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"We had the thought and memory of those

Associated Press Published: November 27, 1999 12:00 AM

"We had the thought and memory of those 12 in our hearts and minds every single play," said Texas A&M offensive lineman Chris Valletta, his eyes watery and red after the 20-16 win over Texas. He had the victims' names written on the shirt under his shoulder pads.

"I hope this win can ease the pain a little bit. I personally want to send this to all of them, from all of us."

Before a crowd of 86,128 _ the largest ever to see a game in a state where football is treated with almost religious reverence _ Texas A&M fell behind 16-6 at halftime before rallying to beat Texas, ranked No. 7 in the country. Texas A&M was ranked No. 24.

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Flags flew at half-staff, and maroon and white ribbons were painted on the turf at Kyle Field over the school's logo. Thousands of fans released maroon balloons. Twelve doves, one for each victim, were set free into the stadium before the game.

Texas A&M players wore commemorative patches and added an image of a burning bonfire to their helmets. Four F-16 fighter jets from the Air Force Reserve, each piloted by an Texas A&M graduate, flew over the stadium in the missing man formation, usually reserved for military aviators killed in the line of duty.

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After the game, fans streamed onto the field and squealed, embraced and took pictures. Some players could be seen weeping.

"It didn't make up for" the accident, 1995 graduate Jason Gardenhire said as he milled on the field. "It could never do that. But it was awesome."

The accident occurred early on Nov. 18, when a 40-foot stack of logs collapsed while students assembled them into a pyramid for the traditional bonfire. The bonfire, which had been scheduled for Thanksgiving, was canceled and replaced by a candlelight vigil in Kyle Field.

Two of the 27 injured remained hospitalized on Friday, and the university announced that a Houston construction executive, Leo E. Linbeck Jr., would head an investigation of the accident.

The tragedy struck at the heart of one of the school's most cherished traditions and drastically altered the state's biggest rivalry.

After the accident, Texas A&M players helped rescuers move the logs in search of survivors and missed two days of practice.

University of Texas players and staff helped stage a blood drive for the victims. School officials also canceled their annual "hex rally" in Austin before the game and instead held a "unity rally" that included bus loads of Texas A&M students. The Texas band played "Amazing Grace" at halftime, then removed their white cowboy hats in salute.

"At the start it was kind of somber because we still had our minds on those people who lost their lives while helping us win the game," said Ja'Mar Toombs, who scored two touchdowns for Texas A&M. "We knew if we wanted to show our gratitude there was not a better time than this game."

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