The canvas pants didn't look baggy then, not like they do now in the old photographs. They were the color of a manila envelope, and I thought they were as sleek as the long-sleeved white jerseys with purple numerals and the shiny black leather helmets. A wide purple knit stripe curved down the back of each canvas leg, and somehow the pants turned elegantly golden if the sunlight hit them just right on those Saturday afternoons when a TCU Horned Frog named Sling-in' Sammy Baugh or Davey O'Brien would throw the football so hard at times, often so far and always so accurately that he would make another stumbling ignoramus out of a hated Longhorn, Bear, Owl, Razorback, Mustang or Aggie, whatever it was.
I speak wistfully of a time in the mid-to-late 1930s when practically everything seemed better to me than it does today, except, of course, air conditioning.
Even gangsters were better in the '30s because you could tell them apart from the politicians. Gangsters put black shoe polish on their hair, wore pinstripe suits, packed heaters and talked about C-notes as they slapped their women around.
Cars were better because they were flashy roadsters with rumble seats and all kinds of wraparound chrome, and you could drive from Fort Worth, Texas to Shreveport, La. on 9¬¨¬®¬¨¢ worth of gas.
August 30, 1981
People could dance to the music of the '30s without hopping around like Siamese cats, or people could listen to the music without screaming at a teen-ager to turn down the heavy metal or put on earphones. Music was definitely better.
Food was better. You could almost always open the packages food came in. Or you could pull food out of the ground, or wring food's neck in the backyard and then roll it in flour and pitch it in the frying pan. You could also get food at drugstores, which, if they were good drugstores, sold comic books and strawberry milk shakes.
Comic books were better because they were serious. It was a sad day for America when comic books got funny.
Movies and novels were better because they had good guys and bad guys in them, and they frequently had endings. Movies were also better because the leading men were taller and pretty terrific sword fighters. In a '30s movie, Dustin Hoffman wouldn't get the girl. He'd get the luggage.
Staying home was better, even if you didn't read a book. You could listen to The Amos and Andy Show and One Man's Family and I Love a Mystery on the radio instead of hurling your house slipper at a TV when The Love Boat comes on, and then switching over to Alistair Cooke introducing Part 17 of Kristin Lavransdatter.
Presidents were better. There was never going to be but one President, and you could trust FDR.
All in all, trains were better in the '30s, and so were newspapers, swimming holes, cafeterias, shade trees, bicycles, corn bread, drive-ins, doughnuts, candy bars, picnics, oceans, skies, parades, dust storms, rodeos, Christmases and tap dancing.
Football was better because college football was the major league. Pro football consisted largely of a group of second-class citizens waddling around in the baseball parks of blue-collar cities.
The pros were already astute in the art of offensive holding, but they were pushovers for a Sam Baugh, fresh out of TCU. He led the College All-Stars to victory over the Green Bay Packers, and then he became the All-Pro quarterback in his rookie year while taking the Washington Redskins to the NFL championship. Until Sam Baugh, pro football in Texas was a one-paragraph story on the third page of the Monday sports section.
Meanwhile, college football was glamorous, mysterious, important.
Every team in the country had its own look, and the players dressed properly. If a player had shown up for a game in a fishnet jersey cut off at the rib cage, he'd have been thrown in the slammer for indecent exposure.
Nobody wore a face mask, and the gladiators were expected to play offense and defense, quite often, like Sam Baugh, for 60 minutes.
No two college teams ran the same offense. Their coaches had names like Dutch, Jock, Tiny, Pop, Bernie, Biff, Stub, Clipper, Pappy and Slip, and they all developed a variation of the single wing, double wing, triple wing, spread, short punt and box formations. They used shifts, men in motion, unbalanced lines, tricky reverses, daring laterals, statues, flickers, shovel passes, buttonhooks and long passes, which weren't called "bombs" yet because World War II hadn't started.
The modern T formation was still an idea that Clark Shaughnessy would shape up when he was with the Chicago Bears and take with him to Frankie Albert and Stanford in 1940.
I wasn't old enough in those days for a grownup to let go of my hand in TCU's big concrete stadium on the campus, a stadium that held at least 24,000 camel's-hair overcoats and Stetson hats at the time, but I was already aware of a phenomenal blessing.
I had been born in the football capital of the universe, South Bend, Ind. and Tuscaloosa, Ala. notwithstanding. Fort Worth was the home of Texas Christian University, and TCU was the dominant force in a society known to sportswriters as the jinx-ridden, upset-prone, wild and woolly Southwest Conference.
All this was impressed upon me hundreds of times by my parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and older cousins, all of whom had a habit of pinning a large souvenir button on my crocheted sweater when I would be taken to TCU's home games.
The button I prized the most was about three inches in diameter, ringed in purple and white, and featured in the center the black-and-white photo of a wiry, bareheaded man poised to toss a football. The button proclaimed: I AM FOR SLINGIN' SAM BAUGH AND THE FIGHTIN' FROGS OF '35—WE'RE NO. 1!
That particular souvenir may have been given to me by the uncle I overheard one Saturday as he remarked to my dad: "Our Frogs is gonna play some whupass with them Rice Owls today."
And so the Frogs did—then.
What has happened to them in the past couple of decades, after a 30-year reign as consistently the best team in the Southwest Conference—and one of the best in the country—shouldn't have happened to a University of Chicago. The Frogs couldn't have slipped any lower in the college football ranks if the chancellor had built an underground stadium to avoid a nuclear holocaust.
It has occurred to me that there must be thousands of TCU graduates scattered among Dairy Queens everywhere who have no appreciation, no real understanding, of what the Frogs were. To most of these individuals, TCU is simply that cozy array of cream-brick buildings on a gentle hill near downtown Fort Worth where they spent a happy young adulthood going to Kappa Sig rushes and Tri Delt formals. And perhaps they giggled occasionally at an amusing little football team that has now won only nine games in the last seven years, and has not, in fact, beaten or even tied the Arkansas Razorbacks in 22 seasons.
About seven years ago I was loitering in the same stadium where I had marveled at the deft spirals of Sam Baugh and Davey O'Brien, where I had been dazzled by the scampers of men like Lindy Berry and Jim Swink, where I had actually felt sorry for the ballcarriers who were struck down by such assassins-as Ki Aldrich, Derrell Palmer and Bob Lilly. The stadium now holds 46,000, and it is still a pleasant old place surrounded by trees, a short walk from the dorms. It's a sturdy plant built strictly for football—no track around the playing field, the action up close—and I was suddenly compelled to join in some laughter. A cluster of TCU students in the east stands had unfurled a banner, which proclaimed: WE'RE NO. 113!
The students had timed the unfurling to coincide with the 81st point scored by the University of Texas Longhorns that crisp afternoon.
Maybe it is to such witty followers of present-day TCU football that I am basically addressing myself. They might better appreciate their own humor if they fully understood how far the Frogs have fallen.
Contrary to what most of these followers may believe, TCU once produced national champions in authentic polls in real newspapers, conference champions regularly, bowl teams in abundance, All-Americas by the gross and even a Heisman Trophy winner. Uh-huh. Just like your normal, everyday Ohio State or Southern California.
I am armed with facts about the glorious past, but first a word about The Drag. Why? Because it is necessary. The Drag was once the nerve center of the campus, a symbol of truth, honesty and delicious plate lunches. Its deterioration oddly corresponds, although for no discernible reason, with the deterioration of TCU football itself.
I'm talking about The Drag that belonged to Rags Matthews, Cy Leland and Johnny Vaught before it was Sam Baugh's and Davey O'Brien's, and then mine. Me. B.A. '53.
Every campus has a drag, of course, but TCU's was shorter than most and had fewer Gucci outlets. Which is not to say it didn't have charm. In its better days, The Drag was primarily a long block on University Drive that began with T.C.U. Drugs and ended at the TCU Theater, only you had to go around the corner to the Hi-Hat Lounge if you wanted to get a Pearl beer and listen to arguments about God and Modern Lit.
Along the way were such points of interest as a shoe store, a cleaners, a record store, Oliver's Bite Shop, The Spudnut, the Frog Grill and Blackburn 5¬¨¬®¬¨¢ to $5.
The big sign above the drugstore said: T.C.U. DRUGS/DRINK COCA-COLA.
The signs on The Drag were responsible for a student dialogue that went something like this: "Want to go over to Drink Coca-Cola and get some coffee?"
"Yeah, but before that, I have to stop at Five-Cents-to-Five-Dollars."
"I don't have anything to wear to the dance."
If you hung around the Hi-Hat Lounge long enough, you were bound to get to know the owner. His race-oriented jokes so monopolized any conversation that he became known to most of us as "H.W. Duke, white man, 35."
A friend often took pleasure in reading T.S. Eliot aloud in front of H.W. Duke, white man, 35, purely for the fun of hearing him say: "Sturk, if I didn't know you better, I'd think you was about half Homo sapien."
The old drugstore served valiantly for many years as a combination Student Union, Letterman's Lounge, newsstand, book stall, cafe, post office, speakeasy, hot-check receptacle, salon and theme-writing agency.
It was just across from the drugstore that a group of us intellectuals once protested the library's leanings toward non-classics with a rather spectacular book-burning and record-breaking ceremony and fondly addressed each other as Ivan, Dmitri and Alyosha.
As for the TCU Theater, it could always be counted upon to present something worthwhile, like Casablanca or AH About Eve, which could teach you more about the arts than any of the Proust I ever tried to read.
The Drag was TCU. And it continues to be one of the first sights you encounter if you visit the campus, in what is still a fine old neighborhood. Not long ago, however, I couldn't help noticing that the drugstore had become yet another night spot catering to dropouts and music lovers of the stone-deaf variety, and the theater had sharply reversed the trend in movies by offering Bruce Lee-type films. Most of the letters on the theater marquee were either missing or slanted at curious angles.
I will let TCU in on a secret. It will be easier to recruit the athletes who might be able to turn the football program around, plus the ever-popular Kappa Sigs and Tri Delts, if the school's wealthiest old grads will stop buying artificial turf and building weight rooms long enough to do something about the blight that has hit The Drag.
If I can't have the drugstore and the theater back, I'll settle for a modest little Hyatt Regency on that block so I will have a place to stay when TCU starts playing big games again. The current condition of The Drag is all the more reason to talk about the past.
The Southwest Conference into which I was blessedly born was organized in 1915, and for the first 25 years of its existence no football champion ever repeated, which was why sports-writers were inspired to label it a jinx-ridden, upset-prone, wild and woolly place. Incidentally, what generally passed for colorful sports-writing back then was a story that might well have begun:
College Station, Tex., Oct. 23—Yippee-tie-yi-yee! Baylor's Bullet Billy Patterson, the Hillsboro Dilly, threw a green-and-gold lariat around the gallant but hapless Texas Aggies Saturday, and despite the dipsy-doodle footwork of A&M's Dick Todd, the Crowell Cyclone, the hungry Bears corralled the maroon-clad Farmers 13-0 and kept alive their title hopes in the topsy-turvy, wild and woolly....
TCU dipsy-doodled into the conference in 1923, and almost immediately the Frogs became a major contributor to its jinx-ridden, upset-prone reputation. On an average of every other season in their first 15 years as a member, the Frogs either defeated or tied the team that won the championship. But it didn't stop there.
For close to 40 years, the Frogs repeatedly pulled off gigantic upsets, even in those seasons when they could do little else but provide an excuse for the Texas Christian University Swing Band to prance onto the field in policemen's caps and strike up a rendition of Plenty of Money and You.
A lot of legendary folks felt the sting of the TCU upset. Like Joel Hunt and the powerful Aggies of '25 and '27, and Bill Wallace and the powerful Owls of '34. Like Jack Crain, Mai Kutner and the powerful Longhorns of '41, who went into the TCU game rated No. 1 and had just been splashed on the cover of LIFE magazine. The baggy pants knocked them off. And then there was Doak Walker, the best all-round football player anybody ever saw when he was at SMU. Doak never got better than a tie with the Frogs in the seasons of '47, '48 and '49 when he was college football's last three-year consensus All-America back.
But the Frogs were much more than spoilers. Upsets were just the comedy relief provided by Francis Schmidt, Dutch Meyer and Abe Martin, the three men who coached TCU through the glory years.
Those years began in 1929 when Cy Leland's breakaway running brought the Frogs their first conference championship and the glory ended with the last title in 1959 (shared with Texas and Arkansas), which was the result, by and large, of Bob Lilly's mayhem in the trenches, as the Illustrated Football Annual might have put it.
Over this span of 31 consecutive seasons, from '29 through '59, the Frogs were the best team in the Southwest Conference. I just happen to have the proof. All TCU did was:
—Win more national championships (two, '35 and '38) than anybody else in the conference.
—Win more conference championships (8) than anybody else.
—Go to more bowl games (11) than anybody else in the conference.
—Produce more All-Americas (16) than anybody else in the conference.
—Turn out the Southwest Conference's first Heisman Trophy winner, Davey O'Brien, in '38.
—Become the first team in the conference to go to the Sugar Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl and Bluebonnet Bowl.
—Never let more than three years slide by without producing either a championship team or a bowl team.
—Maintain a winning edge over all six of their conference opponents. Let the record show that the Frogs were 19-11-1 against Rice, 18-10-1 against Baylor, 18-11-2 against Texas A&M, 16-10-5 against SMU, 15-12-2 against Arkansas and 16-15 against Texas.
I should add that nearly all of these Frogs were wonderful human beings and great Americans, and only rarely did any of them get taken into custody for trying to kidnap the Baylor Bear.
The most impressive part of this period was the first 10 years, or pretty much throughout the Depression that I thought was so fun-filled.
It so happens that TCU was the best football team in America from 1929 through 1938 because the Frogs won more games (90) than any other major college. Well, O.K., if you want to be picky and figure it by percentages, the Frogs were the fourth best team in the nation behind Alabama, Pitt and Fordham, but not bad, huh?
I would also point out that only Pitt, USC and Notre Dame were awarded more mythical national titles than TCU over this arbitrary decade, and only Tennessee fielded more undefeated elevens.
Good company, in other words.
In the seasons of 1935 and 1938, it is safe to say, TCU football did more for civic pride and the Fort Worth dateline than Sally Rand's Nude Ranch at the Texas Centennial celebration.
Not until my first car date years later did I experience anything as thrilling as the Saturday afternoon of Nov. 30, 1935. It was the day TCU and SMU played a football game of such monumental dimensions that my dad took the precaution of bringing along an extra flask of "cough medicine" to the stadium.
Two prizes of unbearable importance were at stake in the game: the national collegiate championship and a bid to the Rose Bowl. Neither prize had ever before been earned by a Texas team. To the fans of the two neighboring cities, Fort Worth and Dallas, the game meant something more: bragging rights for all eternity.
My relatives and everyone else began playing the game weeks ahead of time, for it was evident that TCU and SMU were so talent-laden they were bound to arrive at their colossal meeting with unblemished (10-0) records, which they did.
I was accustomed then to being dragged to TCU workouts, and it was always fun to watch Sam Baugh spit tobacco and lie on the grass when he wasn't knocking somebody down with the football. And it was terrifying at first to hear Dutch Meyer growl.
Dutch was almost a cartoon character of a football coach, a tough little man in a baseball cap with a whistle around his neck. When he spoke the word "football" it sounded like a volcano erupting, and all the words that followed it in a sentence came out like the scratching of cleats on a sheet of rusty tin.
At some point during the week of preparations for that SMU game, Dutch no doubt said:
"FOOTBALL...is a game played by MEN! Not a bunch of damn sissies and city slickers from Dallas!"
There was a moment that week when I went over and stood as close as I could to Sam Baugh and Center Darrell Lester, the All-Americas, and another of my heroes, Jimmy Lawrence, a great all-purpose halfback. They were relaxing on the sideline.
To the group, I inquired, "How do you get to be a TCU water boy?"
I won't swear it was Sam Baugh, but a voice replied: "First, you go over there and ask the trainer if he's got anything to cure lice."
What nobody had been totally prepared for on the day of the game was the sight of 40,000 frenzied people trying to fit themselves into TCU's 24,000-seat stadium. Many without tickets leaped over fences from the tops of automobiles, and many drove their cars through the fences. Some paid scalpers $100 for a ticket—at the height of the Depression, the equivalent of $4,000 now—but these weren't the ones who trampled policemen, climbed over the backs of each other and spilled onto the playing field.
I recall seeing hordes of strangers in slouch hats down on the field posing for pictures with Dutch Meyer and Matty Bell, the SMU coach, before the kickoff. I was older and well into the life of a sportswriter covering other TCU teams when I learned that some of those people my dad had called celebrities that day were Grantland Rice, Paul Gallico, Bill Stern, Bernie Bierman, Pappy Waldorf and assorted Hollywood and Broadway types.
The TCU-SMU game of 1935 has been called various things by various historians. It has been written about under such chapter headings as The Greatest Game Ever Played, The Aerial Circus and The $80,000 Forward Pass. I once had a junior high school teacher who gave it even more significance. She put it first in the order of importance on a list of the five most memorable events in the history of Fort Worth. To her, it ranked ahead of Vernon Castle, a famous dancer, getting killed in the crash of his training plane during World War I, ahead of the Texas & Pacific railroad coming to town, ahead of Swift and Armour putting meatpacking plants in the city and ahead of Major Ripley Arnold opening a fort called "Worth" on a bluff above the Trinity River to protect settlers from the Indians in 1849.
What I mostly remember about the game itself was the constant noise in the stadium, SMU running sweeps and reverses in a blur of red-and-blue uniforms and the Frogs continually dropping Sam Baugh's passes, although he kept hitting his receivers in the chest and hands. Sam threw an amazing 43 passes that day, which was unheard of among civilized people, according to Granny Rice's game report.
I remember Jimmy Lawrence catching one of those passes for a touchdown late in the game and then being carried off the field with an injury. My dad and others around us were very sad to see TCU lose Jimmy Lawrence, but they were very happy that the Frogs had finally fought back from 0-14 and tied the game at 14-14 after a whole afternoon of swirling action.
With about four minutes left to play and SMU lined up on fourth down in punt formation near TCU's 40-yard line, my dad was sipping his "cough medicine" with some relief. The Frogs had gained far more yardage than the Mustangs, and they now looked like the better team, and the Rose Bowl would surely select TCU in the case of a tie. In our section, everyone seemed to agree on this.
Everyone was still agreeing on it when the SMU punter, Fullback Bob Finley, didn't punt. Instead, he dropped back and hauled off and lofted a desperate 50-yard pass toward the TCU goal line. The next thing anyone noticed was that SMU's speedy All-America halfback, Bobby (Will-o'-the-Wisp) Wilson, was racing down the sideline, trying to get there before the football.
Sam Baugh, playing safety, struggled to get there from the other side of the field. At about the three-yard line Bobby Wilson leaped high into the air and twisted around, for the ball was arriving on his "wrong" side. The Will-o'-the-Wisp made a miraculous catch and stumbled into the end zone. The Mustangs won 20-14.
Hundreds of TCU fans, including my dad, sat limply in the stands for more than an hour after the game and-drank their "cough medicine" and stared at the spot where Bobby Wilson came down with the football. Fort Worth's heart was broken.
The broken hearts took little consolation later in the fact that TCU was chosen as the No. I team after the bowl games by the Williamson System, the only one of the syndicated rating systems of the day (the AP inaugurated its weekly Top 10 in 1936) to publish a ranking after the bowl games. This was after SMU was upset by a mediocre Stanford team in Pasadena on the same day that TCU defeated a highly regarded LSU team in the Sugar Bowl. It would only mean something in the brochures.
Years after the tragedy, Dutch Meyer said to me, "FOOTBALL taught me a lesson in '35. I sent our lads out there like it was a crusade. They had tears in their eyes when they left the dressing room...and it give 'em butterfingers."
I asked my dad recently what he remembered best about the TCU-SMU game, other than Bobby Wilson catching that pass. He said, "That's the sickest I've ever been in my life, including illness."
You would think that in 1938 Davey O'Brien and his mates would have cured all the illness. I'm sure they cured some. But the Frogs were so good behind little Davey's passing and running and ball-handling magic, they throttled everyone with ease. They never had a real scare in their 10-game schedule and a Sugar Bowl victory over Carnegie Tech. There was no drama.
They received all of the most enviable No. 1's and O'Brien swept the Heisman, Maxwell and Camp awards as the Player of the Year. He weighed only 150 pounds and stood only 5'7", but he bounced off tacklers like a rubber ball, skittered between them and flipped 20-yard laterals like a fast-draw gunslinger. His long passes were beautiful spirals and they seemed to be guided by destiny into the arms of Don Looney, Earl Clark and Johnny Hall. In the meantime, Ki Aldrich and LB. Hale blocked everybody and tackled everybody.
The only suspense about 1938 was whether any of the Frogs or their rich and intimate fans would get drunk enough to fall off the stagecoaches they had hired to parade themselves around New York City when O'Brien went east to collect his awards.
Those of us who stayed home scampered to the picture show downtown to see a newsreel in which O'Brien, in a tuxedo, was given the Heisman and later in the mayor's office shook hands with Fiorello LaGuardia. We saw our immortals and their friends in their cowboy hats riding on the stagecoaches in the newsreel. I assumed from the small gathering of bewildered New Yorkers on the sidewalks that our grid heroes were receiving what the Star-Telegram called a "grand welcome by the Great White Way."
Nobody fell off the stagecoaches. Our nobility was confirmed.
So much for national championships.
Dutch Meyer never found another Sam Baugh or Davey O'Brien, and he almost didn't find the T formation until just before he retired. But Lord love him. In 1951, when everybody but Ethiopia and TCU had gone to the split T, Dutch swiped one last conference title with the old spread and triple wing. A marvelous tailback named Ray McKown would take a long snap and either throw the ball into the unknown or run about 25 yards and hope to get back to the line of scrimmage.
Even Dutch knew it was time for a change. Abe Martin took over in '53 and brought with him an explosive multiple offense and a shrewd facility for recruiting. TCU's modern look had no harm done to it by the presence of a Jim Swink here, a Jim Shofner there and a Bob Lilly over there. Abe gave TCU three conference winners and four bowl teams in his first seven years.
But despite the look of the Frogs, Abe was an old-fashioned gentleman, a seat-of-the-pants coach who took his players into his heart and the press into his confidence. In this sense, he was the best man I ever knew.
For a writer, Abe's homespun humor was more fun than his winning teams. One day he gave up at struggling to describe Swink's broken-field running ability and said, "Aw, he's just a little old rubber-legged outfit nobody can catch." Of Bob Lilly's All-America potential, Abe said, "Well, he's a big old green pea, but he'll stand in there for you like a picket fence." Once he was asked how he planned to stop a rather fierce Texas team, and he said, "We'll just line up in our country six and scratch and bite and kick sand in their faces."
There was a year when the football staff offices were redecorated and made more spacious. Abe said he liked the new atmosphere all right, "but there's nowhere to spit."
Down on the sideline one Saturday things were not going well against Rice. Abe summoned a player off the bench and put his arm around the player's shoulder pad.
"Beely, I want you to look at that. They just wearin' Tommy out on the sweep," said Abe, wearing his lucky brown suit and chewing on his cigar. "I want you to go in there and stop that sweep for me, Beely."
The player nervously said. "I'll try, Coach."
Abe removed his arm from Beely's shoulder pad and kept looking out on the field.
"Sit down, Beely," Abe said. "Tommy's tryin'."
TCU's decline began when Abe Martin, as wonderful as he was, grew weary of recruiting. When Darrell Royal went to Texas and Frank Broyles went to Arkansas, recruiting became as intense and competitive as the games.
Abe had always been able to get a kid to come to TCU by taking him for a stroll around the county courthouse square and telling him he could wear those dirty Levi's and that T shirt on the TCU campus and feel right at home. "How's your Mom and them?" Abe would say. "Buy you a sody pop?"
Suddenly the recruits started telling Abe they didn't want to go to a school where you could wear dirty Levi's and a T shirt. They had been other places and seen people wearing those slacks without belts and loafers with jewelry on them. They thought they might try that instead.
TCU has now had five head coaches since Abe Martin hung it up in '66. The first one, Fred Taylor, had no chance. A lifelong TCU assistant, he walked straight into the Royal-Broyles buzz saw. Worse luck followed. Jim Pittman, a former Royal aide who had done well at Tulane, would have succeeded, I think. But Pitt-man collapsed from a coronary on the sideline of only his seventh game at TCU in 1971. He died. Pittman was replaced by his chief assistant, Billy Tohill, and two years later Tohill was in an automobile accident and lost his right foot.
Jim Shofner, an ex-TCU and NFL star, was called in for 74, and all of the tragedy that preceded him may have had something to do with the excess of Bible talk he brought to the locker room. Alas, Jim apparently wasn't cut out for a head job. He won two games in three years. Enter F.A. Dry, supposedly an offensive specialist from Tulsa. Thus far, F.A.'s aerial circus has produced seasons of 2-9, 2-9, 2-8-1 and 1-10.
"We're getting there," F.A. assured me in his office last fall.
That night in a game against Rice, there was a tendency to believe him. TCU led 24-7 at the half. But then the Frogs tried to sit on the lead and somehow the Owls, who have been as dreadful as TCU for a while, went ahead by 28-24. Still, with two seconds left to play, the Frogs found themselves on Rice's two-yard line and had stopped the clock to talk things over. It was going to be their night, after all. Like any sensible team, TCU was going to run one of those plays that looks like this and turns out to be that, perhaps a little flip to a wide-open tight end for a touchdown. Wrong. The TCU quarterback rolled out to the right and threw a pass to six Rice defenders, who were still fighting over the ball as I strolled away.
I had only one piece of advice for F.A. Dry during my visit. Change the helmets. It had all started going downhill in 1961 when Abe Martin went to white helmets. F.A.'s teams were wearing silver helmets. The helmets were at least a part of the problem, I said. No TCU team had ever done worth a damn unless it wore black or dark purple helmets.
I forgot about the suggestion, which was only half-serious, but F.A. Dry didn't. Four weeks later, before the homecoming game against Texas Tech, Dry ordered his equipment manager, Mark Valdez, to spray-paint the helmets purple.
"Why?" Valdez asked.
"Because I've tried everything else," said the coach.
Wearing the purple helmets, the Frogs upset the Red Raiders 24-17 for their only victory of the season. It was the first homecoming game TCU had won in nine years. F.A. Dry nicely gave me the credit in his dressing-room interviews, and old friends started calling long distance to read me the newspaper stories.
"It's only the beginning," I said to one friend from the drugstore days. "When they get those canvas pants...."