Tuesday Night Lights
In the House of Representatives traditional flag football game, sports and politics collided on the grass of Kyle Field. Fortunately, the only things that got bruised were a few egos.
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Outlined against a bright blue February sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore their names are Death, Destruction, Pestilence, and Famine. But those are aliases. Their real names are: Scott Turner (R-Richardson), Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth), James Frank (R-Wichita Falls), and Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches). They formed the crest of the Freshmen cyclone that swept over the Veterans at Kyle Field yesterday while assorted staffers, university officials, and curious bystanders peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.
The 25 or so members of the House of Representatives arrived in College Station in two busses, and the Freshmen team wore white and the Veteran squad wore maroon. The backs of the jerseys sported names like “Ms. C” (Nicole Collier), “El Matador” (Eddie Lucio III), “Vice Chair” (Naomi Gonzalez), and “Wu Tang-Clan” (Gene Wu). As the players warmed up on the grass of Kyle Field—more members wore shorts than might have been expected—there was a feeling of good-natured camaraderie, though there was also a sense of relief at the joke being made on the sidelines that EMS workers outnumbered the lawmakers three to one.
As the sun began to dip below the west side of the stadium, the players gathered on the field for the coin toss by Chancellor John Sharp. The Freshmen called heads, and heads it was. It was a sign of things to come. (Sharp told me shortly afterward with a laugh, “I swear I didn’t know it at the time, but that coin had heads on both sides.”)
They didn’t waste time getting on the board. Pat Fallon completed a nice pass to James Frank, then Fallon picked up a modest gain on a nifty read option play. Kenneth Sheets mounted an unrelenting pass rush for the Veterans—no counting to 10 Mississippi on this day—but Poncho Nevarez rolled to his right and connected with Scott “No Paper” Turner, who dashed down the field for the first score of the game. Sharp was quick to point out that Turner, who played in the NFL for the Washington Redskins, the San Diego Chargers, and the Denver Broncos, had run a 4.3-second 40-yard dash just two weeks ago.
But the Maroon team was undaunted. Led by John Kuempel, the Veterans marched down the field as volunteers from the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band played from the stands. Inside the ten, he completed a pass to Jason Isaac (“Zick” on his jersey), who slipped untouched into the end zone. Wearing what can best be described as brown and blue “jams,” Isaac proceeded to perform a spirited touchdown dance that defies description by adjectives commonly used in the English language.
As the teams settled in for a bruising battle at the line of scrimmage, Turner drove the Freshman back down the field. In the red zone, he scrambled to his right, only to hear the dreaded whistle of the referee. Turner was penalized five yards for illegal procedure and another five yards for having played for the Redskins. Unphased, on the next play Turner struck a reliable target in Ed “Too Tall” Thompson, who blasted his way into the end zone.
And still, the Veterans would not yield, despite a fierce defensive attack by Frank. Abel Herrero, wearing braces on both knees, took the snap, faked left, and sprinted up the middle, bursting through a hole and going 65 yards (give or take 10, depending on the actual spot). The teams traded blows as the clock ran out—Trent Ashby took a particularly hard spill, prompting the crowd to call out, “Now that’s Johnny Football!”—and the first half ended with a 14-14 tie.
The second half would be a different story. The Freshmen scored in rapid fire. First, from the Veterans’ 30-yard line, Ashby rolled to his right and then threw across his body to connect with Travis “Hot Shot” Clardy, who was deceptively fast for a big man. Then, in the ensuing possession, Kuemple misread the coverage and got picked off by Turner, who sprinted 65 yards nearly untouched for the score. With 7:20 left in the third quarter, the Freshmen led 28-14. The Veterans tried to rally—Kuemple shook off his interception to hit Eddie Lucio III for a stunning 70-yard score—but the Freshman were too deep and too well coached. In the end, Turner scored (again), and Gene Wu put the nail in the coffin when he broke free and bounded into the end zone with 1:55 to play. When the clock expired, the final score was 42-21.
As ice packs were handed out and the players gathered for final pictures, the members were all smiles as they chatted with Sharp and A&M president R. Bowen Loftin. And while the game was all about fun and relationship building, like all things related to the Lege, there was a political component as well. It offered A&M a chance to show off its campus and to dazzle members on the field where Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel had led the Aggies to a miracle season. And in a session in which the House base budget for higher education has been cut by $372 million (or 3 percent), it gave A&M officials a chance to establish goodwill. There might have been another reason for the Aggies to smile. Typically, the game has been played each session in Austin, but a few lawmakers had grumbled that in 2011 they had been relegated to play on the University of Texas intramural fields instead of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. In that way, the night belonged to the Aggies—even if not all of the traditions were on full display. As Sharp gathered with the members for a final picture on the filed, a Yorkie owned by one of the spectators kept barking. “That’s a terrible substitute for Reveille,” Sharp joked.
(Photos by Jenna Rabel.)