My dad, brother, two of my best friends, and I all piled into a Honda Pilot on a late Thursday night in 2018 to drive 16 hours to College Station. Texas A&M football was facing off against Clemson in the second game of the Fisher tenure, and there was no way we were missing this one. As a South Carolina student who had grown up indoctrinated by an A&M grad, this was one I was especially hopeful for the Aggies to win.
The teams headed into the locker room at halftime of that game with the Aggies trailing by 11. I turned to my brother and said, “well, it could be a lot worse!” Then, as in early October of this year, the unforeseen and cruelly ironic fulfillment of my words awaited me, albeit in much shorter order then than this recent case. The Aggies didn’t get blown out, of course, but in a tenure that would turn out to be full of near misses, this second game was perhaps the nearest, and certainly the most agonizingly so. Despite this, we all left excited for what the future undoubtedly held for the Aggies. A smashmouth style and stout, tough-nosed defense—both unbelievably refreshing after the Sumlin years—were exactly what this program needed to get where it was going. The way the year was capped off, with the first win over LSU since joining the conference, and a 52-13 win over a good NC State program that included a 12th Man touchdown, of all things, had every Texas A&M football fan on the planet excited for the future. And how about a top-3 recruiting class, on top of everything else?
It was beginning to happen. The Aggies were on their way.
2019 was a setback. Georgia was a missed opportunity. LSU was an embarrassment. Some fans worried about a regression. The fact was, though, that each loss A&M sustained was to a team that finished within the SP+ top-10, so the more notable takeaway was how close they were to Clemson, UGA, and Auburn rather than how far they were from Bama or LSU. Besides, it had always been the case that this was a year to set the table, not truly contend.
The 2020 season was radical confirmation to that notion. A rough start against Vanderbilt and a tough result against an Alabama team that seemed intent on going deep against the Aggies even into the final minute did not inspire confidence in those opening two games. Starting midway through the third quarter against Florida, however, the complexion of the season changed drastically. The Aggies put together a drive wherein they ran the ball on 9 out of 10 plays, moving from their own 13 into the Gator end zone; Greg McElroy, working as color commentator that day, said that he could not remember a team ever bullying Florida like this. That drive came to define the character of the Aggie offense for the rest of the year; they won every single game by more than ten points and cruised to an Orange Bowl victory over North Carolina on January 2, 2021. It was the biggest day for Texas A&M football since eight years prior, when a freshly-minted Heisman-winning QB wearing #2 vivisected a vulnerable Oklahoma defense. It was a return to relevancy in more than just narrative curiosity; it was a return to respectability.
Jimbo Fisher stood on the stage with the Orange Bowl trophy and declared that we ain’t done yet. I believed him.