Texas A&M won the 1939 national championship, and the Aggies with Heisman winner Johnny Manziel might win the Cotton Bowl next week, and plenty of A&M teams have won Aggie hearts with victories over Texas.
But no A&M team is more famous than the Junction Boys. The 1956 squad that won the Southwest Conference title, after surviving Bear Bryant's brutal Junction, Texas, training camp in 1954.
Bobby Drake Keith was a Junction Boy. So much so that he followed Bryant to Alabama and was on the Bear's first Bama staff, in 1958.
But Keith also was a Bud Man. He coached for Bud Wilkinson on his last OU staff, 1963. Then Keith stayed two years on Gomer Jones' staff, took a job with OG&E, stayed 17 years and eventually retired back to Oklahoma City in 2008.
Thus Keith holds quite the distinction. The only man to coach for Bud and the Bear.
“On the surface, they were not very similar at all,” Keith said. “But if you get below the surface, they were both competitive, both winners. Both understood what it took to win.
“They just went about it in very different ways.”
Keith's analogy? Wilkinson was Cary Grant. Suave, handsome, romantic. Bryant was John Wayne. Rough, tumble, hard knocks.
“They both would always get what they were after, but they went about it in completely different ways,” Keith said.
Keith came from one of the all-time Friday Night Lights towns of Texas, Breckenridge in the early '50s, where he was a high school teammate of future Sooners Jerry Tubbs and Jakie Sandifer.
Keith went to A&M, suffered a busted nose in Bryant's first spring game, 1954, but stayed on the field for two more plays before fainting. “That's one tough (SOB),” Bryant said, according to Jim Dent's Junction Boys.
All the Junction Boys were tough. Their preseason camp is legendary for its brutality, defections and the toughness it bred into players who suffered a 1-9 season in 1954 but then went 7-2-1 in 1955 and 9-0-1 in 1956.
“I think I swallowed enough dirt that I'm starting to gain weight,” Keith is quoted in the book.
Today, he downplays the harshness of Junction.
“The thing people don't realize, a lot of those things that sounded so bad, no water, the heat, nobody got water in those days,” Keith said.
The most terrible time was not Junction, but that 1-9 season. But Bryant held the team together. He told the Aggies, “The fans don't want you anymore, the alumni don't want you, but you're my team.”
Keith is most proud that when Bryant died in 1982, “the only ring he had on was the ring we gave to him 20 years after Junction.”
Keith's final game coaching at Alabama was the 1963 Alabama, when the Tide shut out OU 17-0.
Wilkinson offered Keith a job on the OU staff.
“At that time, I had aspirations of being a head coach,” Keith said. “I thought there was no better resume than Bear Bryant and Bud Wilkinson.”
Keith's only reservation? Rumors that Wilkinson might retire. Even told Wilkinson.
“I've got a son in medical school and one in divinity school,” Wilkinson told him. “I can't retire.”
Of course, Wilkinson did just that a year later.
But Keith's three years as a Sooner coach made him enough of an Okie to be conflicted in the upcoming OU-A&M Cotton Bowl.
“Got a lot of friends here at OU,” Keith said. “Two children went to OU. Lot of wonderful ties to A&M.”
No bigger ties in Aggieland than being a Junction Boy.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.