You have to make sure the story of the game isn't about just one player.
Texas A&M has an outstanding offensive line, led by overwhelming tackle Jake Matthews. It cleared the way for a running game that did just about anything it wanted against Duke's smallish defense, averaging 5.3 yards a carry. It also kept its quarterback clean, except for when he ran around.
He runs around a lot. When he does, the whole stadium wonders what the point was of anything that happened before he started running. He's spent much of 2013 trying to force himself to be a pure pocket passer, which has actually caused him to take about as many hits as he did as a scrambler -- he sometimes hangs onto the ball forever, more often than not hitting one of his receivers in stride after great delay.
"The way things go with me, sometimes I like to make things harder," the quarterback said after the game when asked about one of his more ludicrous plays.
But we're trying to talk about more than just the quarterback.
The Aggies have exceptional skill players, especially wide receiver Mike Evans, who might join Matthews as a first-round draft pick. After Evans drew two penalties and missed a pass in the first quarter, that quarterback was in his face on the sideline. ("I love him like a brother and was just trying to get him to be the incredible receiver that he is," the quarterback said after the game.) But we're trying not to talk about just one guy.
Evans overcame that rough start to make a sideline snag early in the fourth quarter that set up A&M's fifth touchdown. That was the one on which the quarterback dashed into the end zone from 3 yards out and hurtled into a photographer. But we're trying not to talk about only him.
Six other Aggie receivers finished with multiple catches. One of them, Travis Labhart -- who spent 2010 as a practice player for A&M's women's basketball team -- finished with three touchdowns on the night, more than he'd posted for the first three and a half years of his time in College Station.
Texas A&M doesn't have much of a defense. It gave up 365 yards in the first half to the Blue Devils' offense, a dangerous unit that still only finished in the middle of the ACC in yards per play and per game. As the A&M defense was getting torn apart during that early onslaught, the quarterback was barking at his defensive linemen ("You guys are dogs," he said he told them, "and we need you") and holding fist-bump powwows with defensive coordinator Mark Snyder.
But remember the quarterback who was slashing apart the Aggies. Duke's Anthony Boone, who'd split snaps with Brandon Connette for most of the year, matched the Heisman-winner's 450 total yards and three of his touchdowns and added a couple nice runs of his own. Until he threw the pick-six that gave A&M the lead with 3:33 to go and bobbled the ball into Nate Askew's hands two minutes later, he was the game's other unstoppable quarterback. This is the part where we joke about how A&M actually could've used a certain former supposed Longhorns defensive back recruit in its secondary.
We can't avoid talking about Johnny Manziel. We couldn't avoid it last year, last bowl season, or the entire offseason. The whole time -- since he morphed from Johnny Manziel, redshirt freshman quarterback, to just-a-kid-out-there Johnny Football to bottle-poppin' Johnny to the sport's flagrant heel to the current brooding anti-hero -- he's made his mark.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl was a battle between an SEC upstart and a just-plain upstart, who'd combined for 18 wins entering the night. But what mattered most is that it was almost certainly Manziel's last game.
During one Duke drive, he stood on A&M's bench, waving for the maroon side of the crowd -- that's the kind of thing the redshirt players in sweatpants are tasked with.
"Don't even look at the scoreboard," he said he told his teammates. "No matter how dark it gets. No matter if they go for two. Get an onside kick. Whatever. I'll never quit on those guys, and they'll never quit on me."
And after this play, which ranks as one of the three craziest plays he ever made as a college football player ...
... he was the TV timeout's most animated Aggie, leading a bounding sideline while Duke players trotted out for the kick return.
Paul Abell, USA Today
He finished his last (we're still assuming) college game with 382 yards and four touchdowns passing and 73 yards and one touchdown on the ground, leading his team in the latter.
Two years ago, the story of Aggie football was the that of second-half crumbles, to Arkansas and Texas and so on. During Manziel's time on campus, A&M was an undead horde. He could be beaten; Alabama needed AJ McCarron to dabble in the dark arts, Auburn had to pound Manziel in the head with a shovel over and over, and LSU proved to have the voodoo antidote two years in a row. But, as the Aggies proved in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, a team with Manziel is a team that's never dead yet.
"Biggest comeback in school history," he said. "Wow."
Out of more than 10,000 players per year at the highest level of college football, one was the story of the better part of two seasons. We haven't stopped talking about Johnny Football yet, and we never will.
"One more year," the A&M fans in the end zone chanted as he received yet another trophy.
"I'm so proud to call myself a Fightin' Texas Aggie," he answered, his voice raspy, and then he stepped through confetti.