“ It’s been one of those years for us where it’s been interesting.”
Interesting is the most appropriate word to describe TCU Football’s 2018 season. The Horned Frogs overcame season-ending injuries to 30 players, including two quarterbacks, as well as a few high-profile transfers.
It was a year that, frankly, Gary Patterson didn’t expect to end in a bowl game. “As I was talking to one of the other coaches, five weeks ago, we weren’t thinking we would be in this position.” But, here the Horned Frogs are, in a place they always appreciate, “meeting new people” and having experiences that many of the players have never had before. “I still remember a long time ago, we were at a bowl on the west coast. Our kids from Texas, it was the first time they had ever seen the ocean. A lot of our kids, this is the first time they’ve ever been to Phoenix. You get a chance to be in the desert air, see different people, do things. I think that’s the most spectacular thing about a bowl game, is the life experiences of the people, not just them but us. We get a chance to have friends for the rest of our lives because of the help and the brotherhood we get a chance to be a part of.”
Patterson is also a big fan of Phoenix, and playing on the west side of the country in general. TCU has played three times in the desert - the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl - two close games that ended in heart-breaking fashion. (I still can’t hear the words fake punt or Skye Dawson without cringing a bit). Patterson hopes to change TCU’s fortunes Wednesday. “Phoenix has been unbelievable to us. It is one of the best -- just personally for me, destination’s awesome. We love the weather, obviously. No humidity as a general rule. Plus it’s always had great venues. The hospitality has always been second to none. That’s what I told my kids, any time you can come west and we come to Phoenix, they’re always going to get treated awesome. It’s always good for us to play a great bowl game. We have to change our luck a little bit. We’re 0-2 here, but it’s been two very close ball games. We’ve given you great games, and we’re going to try to change our luck a little bit.”
It’s amazing that a coach that has been through so much, that has played in four different conferences across his 21 years in Fort Worth, can still appreciate the little things of even a “lesser” bowl game. But Patterson recognizes that playin in the game itself is just one aspect of the bowl experience. “But, you know, next year, one of the things about being able to come to this bowl game, we had 47 new freshmen and redshirt freshmen who were players on the team when we started the season. And this is just another bowl game. There’s a lot of kids that usually in the Big 12, we only travel seven. So this gives an opportunity for 50 young guys -- 55 young guys to be able to travel. Some of them have never been on an airplane. And our older guys do not treat them well when it comes to things like that, I’m afraid.”
Despite his assurance that he wants his players to enjoy the experience of participating in bowl season, make no mistake - this is a business trip for Coach Patterson and his program. And they want to come away with a victory that gives them a winning season in 2018. “It’s a business -- it’s business trip for us during the season. This bowl game’s a business trip. But initially here for the first couple of days, it will be about having fun. We basically got all of our big practices in. We’ve already had nine practices. So when we start tomorrow for our tenth, it will be just in shorts. We basically got all of our work done. So now it will be refining everything and getting ready to go. So we’re excited about it. Get guys rested up and get ready to play.”
The Horned Frogs are taking this game seriously, as a springboard to spring practice and an opportunity to build on a strong finish. “Because you’re not just trying to win this ball game. You’re also trying to grow your team up so you don’t go 6-6 next year. So how do you do that? And so that’s how I’m staying at TCU for 26 years. I wake up thinking they’re going to fire me every day. So you get just ready to go.”