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FOW Trial Post: Making My Way To Horned Frog Heaven

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Sometimes sports and school affiliation transcends the basic to become something more meaningful.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Manager's note: This week, we will be publishing trial posts from our FOW finalists. With over 60 applicants, thanks to those who sent an email. This piece is by Warrior Horned Frog; enjoy!

Two days before the 2011 Rose Bowl, I drove from my home in Santa Barbara to Los Angeles on business. From where I ended up that afternoon, the best route home was through Santa Monica and up Pacific Coast Highway. As I drove through downtown Santa Monica, I suddenly spotted a family on the sidewalk – Dad, Mom, several kids – all decked out in TCU gear. They had that clearly bewildered look of tourists who don’t know where they were or where they are going. As I drove by, I rolled down the window, flashed the frog sign, and yelled "GO FROGS!" As I drove past and their gazes followed to the TCU stickers and license plate frame on the back of my car, their faces lit up with smiles and they all flashed the sign back to me. They had found their people, and they suddenly knew where they were going. They were going to the Rose Bowl!

But I knew how they felt. As a born and raised Californian who attended TCU in the 70’s, once back home in California, it had always been difficult to find anyone who understood how I felt about TCU and my Horned Frogs. In fact, the mascot name usually just garnered some good natured ribbing. I finally started finding my people when I began attending TCU games at San Diego State during the Mountain West years. It was an absolute joy to show up at Qualcomm Stadium and find a crowd of Horned Frogs all purpled up for the game. My non-TCU friends that had come to the game with me couldn’t believe there could be that many of them in Californa - and it wasn’t that big of a group. I then discovered I could attend occasional TCU Baseball games at Cal State Fullerton. It wasn’t much, but it started to fuel a strong desire to reconnect with TCU, and ideally my friends from those days. It was quite a pleasant surprise then, one day during the 2009 football season, to receive a Facebook friend request from my best friend at TCU. As we started to reconnect, we realized this was a very different Horned Frog football team than the 1976 team of our freshman year – a team that was the only college football team to not win a single game that year, and had been labeled by a national sportswriter as "the #1 team for coming from behind to lose." My friend and I started to realize that this 2009 team could actually be headed to a significant bowl game. When the Fiesta Bowl selection versus Boise St. was announced, we bought game and airline tickets within minutes. And when he flew in from Houston, and I from Burbank to meet in Phoenix, we had again found our people and you’d have never known it was the first time we had seen each other in over 33 years. Of course, we didn’t want to talk about that game much afterward. Hold that thought.

Flash forward one year. We’re again confident TCU is bowl bound, and when the selection vs. Wisconsin at the Rose Bowl is announced, we purchase game (and he an air ticket) within seconds this time. This matchup was especially fun for me, because my daughter was a grad student at Wisconsin at that time. On the crystal clear morning of January 1, 2011, I drove down from Santa Barbara to pick him up at his hotel in Hollywood. After breakfast at the Sunset Grill (watch the BADGER people walk around and mumble is how I sing it now), we headed over to the stadium. Walking in from the parking area on the golf course, we initially saw only a lot of people in red gear. It didn’t help that we walked past the Badger pre-game area first, and that there was a giant inflated Bucky glaring down at us. But soon we suddenly saw a giant arch of purple and white balloons welcoming us to OUR pre-game party. We relaxed, bought Rose Bowl t-shirts and caps, and headed in for an excellent tri-tip lunch among our people. This was the biggest crowd of TCU fans I had ever seen (and as a member of the TCU Vigilantes cannon team in 1976, I had been to almost every game that season). Walking into that iconic stadium and seeing it crammed exactly half full with purple brought me to tears. What fun to be among that crowd of Horned Frogs cheering them on the victory that day. The icing on the cake was getting clued in that we should go down to the LA Marriott to watch the team return. The lobby of the hotel was lit up in purple with a giant TCU logo projected on to the wall, and hundreds of TCU fans were celebrating. When the team returned, I was one of a lucky half-dozen people who got caps autographed by Gary Patterson before he headed in to dinner with the team. I was in Horned Frog Heaven.

Little did I know then I would also get to travel to Boise the next season for the one Mountain West matchup between the Horned Frogs and the Broncos. This time I stayed with a high school friend who worked at Boise St. His friends of course gave me no end of grief before the game. Walking over to the stadium that day, we headed into the tailgate area, and I suddenly felt very alone. There was no purple in sight, and the very serious about their tailgating Broncos didn’t seem very enthusiastic to have me there. When we headed into the stadium, we finally were among about 500 TCU fans that had been crammed into a corner of the stadium which happens to be the only section that wouldn’t get any sun all day. Although the sky was blue, it was freezing cold sitting there. The game soon warmed us up, however, as it was every bit as exciting as the Rose Bowl. As the game reached the final crescendo, I swear us 500 Horned Frogs were matching the tens of thousands of Broncos in volume. After the game, except in our little corner, the stadium seemed to be in stunned silence. Nearby, beside a walkway in a large grassy area of the Boise St. campus, there is a bell called The Excellence Bell. It bears a plaque that says "Ring this bell if you have done something excellent today." As tempting as it was, I knew if I did, I would surely die. I wonder how many others of "The 500" – my people - walked past it and thought the same.

I have since had the opportunity to attend another football game at Oklahoma State, and several baseball games in California. In all cases, strangers in purple reached out, befriended me, and we enjoyed the games together. They probably had no idea what that meant to me. I have not, however, been able to make it to a home game at The Carter since my student days. I have another TCU alum friend who lives in Fort Worth, close enough to walk to campus, who attends just about every home football, basketball, and baseball game. I am supremely jealous. I have plans, however, to finally make it this fall to the stadium to see us play West Virginia. I hope on the way in, I’ll run into the same little tailgating band that I met in Stillwater who offered me to join their party simply because of the color of my shirt. My best TCU friend who joined me at the Fiesta and Rose Bowl games passed away unexpectedly about a year ago, and I had a legacy brick installed at the stadium in his memory. I will find that there first, and remember him and his love of the Horned Frogs. Then I will go into the bleachers, find 50,000 of my people, and join them in cheering on the Horned Frogs to victory! I will be in Horned Frog Heaven.