SI Vault
Dan Jenkins
August 05, 2008
In its glory years, which ran from 1929 through 1959, when the college game ruled, TCU was the best team in the Southwest Conference, and Fort Worth was the football capital of the universe
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August 05, 2008

Purple Reign

In its glory years, which ran from 1929 through 1959, when the college game ruled, TCU was the best team in the Southwest Conference, and Fort Worth was the football capital of the universe

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Sports Illustrated AUGUST 31, 1981

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 HEMETS. A PURPLE KNIT STRIPE RAN DOWN THE BACK OF EACH CANVAS leg, and somehow the pants turned golden if the sunlight hit them just right on those Saturday afternoons when a TCU Horned Frog named Slingin' Sammy Baugh or Davey O'Brien would throw the football so hard, 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 that is.

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. 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 pushovers for a Sammy 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 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. No two 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.

I wasn't old enough in those days for a grown-up 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 and Tuscaloosa 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 most was about three inches in diameter; ringed in purple and white; and featured, in the center, the 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 remark to my dad, "Our Frogs is gonna play some whup-ass 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 SWC—and one of the best in the country—shouldn't have happened to a University of Chicago.

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