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A&M HISTORY SAYS IT MAY BE LONG DAY FOR Y.

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JUST IN TIME for Saturday's Pigskin Classic, a new book is coming out which BYU's coaches may want to skim read before tomorrow's game against Texas A&M: "Aggies Handbook" by former Dallas Morning News sportswriter Sam Blair.

Although there could only be marginal interest in Texas A&M football in Utah, it never hurts to know a little more about who you're playing. First thing the BYU coaches are likely to find is that they're up against a long history of successful teams.While there are countless books about schools and teams, droning on with obscure statistics and records, Blair's book covers the school's rich history, reviewing the highlights and lowlights in an entertaining, anecdotal style. It takes the reader from A&M's days as a desolate all-male military academy to one of the nation's best-known institutions.

Football in Texas, of course, isn't a sport, it's a life-support system. They take their football and their barbecued ribs very seriously in that part of the country. If you don't like them, you may as well admit you don't like Willie Nelson either, in which case you may as well move to someplace like Utah, where football, ribs and Willie Nelson are only pretty important, not life-and-death important.

Oddly enough, perhaps the most intriguing figure in Blair's book is longtime Alabama coach Bear Bryant, who coached at College Station four years before moving on to Tuscaloosa. Still, he left an impression. He won one Southwest Conference championship and his teams finished the season ranked in the Top 20 three times. He coached John David Crow, the 1957 Heisman winner.

When Bryant arrived from Kentucky, College Station wasn't exactly the end of the earth, but it may have been the end of civilization. When the Bryants first saw the town, Mary Harmon, Bryant's wife, "turned white" and that night cried herself to sleep.

Bryant had left Kentucky after becoming frustrated at coaching in the shadow of basketball legend Adolph Rupp. He wanted to coach where football could be king, which to this day hasn't yet happened at Kentucky. He took the job at A&M without having ever visited the campus.

But what Bryant apparently knew was that the school had an attitude. It was a place with a point to make. The Aggies had won a national championship 15 years before but later fell on hard times. A&M's plan was to go out and get a great coach. So when the Bear stepped off the twin-engine plane in College Station, he was met by thousands of cheering students. The scene was something he had likely seen a number of times at Lexington, except that the cheering was never for him.

Blair's book recounts how Bryant took the place by storm when he was introduced to 5,000 A&M students. The team's publicity man, Jones Ramsey, suggested Bryant rip off his coat and tie and stomp on them, then roll up his sleeves. "They'll eat it up," Ramsey said.

He did and they did. If there's anything people liked in that part of Texas in that era - any part of Texas and any era for that matter - it was getting rid of ties and jackets. "I'm ready to go to work!" Bryant roared.

"It was like voodoo," Bryant would say later.

Bryant didn't get his nickname for nothing. He held practices in the dark hours of the morning and night, sometimes making players rise at 4 a.m. When they arrived at the field, he would be staring at the dark sky, waiting for daylight.

One who endured Bryant's relentless style was Crow. After one particularly hard practice, Crow was sitting in the shower on a metal folding chair, too tired to stand. The manager approached and told him to get back in his uniform - they were going to practice again. So Crow and the rest of the players returned to the field.

"I looked at him, framed by the tunnel at the north end of the stadium, and I listened," Crow says in the book. "I don't recall what he said, but I said to myself, `By (expletive), you might kill me, but you're not going to run me off!' "

Three hours later Crow woke up in the infirmary, "holding an orange drink, with my wife Carolyn standing at the side of the bed and Coach Bryant standing down at the end." He had suffered heat stroke.

"John," said Bryant, "why didn't you tell me you were tired?"

Thus, the Cougars open their season tomorrow against a team that traditionally hasn't known when to quit. A team that has won one national championship, finished in the Top 10 10 times and been to 22 bowl games. In other words, the Aggies have a history. A history that says it could be a long day for the Cougars. Because as John David Crow pointed out almost 40 years ago, when it comes to Aggies, you may kill them but you're not likely to run them off.