Did you hear the one about the Aggie fox? He gnawed off three of his feet but not the one in the trap. Even Milton Berle might be reluctant to tell a joke like that, but people would fall down laughing at it in Arkansas this week, now that the Aggies are funny again. Well, not exactly funny perhaps, but at least more vulnerable than at any time in the past few months, when the Texas A&M football team was doing all the laughing.
Until last Saturday afternoon the Aggies were climbing toward the top of the national polls, appeared headed for the Cotton Bowl as Southwest Conference champions and boasted a defensive unit that was carrying them to their first undefeated season in 35 years. The only thing they had to do was beat the University of Arkansas in Little Rock. Arkansas had lost two games—to Texas and Oklahoma State—and Coach Frank Broyles was hearing the yelps of angry fans as they crept closer to the Fayetteville campus, wondering what Broyles had done for them lately.
Broyles had watched from a television booth as the Aggies destroyed the University of Texas with an impressive display of muscle the day after Thanksgiving. When he went home he gathered his own defensive unit together and walked them through the Aggie plays. The Texas A&M defense seemed to be too tough to handle, but Broyles figured the Aggie offense could be dealt with. Mix in a little luck and a good kicking game, Broyles thought, and Arkansas might be able to win a close one. "Actually, we're lucky to be in this position," he said early in the week. "A&M knocked Texas back to even with us. Now all we have to do is win this one game. We don't have to win four in a row or anything incredible like that. The Aggies have a great defense, but the fact is so do we. We've had a lot of people hurt on our defense. When they come back, nobody is going to step on us, not the Aggies or anybody else."
"We walked through the Aggie offensive plays until we knew them as well as the Aggies did," said Arkansas Defensive End Johnnie Meadors after the game. "We knew what they were going to run and when. So it was just a matter of stopping them." Broyles told his defense to forget about the Aggies' passing. "If they throw the ball, they won't do it much and they won't hurt us with it," he said.
In the first half on a cool, misty afternoon with an overcast that caused the lights to be turned on, the two defensive units were in charge, though not so much because of their superiority as because of offensive ineptness. Arkansas was playing without its two best running backs (one of them, Ike Forte, got into the game briefly) and without the quarterback who had started the season. The Aggies were without the quarterback who started last week against Texas but did have the services of Mike Shipman, who had been No. 1 earlier in the year. For whatever reason, both offenses kept making mistakes. Arkansas twice missed receivers open for touchdowns on halfback passes, and the Aggies blew a 22-yard field goal. As the game lumbered on, boring and scoreless, there seemed to be a faint crackling sound in the air—the sound of millions of television sets being cut off around the country.
Then the Aggies shanked a punt out of bounds on their 41—the sort of break Broyles had been hoping for—and Razorback Quarterback Scott Bull, a senior who had been less than sensational as a passer, threw to Flanker Teddy Barnes deep in the end zone with 34 seconds remaining. Barnes was well covered by two defenders, but one went up prematurely and in doing so screened out the other. Barnes timed his own leap perfectly and made a tumbling catch just inside the back line. The effect on the Aggies was numbing. It had seemed as if they might get out of the half 0-0 even though they were outplayed, but now it was 7-0 and the touchdown looked like a mountain.
It was only the second time this year the Aggies had been behind at the half. Down 14-13 to Rice, A&M scored twice at the start of the third period to put the game away. But against Arkansas the Aggies looked dazed as the Razorbacks got more exercised and confident. The Arkansas defense began flowing onto the ball so fast that one might have suspected the Razorbacks did indeed know what was being said in the Aggie huddle. Early in the third quarter Bull threw to Tight End Doug Yoder for a 35-yard gain to set up a seven-yard touchdown run by Micheal Forrest.
Still stalled, the Aggies benched Shipman and went with freshman Quarterback Keith Baker, who fumbled three times. Shipman returned long enough to fumble himself and Meadors recovered in the end zone for another third-period touchdown that, with an earlier 33-yard field goal by Steve Little, put Arkansas ahead 24-0. All of which convinced A&M there was little use hoping for that national championship.
"By then we could hear the Aggies talking to each other and we knew they were falling apart," said Arkansas Defensive End Ivan Jordan. Razorback Guard Mike Campbell had detected signs of an Aggie collapse even sooner. "They got mad," he said. "Their center complained to the referee that I was lining up offsides. That was because he couldn't block me and he didn't know how to take it. We got on them so quick that it upset them."
Baker did run 24 yards for a touchdown that gave the Aggies a chance with eight minutes left, but another fumble ruined the opportunity and led to the final touchdown in a 31-6 Arkansas victory.
"Our defense out-Aggied the Aggies," said a happy Broyles after Arkansas had received its official Cotton Bowl invitation. A&M, which wound up in a three-way tie with Texas and Arkansas for the SWC championship, will face USC in the Liberty Bowl, while Texas goes to the Bluebonnet Bowl against Colorado.
"I'm embarrassed for Aggies everywhere," said A&M Coach Emory Bellard. "We did a pathetic job. We played miserably in a situation where we needed to play exceptionally. To come this far and then not reach our goal, it makes me sick." Or, as the Aggie joke has it, a long way but still in the trap.