FORT WORTH — This to me is the quintessential Texas city: spacious, nice-smelling (ever since the stockyards shut down decades ago), lots of trees, parks, Japanese gardens, terrific steaks on just about every corner, and a surprising smatter of culture: theater, art museums, Billy Bob’s country music as well as the state’s oldest opera.
This is, as we like to say, where the West begins. Dallas likes to call it Cowtown. But I see this as Dallas with keener senses and less pretension.
Having leased an apartment here for seven years, I came to appreciate the relaxed rhythms of this city and the fact that there’s not an excessive pride. The TCU Horned Frogs play in Amon Carter Stadium, as they have since 1930, and it ranks as only the 27th largest venue in the NCAA.
And that’s how it should be.
I don’t find anybody here expecting the Horned Frogs to be national champions; certainly there’s nothing like the pressure on the Tide in Alabama or even the Longhorns in Austin.
But of course, with the Frogs ranking as high as No. 3 late in the season, people here feel a collective disappointment that they were not invited to the dance that is the College Football Playoff.
You could argue that TCU’s bowl game was as impressive as anybody’s: a 42-3 rout of 9th –ranked Mississippi in the Peach. The Frogs were the one bowl team to play shutdown defense against a strong offense.
They limited the Rebels to 9 yards rushing. They had the Defensive Player of the Postseason, linebacker Marcus Mallet, who had 10 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
Asked if the demolition of Ole Miss was a statement to the Playoff Committee, TCU coach Gary Patterson said, “I don’t think I have to say anything.”
He’s been restrained in criticizing the committee that dropped his team from the final four when it had no conference championship game to bolster the resume. But he states his case in the court of public opinion that TCU’s one loss was closer to being a win than were the upsets of Oregon, Ohio State and Alabama.
The purple Frogs were three touchdowns up on Baylor when, as Patterson put it, “we ran out of gas on defense.”
Art Briles’ up-tempo spread offense eventually proved too much for even a defense as fast and talented and disciplined as TCU’s, as Baylor won 61-58.
I would like to plead the case for TCU deserving to be in the championship game next Monday night (7:30 CST, ESPN) instead of one of the other one-loss teams, Oregon and Ohio State.
But in fairness I have to ask my Froggie friends how they expected to be there with a non-conference schedule consisting of Samford (not to be confused with Stanford), Minnesota and SMU.
The Frogs have exposed the single most annoying weakness in the sport of college football: too many worthless Saturdays, strong teams feasting on the weak.
To those who say there should be more Playoff teams, I say, as we often do in Fort Worth, “Not so fast, cowboy.”
By continuing to limit the Playoff field to four, college football will cause teams to toughen up their schedules, which would make the regular season much more entertaining.
Not that we can complain about the quality of the two finalists. Oregon’s dismantling of defending champion Florida State (59-20) in its Playoff semifinal demonstrated a stout, swarming defense that many did not anticipate. No surprise at all was the Ducks’ frenetic offense that likely will have the same effect on Ohio State that Baylor’s had on TCU.
Look for the Buckeyes to run out of gas on defense as the Heisman-anointed Marcus Mariota runs around and through them and passes over them.
The Frogs will watch it all with regrets of course, but plenty of hope for the future.
With more daring scheduling, Patterson, 54, would seem a wise bet to someday achieve his elusive goal of a national title. He has been head coach at TCU for 14 seasons, eight of which have included only one or two losses and one of which was perfect – 13-0 in 2010.
As a recruiter Patterson is not Nick Saban or Urban Meyer or Mack Brown. No one calls him charismatic or salutes him for his command presence. He’s pot-bellied, wears glasses and does anything but schmooze the media, though he knows it would help his recruiting effort.
Actually, he’s more colorful than he lets on. He can play guitar well enough to perform at some well attended charity events. His hobbies include scuba diving and African safaris.
But he treasures his time with a wife and three sons, and he’s no seeker of the limelight. And that’s why he stays at TCU, earning $4 million a year instead of a couple million more at a more storied football factory where he would perform before local as well as national media. Where he would be working under more scrutiny and with a more demanding alumni.
Patterson just wants to coach football, and when it comes to that I’m not sure anyone is better. He recently was named Associated Press College Football Coach of the Year – for the second time.
It’s difficult to imagine anyone drawing more out if his talent, and no coach could fit in more easily with Fort Worth. Patterson grew up in Kansas, played junior-college football in Dodge City. He knows something about coming out of nowhere, and his teams reflect this western edge and hardscrabble background.
He builds and maintains stifling defenses by recruiting backs and receivers who are not 4-star or 5-star and transforming them into defensive stalwarts. Whatever position is weak, he soon makes it strong.
Thus, running back Jerry Hughes was turned into a defensive end – now one of the better ones in the NFL. A current TCU All-America, linebacker Paul Dawson, was recruited as a wide receiver. All-Big 12 safety Sam Carter played quarterback in high school.
Trevone Boykin, a mere two-star recruit as a receiver, was converted to quarterback and may be the Heisman Trophy favorite for next season.
Although Patterson has been low-keyed on the Playoff snub, he’s not afraid to be confrontational. He once became so enraged at Baylor coach Briles that he challenged him to come to his house and fight. How more Texan can you get?
No doubt Patterson will use the almost fulfilling Playoff run as motivation for the next. His team figures to be loaded in 2015, with 10 offensive starters returning. Perhaps gazing at next season will ease the pain of not being involved in the climactic end of this one.
Fort Worth, if it remains true to its abundant character, will be patient.