12th Man Magazine

Volume 5, No. 5

Rusty Burson

Aggie Flashback

By Rusty Burson

            Alex Morris had a key interception to turn the momentum in Texas A&M's favor. Darren Lewis completed a halfback pass for the game-tying touchdown. Bucky Richardson rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns and was voted the game's Most Valuable Player.

            Obviously, there were plenty of key contributors to Texas A&M's 35-10 win over Notre Dame in the 1988 Cotton Bowl - a victory that easily ranks as one of the most impressive bowl triumphs in school history. But probably the most memorable and lasting moment from that game was turned in by a walk-on who once figured he wasn't cut out for college football. Not even at Stephen F. Austin.

            12th Man Kickoff Team member Warren Barhorst endeared himself to Aggies everywhere and enraged Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown when Barhorst first wrapped up the Notre Dame superstar and then ripped off his belt towel. Infuriated, Brown raced toward the A&M sideline and jumped on Barhorst's back.

            That series of events earned Barhorst a place in A&M history and earned Brown a 15-yard penalty and an ejection from the game. Although it happened 12 years ago, it is apparent that very few Aggies have forgotten.

            In a recent survey conducted by the Texas A&M Letterman's Association, Barhorst's thievery was voted as the fifth most memorable moment in Aggie history. And Barhorst, now the owner of a successful insurance agency in Houston, says people constantly want to talk about it.

            "On average, I probably talk about it five times a week," Barhorst said. "Friends, colleagues, clients, strangers - you name it - bring it up."

            The fact that he has been remembered - let alone revered - for this long strikes Barhorst as humorous and remarkably ironic. First of all, Barhorst didn't plan on playing college football. Secondly, he began his collegiate career at Stephen F. Austin. And finally, it wasn't even his idea to steal Brown's towel.

            "It's pretty strange how things work out," said Barhorst, who is also the father of three children ranging in ages from 3 to 12. "I have three brothers and sisters that all went to A&M before me, but I guess I was a weenie and ended up starting out at SFA. And I didn't even play football there. Coming out of high school, I weighed about 180 pounds and figured I was too small and beat up to play.

"But then I went from 180 to 210 pounds my freshman year in college, and I transferred to A&M after two years because my brother, Allen, had come back to work on his master's in chemical engineering. I decided to try out for the 12th Man Kickoff Team and the rest is history."

Barhorst, who played fullback and linebacker at Jersey Village High School in the Houston area, was among the estimated 350 walk-ons who tried out for the 12th Man Kickoff Team in 1986. He made the squad, but was unable to participate in any games because of his transfer.

In 1987, however, Barhorst, who bulked up to 225 pounds, was a key contributor on the kickoff team, which then featured 10 walk-ons and a scholarship kicker (Scott Slater). As A&M rolled toward its third consecutive Southwest Conference title, Barhorst and the wild bunch on the 12th Man Kickoff Team continued to attract national notoriety to Texas A&M.

            And one of the interesting angles of the 1988 Cotton Bowl was the matchup between the 12th Man Kickoff Team and the Heisman Trophy winner. Brown, now the Oakland Raiders' all-time leading receiver, established a Notre Dame school record for the most career kickoff return yards. It's a record that still stands and one that provided plenty of motivation for the Aggies' kickoff unit.

            "We certainly didn't want to let him beat us," Barhorst said. "We looked at it as a real challenge to keep him under control."

            The idea to take Brown's towel, however, did not come from Barhorst or any members of the 12th Man Kickoff Team. That notion was planted by defensive back Chet Brooks, who is also credited with pinning the "Wrecking Crew" nickname on the A&M defense.

            Brooks had played high school football against Brown in the Dallas area. According to Barhorst, Brooks didn't hold Brown in the highest regard, but he did have some insight into Brown's pet peeves.

"They had played each other in high school, and (Brooks) told the guys on the 12th Man Kickoff Team to steal his towel," Barhorst said. "Chet said that would drive him crazy."

Brooks was right. And after A&M had taken a 28-10 lead in the fourth quarter, Barhorst got the best of Brown. Twice.

"If you watch the film of that thing, I almost got beat," Barhorst said. "He's two steps away from going for six. But I made the tackle on him and acted on Chet's idea. Those guys had been stealing our towels all day, and I swiped it and started running off the field while trying to stuff the towel in my pants.

"I was pretty shocked when Brown jumped on my back. I guess he got the towel back. I have always assumed the towel fell out and Brown picked it up. Maybe you should ask him. He might want to clear his name.  That might be a good to ask him before the game in South Bend this fall."

Brown was ejected and Barhorst instantly became a legend in Aggie lore, although it took some time for the TV announcers to correctly identify him. Barhorst, who wore No. 11, was first identified by the CBS broadcast crew as redshirt freshman William Thomas.

But Aggies who identify with the walk-ons of the 12th Man Kickoff Team quickly learned the name Warren Barhorst. In fact, Barhorst was even prominently featured in a limited edition painting that hangs in his office today.

"My wife, Lisa, and I got married my senior year in school and we were poorer than church mice," Barhorst said. "Jackie Sherrill called me and asked if I had seen this painting. I called (the artist) and found out that he was only going to do 150 copies and he wanted $500 for it. I didn't have $500, so my sister who is a big Aggie and in the Class of '79 bought it for me."

Today, the Barhorsts are no longer poorer than church mice. He has two Nationwide Insurance storefronts in Houston, three offices inside car dealerships and remote locations in Amarillo and in Lubbock. And Barhorst was the first former player to respond to a recent letter from R.C. Slocum seeking capital campaign donations for the player's lounge that will be a key feature of the South End Zone Complex.

            "It's an honor to be able to give back to the program," Barhorst said. "I learned a lot and had so much fun being a part of that 12th Man Kickoff Team. I just never figured that people would still remember me."

            On average, he receives about five reminders per week that they do still remember. The once-anonymous walk-on has seen his 15 minutes of fame last for 12 years, with no foreseeable end in sight.

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