Nov. 10, 2008
By AUSTIN STATON
Media Relations Student Assistant
After beginning the 1978 season with five straight heart-breaking defeats, Coach Grant Teaff's Bears would make the trek to College Station, Texas with the hope of doing the unthinkable--upsetting the No. 12 ranked Texas A&M Aggies.
The task was a daunting one. An upset over the Aggies would require a stout effort on both sides of the ball as the Aggies featured the No. 2 defense in the nation as well as the top-ranked offensive attack in the Southwest Conference.
Although the Bears were a young team, signs of life were evident during the first five games of the '78 season as the combined margin of defeat was merely 21 points. In front of 55,458 rambunctious fans at Kyle Field, the college football world would be formally introduced to the birth of a legend, Baylor freshman running back, Walter Abercrombie.
With the intentions of redshirting the 1978 season, Abercrombie had no expectations to play in the annual renewal of the Battle of the Brazos. With that foreknowledge, the wrecking crew had not prepared for the Waco freshman. Looking to defeat the Aggies for the first time in 13 years at Kyle Field, Coach Teaff burned Abercrombie's redshirt in the second quarter with the hope of providing a much needed offensive spark off the bench.
"I really didn't think, I just ran into the game. I didn't have any of the pressures that most athletes have to deal with either in pregame or the night before, just because I was being redshirted," Abercrombie recalls. "The first play was 18-Option which was a play around to the right side. The quarterback pitched me the ball, and I caught it and the fullback laid a great block on the cornerback and I had blocking downfield and the play went for 30 yards."
After initial success on the ground, Abercrombie would eventually set a school rushing record as he would finish the game with 207 yards, also establishing an NCAA record for rushing yards in a first contest. Abercrombie's debut at Kyle Field was enhanced by the remarkable offensive line play, anchored by David Sledge, Arland Thompson, Keith Bishop, Bill Glass and Ron Barnes. Perhaps the most impressive stat--all of this was accomplished in three quarters of play against arguably one of the toughest defenses in the country.
"It was probably the triumphs of an uncluttered mind; when I say that I mean that when I got down there I had no intentions or expectations of playing in the game. So I didn't have the pressures of thinking `oh man, what do I do," reflects the native Wacoan. "I just went into the game and I had no time to get scared, freak out or panic; I just did what I was coached to do, and it just worked out for us."
Albeit Abercrombie's breakout performance, it took an entire team effort to defeat the upstart Aggies. The Aggies' SWC leading offense was held out of the end zone throughout the entire game and was forced to settle for two field goals. The Bears steamrolled the highly-ranked Aggie defense as Baylor tallied over 360-yards of total offense on the day. Moreover, quarterback Steve Smith had touchdown passes of 78 and 18 yards to Robert Holt and Robert Mitchell respectively.
Baylor would go on to upset the Aggies with a final score of 24-6, perhaps giving Coach Teaff and the Bears a significant win that would set the ball running for future success.
"I think [the A&M win] was one of the defining moments in Coach Teaff's career because we went into the game 0-5. We played very tough games that season. We started with Georgia, Kentucky, and then Ohio State," Abercrombie said. "We lost to those teams by small margins. We needed to win [against A&M]. We beat two teams that season that I don't think anybody expected us to beat in both Texas A&M and the University of Texas."
The '78 Bears would finish the year with a 3-8 record, including wins over TCU and No. 9 Texas. Abercrombie's 1978 performance against the Aggies marked the start of Baylor's only four-game win streak ever over its longtime rivals from College Station.
Despite sitting out the first five games of the season, Abercrombie would go on to win 1978 Southwest Conference Freshman of the Year honors. Abercrombie would play a critical role in the success of the football program over the next three years, leading the Bears to two bowl games and a Southwest Conference championship.
"I feel somewhat humbled by the fact that people remember that game and remember my contribution to that game," Abercrombie said. "Because really what I saw was a bunch of Baylor players doing their part, making sure that I had a great day. What I do remember is watching our guys block."