was a significant problem.
In Norton's first two years, A&M went 2-7-2 in 1934 and 3-7 the following season. But thanks in large part to Kyle Field, the Aggies won some recruiting battles, which helped the Aggies go 8-3-1 in 1936.
While A&M was rising in the standings, it was still sinking into an abyss of debt. The mounting economic pressures sent Norton to the Mayo Brothers Clinic for ulcer surgery in 1936, and by the spring of 1937, he'd concluded that there was only one way A&M could ever emerge from the depths of its financial black hole: Win big and fill up the stadium. That was the message shared with the A&M players entering the 1939 season.
"During one of breaks in a preseason practice in the summer of 1939, the stadium's namesake, Edwin Jackson Kyle, visited with us," said Roy Bucek, a letterman on the 1939 team, during an interview for his book, "Roy Story." "He told us: 'You fellas have a big burden on your backs. We haven't made a principle payment on this stadium in three years. If we don't make a principle payment on the stadium this year, the bank is going to foreclose on us. You understand what that means?'
"We all nodded. Hell, we didn't want to appear like a bunch of fools, but truthfully, none of us knew what Kyle was talking about. Most of us didn't know what a principle payment was, and we had only a vague understanding of what might happen if the bank foreclosed on us. I thought that maybe they'd take the stadium from us. I'd seen homes and farms that had been foreclosed, and other people moved into them. I wondered if some other football team might move into our stadium. Would the University of Texas buy our stadium? How about Baylor?"
In 1938, A&M averaged about 5,000 fans for varsity home games. Nevertheless, prior to the '39 national championship, ticket prices were raised to $2.50 apiece. As A&M kept winning, fan kept coming. More than 30,000 fans poured into Kyle Field for both of the final two games of the season--wins over SMU and Texas--which more than doubled the attendance for all of '38.
"We didn't know it was a big deal to win the 'national championship' because we didn't know what the hell a national championship was," Bucek said. "But according to old Edwin Jackson Kyle, we saved the whole damn football program from being removed by filling up the seats at Kyle Field. That forever changed the image of A&M, I suppose."
In 1953, a partial second deck and a press box were added to the west side at a cost of $346,000. Prior to the 1954 season, the Aggies hired a coach by the name of Paul "Bear" Bryant.
Building Blocks of a Championship?
The construction of additional decks to Kyle Field (opposite page) helped Texas A&M land Paul "Bear" Bryant and Jackie Sherrill as coaches in different eras. Both hires elevated the program at their respective times. With Kyle Field currently undergoing its major redevelopment, A&M will soon be a stadium frontrunner for the first time in the school's history. Time will tell if this unprecedented investment in the football program will help lead the Aggies to the school's first national championship in more than 75 years.
The second deck was expanded and other improvements were added in 1967 to raise the capacity to 48,000 at a cost of $1.84 million. The Aggies, under the direction of Gene Stallings, promptly won the first SWC title in more than a decade in '67.
Expansion continued in 1980, when a third deck was added to the east and west sides of Kyle Field, bringing the capacity to more 70,000. The on-the-field turnaround was not immediate, as the Tom Wilson-led Aggies went a combined 11-12 in 1980-81. But after Wilson was fired following the conclusion of the '81 season, the Aggies were able to make the most high profile hire in college football in the early 1980s, luring Jackie Sherrill from Pittsburgh.
"There's no way I would have come to Texas A&M without the commitment they had made to the stadium," Sherrill said recently. "Then we built Netum Steed (the 23,736-square-foot facility that housed one of the country's largest weight rooms) in 1985, and we turned a corner. We became the prominent program in the state of Texas. The investment in facilities made a huge difference in allowing us to attract the caliber of athlete who enabled us to win three straight conference championships (in 1985, '86 and '87).
"That's what makes me so excited about the future of Texas A&M football. I believe the right people are in place, and I think the facilities that are being built right now are going to help A&M become one of the prominent powers--not just in the state or the SEC--in the country for years to come. These are really exciting times."
Indeed, the future is brighter than ever before for Texas A&M football...thanks largely in part to the Aggies being the football facilities frontrunner for the first time in the school's history.
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This is my way of telling Texas A&M 'Thank you.'"