Because I fell in love, I fell in love with Horned Frog football.
I began attending TCU football games with a pretty co-ed in 2002, because the games made for easy dates, and because she liked football, too. One game day she had to work and I decided I would enjoy the game alone. I did, and I've been hooked ever since— to her (now my wife) and to it (TCU football).
The more I learned about TCU football, and its then-tenuous place in the quickly changing landscape of college football, the more there seemed to be to learn about. The signs on the old scoreboard that read "National Champions 1935" and "National Champions 1938" were mute witness to the disparity in national relevance that TCU must have had in the radio days compared to the early 2000s. The disparity must have been all the greater in earlier decades!
I searched high and low to learn about TCU's football history, and grew ever more intrigued both by the Horned Frogs' story, or what I could learn of it, and by how hard it was to discover any more than brief, disconnected highlights. Fort Worth had, more or less, forgotten its home team's history.
Some efforts have been made to correct this amnesia, most notably the Vault project, written by Dan Jenkins. But that book passes lightly over TCU's founding and early football years; it merely whets a curious Horned Frog's appetite to know more about his team's founding, its first glories, and travails.
So in 2011 I decided the void in the market for TCU football history only would be corrected if someone like me— interested in the subject and underemployed enough to have time to dig into it— took to correcting it. "It" was going to be the whole story, from A.C. Easley to Andy Dalton, from Waco before there even were football conferences to Waco again as a Big East team (and then a Big 12 one). And so commenced patient hours (and dizzying ones) at the microfilm reader at libraries all across North Texas. My patient wife endured evenings after the kids were finally in bed, away from me as I summarized games, read about the histories of Waco, Fort Worth, and the Texas Longhorns, and squinted at the scans I had harvested from The Skiff, The Lariat, and The Campus (in issues long preceding the addition of the word "Daily" to their titles).
The narrative grew out of the summaries of games, which in the early years read like summaries of a different sport entirely. The modern vocabulary of the sport is as foreign to its antecedents as its play selection. Words like "aggregation," "rooters," and "buck" are as archaic to us today as a quarterback punting on first down.
Along the way I made discoveries small and great—that Andy Dalton was not TCU’s first redhead quarterback; that Dutch Meyer was the epicenter of a scandal that nearly shut TCU down; that the Baylor-TCU rivalry was hottest after TCU left Waco; that TCU once put its band director in charge of the football team!
But the greatest discovery was that TCU played lots of meaningful football long before Dutch Meyer was coach. Even in Waco the Horned Frogs were a well coached, dangerous team, and by the time TCU moved back to Fort Worth, it had developed a proud football history. When the Horned Frogs joined the Southwest Conference at the close of the 1922 season, they brought to their new conference home a solid gridiron contributor with a varied and interesting football history. History repeats itself, indeed.
The toil required to write the book shows in the span of seasons the work covers—instead of covering TCU history to the present day, I chose the Horned Frogs entry into the Southwest Conference as a cutoff. My family rejoiced. So there is so much more to tell. But to throw light on the early years, in their richness and variety, has been a thrilling journey. I hope it draws you in as it has drawn me, and resuscitates the memory of some of TCU’s forgotten greats. Their efforts for the purple and white are timeless; we are richer to know them.
Frogs O' War will feature several stories in the coming weeks about those early seasons, some of them before leather helmets. The book itself is due out by football season, and will be available at booksellers and through the TCU Press for $20.