Big 12: Lee Jackson

Aggies' emotional win after bonfire tragedy is No. 9 memory

June, 30, 2009
6/30/09
6:34
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Bonfire game shows softer side of Texas-A&M rivalry

Date: Nov. 26, 1999
Place: Kyle Field, College Station, Texas
Score: Texas A&M 20, Texas 16

Just eight days after the most stunning tragedy in school history, Texas A&M had to refocus to play Texas in the 106th meeting of the storied rivalry between the two bitter adversaries.

Except this time, it was a little different.

Thousands of maroon balloons filled the sky, followed by the pregame release of 12 white doves -- one for each of the 12 current and former A&M students who were killed in the bonfire collapse. Four F-16 fighters flew overhead in the missing man formation, a tribute usually saved for pilots killed in the line of duty.

Earlier in the week, A&M missed practice for two days. When the bonfire stack collapsed, A&M players helped rescuers move the logs in search of survivors.

Texas players and the Longhorn football staff held a blood drive to benefit the victims. Texas officials also canceled their annual "hex rally" before the game in favor of a unity rally that also included hundreds of A&M students.

The Aggies jumped to quick lead on a 3-yard TD run by bullish tailback Ja'Mar Toombs. But the conversion backfired when holder Mark Farris bobbled the snap, leaving kicker Shane Lechler to try an ill-advised pass that was returned 96 yards by Lee Jackson for the two-point conversion.

But heralded freshman Texas quarterback Chris Simms led a pair of scoring drives later in the first quarter that gave the Longhorns the lead. Simms was starting only because Major Applewhite was ailing with an upset stomach.

A fumble by Texas A&M quarterback Randy McCown helped the Longhorns to score their first TD, provided on a 14-yard run by Hodges Mitchell. Texas extended its lead to 16-6 later in the quarter on a 1-yard TD plunge by Chris Robertson.

The Aggies blocked a punt later in the second quarter, but were unable to score as they trailed 16-6 at the break.

Many fans who were at the game still remember the halftime presentation by both bands as the most moving part of the game. The Texas band played "Amazing Grace" and members took off their hats at the end. The A&M Band honored the bonfire victims by marching off the field without its usual musical accompaniment as the Kyle Field crowd was eerily silent.

The inspired A&M defense was the difference in the second half, limiting Texas to only two first downs as Simms struggled and was eventually replaced by Applewhite in the fourth quarter.

Toombs, rushed for 126 yards on 37 carries to lead the Aggies, gradually wore down the Longhorns in the second half. His 9-yard scoring plunge pulled the Aggies within 16-13 with 4:47 left in the third quarter.

And with 5:02 left, McCown lofted a 14-yard lob into the end zone that was snagged by his roommate Matt Bumgardner for the game-winning score.

The Aggies' defense took care of the rest. With 23 seconds left in the game, cornerback Jay Brooks forced a midfield fumble by Applewhite. Linebacker Brian Gamble recovered the fumble to seal the victory.

A&M offensive lineman Chris Valletta wore a T-shirt with the names of the 11 A&M students and one former student under his pads and jersey.

"We had the thought and memory of those 12 who died in our hearts and minds every single play," Valletta told reporters after the game. "I hope this can ease the pain a little bit."

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