I had been born in the football capital of the universe, South Bend, Ind. and Tuscaloosa, Ala. notwithstanding. Fort Worth was the home of Texas Christian University, and TCU was the dominant force in a society known to sportswriters as the jinx-ridden, upset-prone, wild and woolly Southwest Conference.
All this was impressed upon me hundreds of times by my parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and older cousins, all of whom had a habit of pinning a large souvenir button on my crocheted sweater when I would be taken to TCU's home games.
The button I prized the most was about three inches in diameter, ringed in purple and white, and featured in the center the black-and-white photo of a wiry, bareheaded man poised to toss a football. The button proclaimed: I AM FOR SLINGIN' SAM BAUGH AND THE FIGHTIN' FROGS OF '35—WE'RE NO. 1!
That particular souvenir may have been given to me by the uncle I overheard one Saturday as he remarked to my dad: "Our Frogs is gonna play some whupass with them Rice Owls today."
And so the Frogs did—then.
What has happened to them in the past couple of decades, after a 30-year reign as consistently the best team in the Southwest Conference—and one of the best in the country—shouldn't have happened to a University of Chicago. The Frogs couldn't have slipped any lower in the college football ranks if the chancellor had built an underground stadium to avoid a nuclear holocaust.
It has occurred to me that there must be thousands of TCU graduates scattered among Dairy Queens everywhere who have no appreciation, no real understanding, of what the Frogs were. To most of these individuals, TCU is simply that cozy array of cream-brick buildings on a gentle hill near downtown Fort Worth where they spent a happy young adulthood going to Kappa Sig rushes and Tri Delt formals. And perhaps they giggled occasionally at an amusing little football team that has now won only nine games in the last seven years, and has not, in fact, beaten or even tied the Arkansas Razorbacks in 22 seasons.
About seven years ago I was loitering in the same stadium where I had marveled at the deft spirals of Sam Baugh and Davey O'Brien, where I had been dazzled by the scampers of men like Lindy Berry and Jim Swink, where I had actually felt sorry for the ballcarriers who were struck down by such assassins-as Ki Aldrich, Derrell Palmer and Bob Lilly. The stadium now holds 46,000, and it is still a pleasant old place surrounded by trees, a short walk from the dorms. It's a sturdy plant built strictly for football—no track around the playing field, the action up close—and I was suddenly compelled to join in some laughter. A cluster of TCU students in the east stands had unfurled a banner, which proclaimed: WE'RE NO. 113!
The students had timed the unfurling to coincide with the 81st point scored by the University of Texas Longhorns that crisp afternoon.
Maybe it is to such witty followers of present-day TCU football that I am basically addressing myself. They might better appreciate their own humor if they fully understood how far the Frogs have fallen.