August 31, 1998
Let the record show that on Aug. 31, 1998 - a day that will long be remembered for the dramatic decline of the Dow - Texas A&M's stock was probably the only one that rose significantly. Across the Hudson River from Wall Street, the Aggies made a major impression on a national television audience, a huge media gathering and 59,232 fans inside Giants Stadium. A&M stood toe-to-toe with No. 2 Florida State in last Monday's Kickoff Classic XVI, building a 14-10 halftime lead that left many FSU fans looking as bewildered as the Big Apple's stock brokers had appeared earlier in the day.
Eventually, the Seminoles' sensational collection of athletes proved to be too much for A&M, as Florida State dominated the second half en route to a 23-14 win. Even in the loss, however, the Aggies earned a significant measure of national respect.
"I was very impressed with A&M," said John Roach of ESPN Magazine. "They're better than I thought," said Don Borst of Lindy's College Football Annuals. "I think they showed a lot against a very good team." "I think the Aggies surprised a lot of people," said ABC college football analyst Todd Blackledge.
Even FSU coach Bobby Bowden was impressed. "That's a pretty good football team we beat," Bowden said. "A lot of people probably expected us to blow them out, but I expect some good things from A&M."
Entering the game, the Aggies were 15-point underdogs and primarily viewed - from a national perspective - as sacrificial lambs for the high-powered Seminoles. So, for A&M to be leading at the half was considered a moral victory by many.
But don't include the A&M players in that majority opinion. After losing to a Top 5 team for the third consecutive game, the Aggies were contemplating missed opportunities, not moral victories.
"Any time you play the No. 2 team like we did (Monday night), there's definitely an upside to it, there's a positive you can get out of it," said senior tight end Dan Campbell said. "But I'm not going to see that for a couple days. We came up here to win the game."
While the final score was identical to the last time A&M played in the Kickoff Classic (a 23-14 loss to Nebraska in 1988), the game seemed more eerily similar to the Aggies' Cotton Bowl loss last January to No. 5 UCLA. In that game, A&M led 16-7 at the half before falling to the more talented Bruins, 29-23.
In other words, the A&M players already believed they had scored their moral victory for 1998 back on New Year's Day. They were ready for a real win against a Top 5 team. And at halftime, it appeared as if the Aggies were well on their way. After spotting Florida State a 10-0 lead - courtesy of two turnovers in A&M territory - D'Andre Hardeman capped a six-play, 58-yard drive with a 1-yard scoring run early in the second quarter.
That got the Seminoles' attention. And toward the end of the first half, the Aggies also got the lead.
Coming on a blitz, linebacker Christian Rodriguez blindsided FSU quarterback Chris Weinke, forcing a fumble that was scooped up by cornerback Jay Brooks, who raced 22 yards into the end zone.
The TD gave A&M a 14-10 lead and marked just the second time in the last two seasons FSU has trailed at the half. But the second half was all Florida State, although FSU didn't take the lead for good until only five seconds remained in the third quarter.
Ironically, FSU beat the Aggies at their own game, utilizing a swarming defense and a strong rushing game - trademarks of A&M's most successful teams.
In the second half, the FSU defense was simply stifling, holding A&M to minus-2 yards rushing and only 20 yards of total offense. For the game, A&M finished with just 133 yards of total offense, the lowest output since last year's Kansas State loss.
Meanwhile, the FSU offense was pounding away at the Aggie defense. While wide receiver Peter Warrick (nine catches far 106 yards) was the most valuable player of the game, FSU running back Travis Minor was an equally painful thorn in A&M's side.
Minor carried 34 times for 146 yards and seemed to get stronger as the game progressed. Furthermore, the Seminoles ran 83 offensive plays as opposed to just 52 for the Aggies.
One play that could have been a deciding factor occurred midway through the third quarter, with the Seminoles driving toward a field goal that brought FSU within 14-13. Weinke drilled a pass directly into the chest of A&M linebacker Roylin Bradley, who had plenty of open field in front of him. The pass was so off-target that Bradley appeared to be the intended receiver. Unfortunately for the Aggies, Bradley displayed the hands of a linebacker, dropping the ball.
"We led at halftime, and we dropped an interception there in the third quarter where Roylin Bradley had some room to run," said A&M head coach R.C. Slocum. If he catches that ball, who knows?"
Indeed, who knows? That could have been a 10-point swing in a nine-point game.