In the summer of 1976 at my home in Rialto California where I had grown up about 5 miles from where I was born, the mailman delivered a post card from the Admissions Department of a school I had never heard of. The purple and white postcard invited me to come to the Anaheim Sheraton on a Saturday night and learn about a place called Texas Christian University. I was struggling to find a school I could afford that wasn't called Cal State San Bernardino or San Bernardino Valley College, so I decided to go check it out. I liked what I saw that night and applied right there before my Mom and I drove back home. If memory serves, it wasn't much later than noon the following Monday that TCU called and said I was accepted and they'd even provide a big chunk of the funds (after all, everything's bigger in Texas, right?). I said yes, and unbeknownst to me at the time, I had become one of seven Californians (I've been told) in TCU's Fall 1976 freshman class.
Not too many weeks later, I packed one trunk with my clothes and another trunk with my hundreds of vinyl LP records into the back of my 1970 hot rod Duster with 340 engine, Carter 4-barrel carburetor, racing cam, and Hooker headers with dual exhaust installed about a week earlier in my friend's driveway, and headed east on I-10. One radiator replacement in Phoenix, a near miss escaping some good ol' boys surrounding my California hot rod at a gas station near the New Mexico/Texas border, and a revelation in an El Paso Pizza Hut that my newly minted age of 18 was legal to buy beer in Texas later, I arrived at Pete Wright dorm. The first thing that struck me was the giant football stadium looming over campus.
I loved football, and while my own football career had ended in 8th grade when one of my friends indented me 6 inches into the turf at Kolb Junior High School, I got pretty excited about attending the games at TCU. Soon an opportunity presented itself to join the Vigilantes cannon team for the games, and I enthusiastically accepted showing my support for the Horned Frogs and seeing the inside of a few other stadiums in Texas too.
Now, if you know your TCU Football history, you know that not only are the 70's called "The Dark Years," but in the Fall of 1976, TCU went 0-11, making them the 137th best team out of 137 NCAA Div 1 schools. One national sportswriter labeled the 1976 Frogs "The number one team for coming from behind to lose." I attended my first TCU Football game on September 11, 1976 at SMU. We brought our iron cannon back from Dallas with us, but not an iron skillet. After 8 more losses, the last time I helped drag that cannon around Texas in the back of a pickup truck was to a 59-10 loss in College Station. I don't think we even bothered taking it to the home game against the final opponent that season, Baylor. I hope that I can be forgiven if my enthusiasm, let's say, quickly waned. After leaving TCU, and knowing no one in California who knew anything about the school, much less attended there, I lost all track of what was happening with the Frogs.
By 1998 I was raising two little girls and building a career, and completely missed the Sun Bowl victory over USC. (Oh, for a do-over to be there!) Yet, in spite of my indifference and ignorance, the Frogtonic plates were shifting in California. The Frogs' first bowl win in 41 years and LaDainian Tomlinson had captured people's attention. It took another decade, and the man we call Coach P, but by 2009, people were really paying attention.
In fact, I distinctly remember being in the aisle of a WalMart in Oxnard CA in Fall 2009, when the friend in whose driveway we'd installed my Hooker headers in 1976 called me on my cell phone and said, "Hey, your Horned Frogs are doing pretty well this year!" To which I responded, "Huh? What?" But by the end of that (12-1) season I'd attended a win at San Diego State, and a disappointing loss but nevertheless life-changing experience at the BCS busting 2010 Fiesta Bowl. The fuse on the cannon was re-lit. The problem remained, "Who do I share this with?"
At this point, I have to give kudos to my non-TCU alum friends in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles who caught my enthusiasm and attended @ San Diego State games, the Rose Bowl, and the Poinsettia Bowl, as well as watched numerous games on TV with me. But I still felt this odd sense of being peripherally involved in all things Horned Frog. This is not unique to California; I know many of you live in places where you have the same experience. I once attended a Raleigh-Durham game watch where my showing up bumped attendance 10%. Showing up at the Hickory Tavern in Asheville, NC to watch games when I'm sometimes there just garners puzzled stares from App State, UNC, and NC State fans. Around the country many of us have Frog Club cards, good for discounts at many merchants in Fort Worth. I stopped carrying mine around in my wallet after about two years. I imagine many of us get it out of a drawer every now and then, look at it, and just sigh. I've mentioned before my friend who walks from his house to all the home games, and now I've become familiar with Tom and Tim Robbins of the Tailgating Command Unit, and my fellow Frogs O' War staffers who live in Fort Worth. I know TCU Horned Frogs are supposed to be purple, but this one has a hard time not being green (with envy - not Baylor green).
I've written before about some great experiences I've had with previously unknown (to me) Frogs at games in San Diego, Boise, Phoenix, Pasadena, and Stillwater between 2009 and 2012. It's not worked out for me to go to a game since then. It's just not that easy to do when you live the diameter of Pluto away from Fort Worth and TCU leaves the Mountain West (but I'm so glad they did). I've also reconnected with a very small number - okay 3 - classmates I knew when I was at TCU all those decades ago.
But one day, I discovered a page on Facebook called "TCU Alumni Los Angeles Chapter." I quickly joined and started having fun chatting with Frogs on the page, and watching their game watches and other fun events vicariously. The problem was that 100 mile drive each way to their events might as well still be the diameter of Pluto most weekends. You gotta know Chapter-Fearless-Leader Glenton Richards had to be going nuts each week for two seasons when I clicked "Maybe" at the beginning of each week, and "Not Going" sometime within 24 hours before the game. So, last week before the shootout in Lubbock, when I clicked "Going," after he picked himself back up from the floor, Glenton messaged me and said, "Really?" "
With one of my non-TCU-alum friends from Santa Barbara in tow in a borrowed Horned Frog shirt, I arrived at the SmithHouse Tap and Grill on Santa Monica Blvd (not terribly far from the Sunset Grill where I'd had breakfast on the morning of the Rose Bowl with an actual TCU friend who'd flown out from Houston). We were already pretty excited about the menu we'd perused online in advance, and were still undecided but talking a lot about the brisket. I anticipated some really good food, and a great time meeting the LA colony of Horned Frogs, but what I had not expected was how perfectly set up this place was for groups. The LA Chapter scored securing this place for the entire season!
I met a bunch of great people there, but want to share with you the stories of two who exemplify how the SoCal Horned Frog experience is changing - all for the better!
Andrew Wong '11, grew up east of Los Angeles in Rancho Cucamonga, CA - 16 miles from where I did in Rialto, but about 30 years later. Similar to me, he attended a "Best of Texas" college fair at the Hilton in Glendale CA and learned about TCU that night. Ironically, it was filling out a Baylor post card in his high school's academic center that landed him there. Among a longer list, Andrew was also looking especially at UCLA, North Carolina, and Berkeley, but TCU had all the right pieces for Andrew's puzzle. Like me, Andrew is the only member of his family who has ever attended TCU. And also like me, there was no question in Andrew's mind about returning. "I'm a Californian at heart." The advertising industry he entered and remains in had better prospects in Los Angeles. It was at a TCU Advertising Association meeting at "a hotel near Disneyland" (maybe the Anaheim Sheraton where I first learned about TCU!?!) that Andrew learned Los Angeles was the place to be in his field.
Unlike me, however, Andrew was aware of the vibrant alumni group that had developed in Los Angeles and connected with it almost immediately. "I was confident I'd find great people at the LA chapter and I was validated in that for sure. I've met people that I'd seen around on campus but never got to officially meet. I've met people that I'm pretty close friends with to this day." Andrew did not have any other TCU connections in California, but rather "become the connections/tour guide" for TCU alums moving to Los Angeles for the first time (I have his number if you need it!).
I said that it's tough getting to games when you live and work in California and the last game Andrew has been able to attend was the 2011 Rose Bowl. He has experienced some of what I've run into here for decades. "Every time I talk to someone about college football or tell them that 'I can't make it' because a big TCU game is on they give me ‘that certain look' or say they're a bigger NFL fan than college.....Either they don't like college football that much or they didn't go to a school that has (or had) respectable college football. It makes me want to hold a sign and give free hugs. And of course invite them to the TCU game watching parties. Even the biggest pessimist can enjoy the miracle touchdown catch by Aaron Green last week and riotous celebration that followed."
When you live in California, it is always fun to bump into a fellow Frog! Andrew shares, "I complimented a guy's blazer who was standing next to me in line, saying the blazer had 'a southern vibe' to it. He said that he did actually go to college in Texas." Hoping he didn't say Tech...or Baylor...or UT, Andrew was relieved when he added "TCU!," and said, "Same here brotha, class of 2011!"
Andrew's take on how the SoCal Frog experience has changed in recent years confirms much of what I've observed as well. Andrew states, "I'd answer people's questions on where I went to college and what does ‘TCU' stand for when I'd wear my shirt. Transition to, let's say, from the Fiesta Bowl on, then things start to change... The context of college football exposure on ESPN and FOX gives them more familiarity. I'll argue new heights were reached when the Rose Bowl and College World Series both happened. Not to mention, the enrollment of Californians at TCU continues to balloon. The alumni group also grew and we seemed to do more and more events over the years. The Facebook page is active, and we've collaborated with conference alumni groups also. As long as you're open and active similar to actual college life, you'll have a great experience. The fact that it's in SoCal is icing on the cake, which can give an alumni group more things to do, and it attracts a lot of people."
One of the people it attracted that I also talked to was Kelsi Golinvaux, '14. Kelsi grew up in Denver, where five of the families who were very influential in her life had all seen at least one kid go to TCU. "So it was always on my radar when I was applying to schools." Unlike Andrew and I, Kelsi made the shorter jaunt to Fort Worth to see the school before deciding. "I knew I didn't want to go to school in-state. Once I visited the campus, I was sold! The beautiful weather, the breath-taking campus, the southern charm of Fort Worth, the stellar academics and variety of areas of study and most of all... the color purple! Throughout the rest of my college search, I tried to pretend like I was interested in other schools (I applied to 11 schools throughout Texas, the midwest and of course Colorado), but from the beginning, I knew TCU was where I belonged."
Also unlike Andrew and I, Kelsi did not immediately move to California. "I moved directly to Austin, Texas from Fort Worth. I really enjoyed my time there. I felt like I wasn't entirely ready to start living in what people call ‘the real world', so I took a restaurant job and worked a little bit with the company I am currently working for on the side. I eventually moved to California for my job."
It took Kelsi a little longer to find Glenton's LA-Band-of-Frogs. "I moved here in March 2015 and finally connected with the LA Alumni Chapter just a few weeks ago to find out where the football watch parties would be, so it took me about five to six months." Very much like Andrew and I, Kelsi finds it very hard now to get to TCU games in person. "This breaks my heart to admit, but I haven't attended a game since my senior year in 2013. The job I worked in Austin required me to stay in town on Saturdays and the UT game was over Thanksgiving last year, when I was at home in Colorado." You see, when you live in California, timing trips to or through Texas is everything.
Kelsi also experiences Californians who just don't get it. "I work for a start up where I am the youngest by four years. My co-workers make fun of me a lot for being so into TCU. They think it is because I recently graduated and refuse to accept that I'm no longer a college student, but it is truly because of the school pride that I have. Many co-workers have even said, ‘oh you'll grow out of that, I used to be like that.' I don't foresee a time when I won't be incredibly proud to say that I attended TCU."
But, those Frogtonic plates continue to shift. Kelci remarks, "On September 3, the first game of the season, I sported my TCU cowboy boots at work and fully expected to be mocked a bit. I was surprised when people complimented me on how cool they thought my boots were and how they wished they had a pair for their respective colleges. They still made fun of me for wearing any college attire to work until they found out that we were ranked number 3 in the nation. There is definitely a level of respect that comes with saying you went to TCU for people that know about it."
Kelsi is one of the fortunate New Riders of the Purple Age (my generation will get that) - recent alums coming to Southern California while the Frogs are becoming a national sensation, and more and more people have stopped asking us what TCU stands for when we wear our gear. She says, "It is continually surprising to see how many Frogs are living in the LA area. Though, they're not always people I personally knew in college, they're sometimes people that I had heard about, seen around campus or even younger siblings of friends I had in college. The TCU population is so small and close-knit in Fort Worth and that sense of community translates wherever you are. People everywhere are very proud to be associated with the school, especially outside of Texas." My how times have changed.
Because Kelsi is all about representing the brand, "I was standing outside of a store one day talking on the phone to my mom and I noticed this woman was staring at me a bit strangely as she was walking towards me. All of a sudden she says ‘Kelsi?!' and I realize that it's one of my sorority sisters who I hadn't seen in at least two years! This has happened on at least 4 other occasions where I randomly run into TCU alums because there are so many of us in California! It makes Fort Worth feel a little bit closer."
A little bit closer, but not close enough. Our friends in Fort Worth will still attend all the home games, and at least SMU and Baylor away games. They still get to go straight to the stores on and around campus to buy their purple gear. They'll still tailgate outside the Carter with dozens of TCU alums they know well and thousands they don't. They'll occasionally get to watch the stadium get blown up. And they'll still get Frog Club Card discounts practically everywhere in town. Those of us in California and most of the rest of the country still have to try to do the best we can to stay connected and support the Frogs in every way we can.
I'm going to the game versus West Virginia on October 29th with my wife. A friend from TCU who was also from California but has lived in Little Rock for a long time is driving over to meet us and sit with us at the game. I haven't seen him since I dropped him off at a Greyhound Bus station in San Bernardino so he could go on home to the Bay Area where he was from. He hasn't been on TCU's campus since 1980. We used to shoot pool at a place called The Stables. It is now the Einstein Bagels across the street from campus, and you can get a Frog Club Card discount there. Going to my first home game in almost four decades, seeing the completed stadium (I did see it under construction July 2011), showing my wife the campus, watching my friend's glazed eyes while he tries to comprehend all the changes, and enjoying everything else Fort Worth has to offer will all be a LOT of fun. But on the morning of October 30, before we hit the road for our next stop in San Antonio, we're going to Einstein Bagles or somewhere for breakfast, and dang it, I'm going to get my Frog Club Card discount! That bit of Horned Frog Heaven will then have to hold me for a while back in California.