Just minutes before kickoff, cheerleading captain Marshall Watts is hooked up to a microphone. It’s the first game of the season.
Students are still trickling into Amon G. Carter Stadium, packing into the student section.
Alumni and fans navigate the tunnels underneath the brick-lain archways at the John S. Justin Athletic Center and descend into their seats behind the TCU Frog Horn. They’re about to see something special emerge from underneath them and onto Moncrief Field’s southern endzone.
Watts belts out a giant “GO FROGS!” across the speaker system, energizing the crowd like he were pumping up fans at a rock concert. Life has been breathed into the crowd.
A herd of players sporting purple jerseys rush the field. Children and their parents skip along the sidelines too, parading as if they were one of the players.
Boykin earns Big 12 Player of the Week accolades. The Frogs demolish the Bulldogs 48-14.
Fireworks spiral upwards from the top of the Athletic Center rooftop.
Football season is back.
The rout notches another win on a long list for the frogs. Since 2005, TCU has the best winning percentage of any college football program in Texas.
But how TCU cemented its football glory began nearly two decades ago and is the result of efforts from three key figures at TCU: Gary Patterson, Chris Del Conte and Victor Boschini.
In 1996, the Southwest Conference (SWC) dissolved.
Arkansas left for the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in 1991, even before the SWC ended. Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech landed in the Big 12 Conference.
Smaller schools TCU, SMU, Rice and Houston were left to dry in non-BCS conferences.
TCU joined the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) in the immediate aftermath and stayed for six years.
It wasn’t until after a four-year stint with Conference-USA (C-USA) that TCU joined the Mountain West Conference (MWC).
TCU never missed the postseason as a member of the MWC. They lost only seven games in seven seasons within the conference and earned two BCS Bowl berths.
Even with the tremendous successes in the MWC, the university always desired to move back to a conference similar to the SWC. They wanted strong regional rivalries back at Amon G. Carter.
Additionally, “[TCU’s] goal was always getting back to a BCS conference,” said TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte.
When TCU began playing in the MWC, they immediately found a winning side. TCU went 11-1 (8-0) in 2005, 11-2 (6-2) in 2006, 8-5 (4-4) in 2007 and 11-2 (7-1) in 2008.
The Frogs went 12-0 (8-0) in the 2009 regular season. Perfection earned them a trip to play in the Fiesta Bowl—a BCS bowl. A bitter loss at the hands of Boise State was not enough for TCU.
So Del Conte was handed a huge task—advertising the excellence of TCU to a national audience.
“We knew we had to prove ourselves,” cites Del Conte.
Patterson led the frogs to back-to-back BCS bowl berths and became the first and only non-BCS conference team to win a Rose Bowl.
It was unprecedented.
“The intense media coverage acted as the front porch to our university,” Boschini said.
Then, in 2010, TCU announced major renovations to Amon G. Carter Stadium. It was the first time since 1956 that the stadium would get a significant face lift.
“TCU was the first to invest in its facilities,” Del Conte boasts. “We added Wi-Fi, a new press box and more restrooms.”
According to a gofrogs.com account, Patterson recognized how powerful the renovation was for the university:
“Having a new stadium will have a great impact on our recruiting efforts.”
Indeed, the consistent success and top-of-the-line facilities caught the attention of the Big East, who extended TCU an invitation to join. But within a year, major conference realignments forced the school to reconsider.
The Big 12 was one of the conferences shaken up by departures. Colorado joined the Pac-12. Nebraska parted for the Big Ten. Texas A&M and Missouri got the call for the SEC.
The Big 12, then with only eight teams, extended an invitation to TCU.
“It was a dream come true,” Boschini said. “Geographically, we were much closer to the Big 12. Students get more involved with regional rivalries and can travel to more games. That’s something that was never possible in the Mountain West.”
The biggest reach, travel-wise, became West Virginia. The 18-hour drive for a single school paled in comparison to the 18 to reach San Diego State and Brigham Young, save the 19-hour stretch to the University of Utah.
It might be the closest TCU will ever get to a SWC reunion. Battling the likes of Baylor, Texas, SMU and Texas Tech each year means that the Horned Frogs play over half of their SWC conference rivals again after a 16-year hiatus.
Boschini was the last piece of the puzzle. He needed to bring fans into the stadium.
By joining the Big 12, TCU was able to recruit “better” professors and students from across the country. This nurtured what Boschini has called a “culture of connection” and has driven student and faculty spirit, ultimately creating a top university.
“Everywhere at TCU—even all the way up to the stockyards—you see purple banners,” Del Conte said. “The whole city is purple!”
But, joining the Big 12 meant restructuring the entire football experience.
For example, “the old Frog Alley was undefined. We confined the event to a specific lot behind the Alumni Center and cultivated something unique and fun,” Boschini said.
Tailgating was another big piece in the gameday experience. And it’s something wholly embraced by students, alums and faculty alike.
Brad White transferred to TCU as a sophomore and began tailgating in 1976. He graduated in 1979 and has been coming to games ever since. He established the Frog Corps and became its conductor in 2011. A year later, he became the proud parent of a TCU student, junior vocal music education major Taylor White.
“We celebrate the games by getting ready four days before—buying food, getting everything packed up and just being excited the whole week before,” White said. “We’re all in, 100 percent.”
“[Tailgating] is not taken lightly at our house,” adds White’s wife, Holly. “It’s all a part of the TCU culture. It’s fun just to participate and be a great fan!”
And tailgating is just the beginning of gameday.
“Football is the apex of the culture,” White said. “It’s the peak function that brings the entire university together for fun. It’s the consummate reason to come together.”
Boschini said that student and alumni involvement is critical to everything. “There’s a cliché that Texans go 199 percent with everything they do,” he said, “but with all our out-of-state influence it seems TCU goes a thousand percent—it’s all about TCU.”
As students, alumni, fans and opponents trickle into Amon G. Carter from Frog Alley and the plethora of parking lots hosting tailgates, the anticipation of a new season bolsters excitement.
But this season, the experience will soar to new heights.
According to a tcu360.com report from this summer, TCU consulted with a Walt Disney Company firm for the upcoming season. The approach brought a few changes to the stadium.
Two student sections were nixed. By Boschini’s account, this confined the space for students and opened more seating for spectators, creating a fuller look on television.
Disney empowered the cheer squad with creating more excitement—hence the microphone for Watts. The fireworks spread icing on the cake.
Then a new Riff Ram pump up video played on the Dave E. Bloxom, Sr. scoreboard. An epic montage of plays, athlete commentary and a cameo from the one-and-only, Andy Dalton.
The Showgirls match the video with their own Riff Ram, rowing back-and-forth yelling “RIFF RAM, BAH ZOO, LICKETY LICKETY ZOO ZOO, WHO WAH, WAH WHO, GIVE ‘EM HELL TCU!”
All of this is a drastic improvement from where TCU was 18 years ago.
The university has some of the best facilities in the nation. It’s a member of one of the best conferences. It owns a recent Rose Bowl trophy. It boasts one of the most competitive academic environments in the nation for both faulty and students.
And now TCU is turning into a Hollywood spectacle. The national TV contracts and beauty of the stadium has set the stage for an exciting season. The course of the game fuels the drama.
“It helps us take the next step in what we’re trying to accomplish as a program, and that’s winning a national championship,” Patterson said.
As if the “Amp It Up” marketing wasn’t enough, everyone watching and attending the games will see something truly special. TCU may be at the forefront of a breakout season in the Big 12. The difference between 4-8 and 8-4 last year was a total of 11 points.
So get ready for more fireworks. Only this time, the buzz comes in the form of a true BCS contender without the non-BCS arguments that hindered the reach of the team in the past. And fans can easily travel to, attend or watch the games.
The university has evolved over the past 18 years, supplanting a unique culture of excellence in Fort Worth. Through the dedicated efforts of Patterson, Del Conte and Boschini, TCU is on the precipice of cementing itself back into glory, coming full-circle since its days in the SWC.