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Rose Bowl win proof that TCU has come so far

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Gil LeBreton
January 3, 2011
— In the end, as it rained confetti, they hugged and shouted into the night. And, truth be known, there were tears of joy in some of the eyes that now peered out from under their new caps.

The caps, like the new T-shirts, that proclaimed, “TCU 2011 Rose Bowl Champions.”


For the TCU Horned Frogs, a rose will never quite be just a rose ever again.


On the eve of this 97th Rose Bowl game, TCU coach Gary Patterson had been asked at a news conference how the nation would perceive a victory by the Frogs over a pedigreed Big Ten team such as Wisconsin.


Patterson, though, had turned the question around.


“If we do win, how are you going to write it?” Patterson said, challenging the audience. “Are you going to write that it’s because Wisconsin didn’t play well? Or are you going to write that we played a great ballgame?”


After Saturday’s hard-earned 21-19 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers, Patterson need not be worried.


For 60 minutes, the Badgers pounded away at the belly of the TCU defense. For 60 minutes, on both sides, there were no interceptions, no lost fumbles and few penalties.


In its 96 previous renditions, there might have been better Rose Bowls. But there can’t be many.


Not many so rich in parable and redemption. Not many where one of the competing teams had come so far—literally and figuratively.


And not many Rose Bowls where the winning team had cried real and happy tears.


“I don’t know if I can describe it,” said tight ends coach Dan Sharp, who played on TCU teams (1981-84) that won a total of only 14 games.


“It took so long, and we’ve come so far. And we’re here. It’s unbelievable.”


History will record that this TCU-Wisconsin Rose Bowl was decided on a timely deflection. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema is certain to be criticized for his decision to call a pass play on the Badgers’ 2-point conversion try rather than putting the game’s fate in the hands of the powerful, well-rested and seemingly unstoppable John Clay.


“They had the right play called,” Patterson suggested, “because we had a run blitz called.


“Sometimes, though, you just have to make a play.”


Sometimes, even in the Rose Bowl, Goliath doesn’t go down with just one rock. Sensing a quick slant on the 2-point play, TCU linebacker Tank Carder reacted instinctively to quarterback Scott Tolzien’s pass and spanked the ball away.


The purple-clad fans roared. Carder walked to the TCU sideline, and a congratulatory swarm of teammates engulfed him.


The TCU offense ran out the final two minutes.


Somehow, despite giving up 226 yards rushing, TCU’s nation-leading defense rose to make the game-deciding play.


Unlike a year ago, when TCU mistakes scuttled the Frogs’ first BCS bowl encounter, Patterson’s team played a turnover-free game. The Frogs held to 19 points a Big Ten offense that had scored 83 points on Indiana and 70 on Northwestern.


“Do you have any sense of how well you played?” a postgame questioner asked.


“No,” Patterson answered, “because it seemed like they rushed for about 1,500 yards and threw for over 2,000.”


Actually, Wisconsin’s total yardage was 385. There were plays—great plays, as it turned out—left in the Rose Bowl Frogs.


“Look at this,” Patterson said sheepishly, after the game in a nearly-empty TCU locker room. He held out his cellphone.


“175 text messages,” the phone read. “Network authenticity failed.”


The Frogs had been unable to stop Clay on that final drive. But they ended up bringing an entire phone network to its knees.


So how will it be written, this latest chapter in the TCU football fairy tale? Will people dwell on what the Big Ten Badgers didn’t do, or will it finally be the affirmation that the Frogs truly belong?


“I’ll say this,” Patterson said. “They’ll never be able to take it away from us.


“People can say what they want, but it’ll be our name up on that wall—Rose Bowl champions.”


Fifteen years ago, the TCU football program was left orphaned and alone on the defunct Southwest Conference’s doorstep. On Saturday, the Frogs won the Rose Bowl in one of college football’s most hallowed settings, in front of a live audience of 94,118.


“I actually caught myself thinking that,” Patterson confessed.


“I thought, ‘Well, we get back tomorrow, but nobody will there to meet us, I guess, because they’re all here.’ ”


He laughed. He was happy. He had a cap on his locker room desk that read, “TCU 2011 Rose Bowl Champions.”


And one of college football’s greatest comeback stories had written a unique and glorious chapter.


That’s how I’m writing it, at least.


The tears are optional.



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