If you're from a certain era (mine) you are familiar with the writing of humor columnist Dave Barry, and his famous line, "I am not making this up!" That's a little how I have felt about being a Horned Frog and a TCU Football fan on the Left Coast - trying to communicate to family and friends here just what TCU is all about. I've shared before how things are starting to change as more TCU students come from California, or locate in California with their freshly printed diplomas. But that's a gentle curve that started at a very low point when I first left TCU in the 70's. One of the people a little behind on that curve, in spite of her good-natured tolerance of my enthusiasm and choice of purple outerwear, was my wife. So when she said yes to coming with me to Fort Worth to watch the Frogs take on the Mountaineers, it was a close second to that other time she said yes (the one shortly followed by "I do")!
I was pretty excited about this trip. When I first started this Frog-feature-writing gig back in May, I told you about how finally making it back to a HOME game at The Carter was going to be Horned Frog Heaven for me. Now an angel was coming to the game with me! It just got even better when a TCU pal from my days there (another native Californian who now lives in Arkansas) let me know he could make the trip as well, and we would have a 38 year reunion - our first encounter since I had dropped him off at the San Bernardino Greyhound Bus station in 1977. We had driven from Fort Worth in my 1970 Duster hot rod and arrived about 48 hours after we had gone to see Willie Nelson at Fort Worth's Panther Hall. I didn't exactly remember my buddy as being an angel, but reconnecting was going to be a celestial event!
I'm not sure what my wife was expecting as we landed at Love Field after our flight from Burbank, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't a giant sign in the baggage claim welcoming us to Horned Frog Country! Was that a glimmer of understanding I saw in her eyes as she took my picture with the sign? Three or four "Welcome to Horned Frog Country" roadside billboards later, we were on University Drive passing the campus en route to our hotel. The road was lined with beautiful banners reminding us to "Unite for the Fight" against West Virginia. Was that another glimmer in my wife's eyes?
As we entered the hotel lobby, there were more gleams in that angel's eyes as she took in the various TCU Horned Frog decorations. (HE WAS NOT MAKING THIS UP! THIS IS A BIG DEAL!) Then we had a comedic break as a bunch of West Virginia fans in front of us at the check-in counter finally realized they were at the wrong hotel! As they sheepishly exited, I gave them a friendly smile but warned them their trip wasn't likely to improve much. I don't often - okay, never - get to have dinner with my wife in a TCU decorated hotel restaurant in Fort Worth, so I enjoyed the evening immensely, and looked forward to seeing my long ago friend the next morning.
When we met in the lobby of the Marriott University Drive Courtyard Hotel, thirty-eight years instantly melted away, as my buddy and I picked up right where we left off - just like his former roommate and I had in Phoenix on the day of the 2010 Fiesta Bowl. We enjoyed coffee, reminisced about that dearly departed friend, and talked about the last few decades of our lives. It turns out it isn't much easier for him to explain TCU to friends and family in Arkansas either. We remarked how much we were enjoying the Horned Frogs current success, starkly contrasted to when we were students. Having been to see TCU in the summer of 2011, I also knew what a mind-blowing experience my friend was going to have when he saw the campus - after we showed my wife the Stock Yards - which she loved!
When we headed over to look at the school, I watched with amusement as my friend and my wife took in the beauty of the buildings and the landscaping - changes my buddy had not been back to see since he left Fort Worth in 1980. There has been an amazing transformation since the 1970's, as any "dark years" TCU alum will attest to. The Tom Brown / Pete Wright residential complex bears no resembles to the Pete's Palace we lived in, and we found it as disorienting as TCU winning football games had been to us at first. But it is beautiful. And we are jealous of the current students.
The dining commons has taken a quantum leap across the decades at TCU. The Barnes & Noble Bookstore on the corner, the gear shop in the Student Union, and even the little fan shop in the Kroger across the street, are all fun places to look around and grab some fun Horned Frog paraphernalia. The Frog Fountain is also so much more elegant than it was pre-face-lift in the half-dead-grass "quad" of 1977. The tan brick theme carried out throughout the campus, the flowerbeds everywhere, and the many fun statues scattered here and there, are all simply gorgeous! We had a great time taking it all in and doing a little gear and souvenir shopping. My angel's eyes were shining with appreciation for why I love the campus, and she was showing a little Horned Frog love too.
Of course, no visit to TCU is complete without lunch at Dutch's, so that was the next stop in the itinerary. As we enjoyed great burgers that would fuel us well into the beginning of the game that night, my wife marveled at a RESTAURANT that was geared around TCU sports, and the great Dutch Meyer. Those eyes were still gleaming, and there was maybe a little tear in mine. We reluctantly left Dutch's, but there was more campus to see, and more gear shopping to do!
Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the hotel and get ourselves "blacked out" for the game. After changing attire and grabbing some caffeine, we headed to the stadium! I have to give a nod here to the amazing job TCU and the partner churches and schools have done organizing the parking and bus scene. It was so easy for novice Carter-goers to use. Bravo! As we walked from the shuttle stop across the street toward the stadium, I saw my wife's eyes go wide as she took in the scene. My friend also was grinning ear-to-ear as he took in the transformation of the complex from what it had been in our day. This was also my first visit to Frog Alley, so I was pretty excited too! The pageantry of it all was just breath taking, and again, my wife began to comprehend that this was something very special, and very purple. She got a kick out of seeing the cheerleaders, the kids, the decorations, and the thousands of excited fans. The Halloween decorations for this Oct 29 game were also very fun. We just had to stop and take this shot and send it to our Wisconsin-graduate daughter!...
Then. We. Entered. The. Stadium. My wife's eyes grew VERY wide, sparkled brightly, and I could tell the transformation was almost complete. I had told her the stadium held about 50,000 people, but this was the moment that it REGISTERED. We had wandered around looking at the stadium outside and had ended up opposite of where our seats were, so we now had to wander back looking around inside the stadium. We passed the spot where all the Bowl Game plaques are mounted on a wall. I enjoyed pointing out how many I'd been to, but was struck by how many more I'd missed. Soon we were walking past the Frog Horn. I'd previously tried to explain it to my wife when she's heard it on TV, but now she could see and hear! (THESE PEOPLE ARE SERIOUS!) I pointed out the Rangers that accompany the Frog Horn, and remarked how they wore the same Western hats and white shirts that I'd worn as a Vigilante, caring for the old cannon that announced touchdowns - very occasionally - in 1976.
As we settled in among my people in the stands, the ones I'd longed to be back together with in Fort Worth, I suddenly realized they were OUR people. My wife "got it." (ICH BIN EIN HORNED FROG!) I'm still working on explaining football to her, but she understood the moment. She understood the importance of this place to Horned Frog fans, and she was happy to be there sharing it with me.
She cheered with my friend and I as the Frogs played one of their best games all season and never gave the Mountaineers a chance to light even any kindling under any couches. This was only the second time I'd been there to see Trevone Boykin play live, and this was a far more satisfying experience than Stillwater in 2012. Watching him and Josh Doctson in action, Listenbee putting the moves on his matchups, the incredible job the increasingly stingy defense did that night, and the entire cohesiveness of the 2015 Horned Frogs, was an incredible experience. It didn't have the drama of the 2011 Rose Bowl or the November 2011 game at Boise St., but this one was every bit as fun to be at. The crowd was "The 500" at Boise times 100 and on steroids!
Besides the football, there was much else to enjoy. My friend had been in the marching band and played trombone as a student, and we loved watching the band before the game and during halftime. We laughed at the kids decked out in TCU (and some WVU) gear, finding ways to amuse themselves in the stands. The Zombie Showgirls (that would be a great name for a rock band!) were a Halloween WHOOT!
I used to think that those of you who live within the distance of a long Boykin pass from The Carter don't know how lucky you are, and what a big deal it is to the rest of us to some how, some way, make it to a game there (or anywhere). But now I think maybe you do. I think you do know how lucky you are. That is why all of you were smiling right along side us on that heavenly day. Enjoy your fortune. Defend the Carter. Continue to warmly welcome us when we finally do find a way to be there with you. After enjoying the experience so immensely, it didn't surprise me to recently learn that when the stadium was renovated in 2011-12, TCU consulted with Disney about how to make the game day experience a more excellent one for Horned Frog fans. It doesn't surprise me that together they've done such a fantastic job at The Carter. It doesn't surprise me that TCU knows how to put together a team. It doesn't surprise me that my friend had such a great time "coming home," and wants to make it an annual pilgrimage. It doesn't surprise me that my wife had such a thoroughly good time experiencing Fort Worth, TCU, and The Carter. It doesn't surprise me that my dream of making it back to Horned Frog Heaven was everything I'd hoped for and more. And, it didn't surprise me that when I asked that angel from Horned Frog Heaven for a trip to the Alamo Bowl, she said yes yet again and gave me wings for Christmas! Hope to see you there in San Antonio!
GO FROGS!!! LET'S GO HUNT SOME DUCKS!!!
All photos from Warrior Horned Frog and used by permission.