COLUMBIA — A century of tradition, eardrum-busting decibels and structural unsoundness make Kyle Field the toughest place to play football in the Big 12 Conference. And Missouri will have to face them all, and Texas A&M on Saturday.
The setup is all too similar to 2006, the last time Missouri played Texas A&M at Kyle Field.
No. 21 Missouri Tigers (5-0, 1-0 in Big 12)
at Texas A&M Aggies (3-2, 0-1 in Big 12)
WHEN: 11 a.m.
WHERE: Kyle Field, College Station
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM and 100.5 FM; KCQM/96.7 FM
TV: Fox Sports Net
The Tigers went into that matchup undefeated and ranked 19th in the AP poll and 21st in the coaches' poll. Sound familiar? The 2010 Tigers, also undefeated, carry the same rankings.
But while the numbers might be the same, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and the 2010 Tigers are hoping for a much different outcome than in 2006. That year, Texas A&M running back Javorskie Lane battered Missouri's defense 28 times for 127 yards, controlling a game in which the Tigers fumbled away the ball three times and lost 25-19.
But the outcome could have been a lot different.
On the third play of the game, Chase Daniel found receiver Will Franklin wide open behind the Texas A&M secondary. The play should have been an easy 65-yard touchdown pass for an early Missouri lead. But as Franklin ran toward the end zone, Texas A&M freshman safety Jordan Peterson came up from behind, grabbed Franklin's white jersey, left his feet and put his full weight into a right-handed uppercut. Peterson punched the ball out of Franklin's hands and out the back of the end zone.
It was a disaster for the Tigers that fed the upset-minded Kyle Field crowd. And the wrath of that crowd fueled the Aggies through the fourth quarter and changed the outcome of the game in the home team's favor.
The ability of the 12th Man, as Aggies fans are called, to change the results of a game played on Kyle Field is hard to ignore. Those who underestimate it put themselves in serious peril.
Brett Bergamo knows all about the power of the 12th Man. It's his job to lead it.
Bergamo is one of five yell leaders, whose job it is to lead the 12th Man in cheers, known as "yells." If Bergamo was at Missouri, he would be just another cheerleader. But at Texas A&M, a yell leader is the keeper of the Aggies' tradition, a tradition that makes Kyle Field an intimidating place to play.
"On a team level, it's very intimidating. (The people in the crowd) want to see the Ags pull through," Bergamo said. "They'll do everything they can to make the opposing team disoriented, or really struggle with their snap counts, or other things."
Bergamo said the 12th Man will be at Saturday's game in full force, even though the Aggies have stumbled to a disappointing 3-2 start.
"The energy level is going to be high. The students are still behind this team. They're expecting a win," Bergamo said. "We've been away from Kyle Field for four weeks. There's a lot of pent-up energy and emotions and desire."
At Kyle Field, "The Aggie War Hymn," Texas A&M's venerable fight song, is sung after the third quarter, much like "The Missouri Waltz" in Columbia. While Tigers fans hold their tradition close to their hearts, it doesn't exactly sway the stadium the same way the crowd puts things into motion in College Station.
On the second verse of "The Aggie War Hymn," Texas A&M fans lock arms and legs and sway while singing "saw Varsity's horns off," an unsubtle reminder of the Aggies' constant desire to beat Texas. There are 80,000 people swaying in unison, and the stadium's grandstands sway with them. It's the largest cheer of the day, a seismic event that is capable of swaying the game, too.
Pinkel said Monday he respects the power of Kyle Field.
"I always tell people it’s one of the great stadiums in college football. Very impressed with it, the pageantry, the tradition, the fans. But that’s also exciting," Pinkel said in his Monday teleconference. "That’s one of the great things you get to do in the Big 12. There’s a lot of great places you get to play."
None of Pinkel's players have played against the Aggies at Kyle Field. Some of his players have yet to play a road game. To prepare for the Kyle Field experience, if you can prepare for it, Pinkel brought in sound recordings in practice and fine-tuned the Tigers' play calling system.
"It's all about focus, preparation, distraction control. It's a tough place to play," Pinkel said. "We've been doing a lot of things on distraction control and Zen zone ... This sport is so mental, at our level, to play your best."
Missouri wide receiver Jerrell Jackson said there is only one way to deal with a road crowd, and it works no matter where the game is played. It's to do what Franklin couldn't do in 2006 — score early.
"It's going to be a wild game," Jackson said. "When we step out there, we plan on shutting them up, quick."