One afternoon last fall, unranked Texas Christian University was playing one of the nation's top teams, the University of Oklahoma. To the surprise of all who watched, it was a tight, tense contest. It was never tenser than at the moment when the Horned Frogs unleashed a 38-yard pass that a TCU halfback miraculously caught as he dove for it in the end zone.
The field judge, watching the play, signaled a touchdown. Fifty thousand spectators and the entire Oklahoma team thought it was a touchdown too—one that might well have meant the game. But two Texas Christian players felt differently. The ball, they told the official, had bounced and then been caught. Texas Christian, although it continued to lead offensively throughout the rest of the game and had the ball on Oklahoma's 7-yard line when the whistle blew, lost by 16-21.
To the Oklahoma coaching staff, the spectators and everybody else who saw or heard about it, this was an extreme case indeed of sticking to the letter of a principle. Anyone well acquainted with Texas Christian University, however, would be less surprised. Principle might well be the nickname of TCU's athletic director and longtime head coach, Leo Robert Meyer, had he not long ago acquired the affectionate tag of Dutch. And principle this year, too, has served him well. After scoring some of the season's more spectacular upsets—32-0 over Texas Tech; 21-19 over Miami ( Florida)—and compiling a 6-1 record so far, the Horned Frogs are among the nation's top 10 teams and pleasing everybody concerned: players, coaching staff, fans and alumni.
Still and all, it isn't easy, in a college surrounded by some of the biggest of the big-time teams, to adhere as rigidly to principle as Dutch Meyer does. In the football world of today, some of his rules sound as outmoded as the flying wedge: no recruitment of players; development of talent as it comes from the small cities and towns which are the natural reservoir of TCU's student body; no undue stress on victory and strict disregard of pressure for same from over-enthusiastic alumni—in a word, football as it was originally intended to be played: for sportsmanship and for fun.
FIFTY FOOTBALL SEASONS
Unlike Yale's President Whitney Griswold, who feels that such principles should be legislated into the game (SI, Oct. 17, 1955) Dutch Meyer believes that they will follow naturally if the game is played naturally—and he has been playing it that way, man and boy, for nearly 50 football seasons. He started as a tough, barefooted water boy, went on to become a slashing, 5-foot 7-inch star halfback, then coach, head coach and finally athletic director—all for Texas Christian University. He has not done badly. In his 19 years as head coach he guided three teams to the Southwest Conference championship and seven to bowl games. Time and again his Horned Frogs have risen to knock off teams ranked far higher than they. He took a baseball-playing sophomore and turned out a passer named Sammy Baugh. He never made a lot of money at Texas Christian, and he never wanted to. He turned down offers to go to far more luxurious universities because he loved his Horned Frogs; and through it all he had fun.
In Dutch Meyer's philosophy, the most important thing for a coach is to know how to relax, once he is off the field and out of the game. On the field, Dutch is as intense and excitable as any man, shouting, cheering, weeping, trampling his hat into the grass when his team wins; but after the game he follows his precepts to the letter. "I made it a rule every Sunday to go to the country," he says, "to get away from football completely, no matter what happened on Saturday. I went to my farm south of town, where there was no telephone to answer, no water to fish, no animals to hunt. I just walked around, looked at a couple of cows, and cleared my head of football. Sunday can be the most frustrating, lonely day of all. Too late to play yesterday's game. Too early for tomorrow's scrimmage.
"I went up to see Bud Wilkinson at his home, when Bud was having some stomach trouble. I said, 'Bud, if you're half as smart as I think you are, you'll buy you 100 acres of that worthless Oklahoma sandy loam around here. You won't make money off it. You'll probably lose some. But you'll certainly live longer.' Bud took his Sundays too hard. Certainly Saturday couldn't have bothered him."
Dutch turned down the job at Oklahoma nine years ago. "We could have gone several places for much more money, but my late wife and I, bless her, were happy. You can't eat the money. You can't pack it over the River. If a man is happy in his work and has a happy place to live, there is nothing else he can hope to have."
It was also 10 years ago that Dutch took on Abe Martin as assistant coach. "Abe would be my successor," he said; "I hand-picked him. He's a warm, folksy philosopher and every boy on the team, down to the fifth string, goes all out for him.