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BILL PLASCHKE

Horned Frogs' joyful clan does Granddaddy proud

Texas Christian defeats Wisconsin, 21-19, in what one player calls 'our national championship.'

January 02, 2011|Bill Plaschke
  • Texas Christian football players gather as they celebrate a 21-19 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers in the 97th Rose Bowl on Saturday in Pasadena.
Texas Christian football players gather as they celebrate a 21-19 victory… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Many thought tiny Texas Christian would be brought to its knees, and they were right.

In the wondrous moments that lighted up the Pasadena darkness late Saturday afternoon, several Horned Frogs staggered behind their bench, dropped to the ground and wept.

"This was our national championship," said running back Waymon James. "This was enough."

Many thought outsider TCU would lose its composure, and they were right.

Through the Arroyo Seco chill they danced, preschoolers in shoulder pads, running in circles, heaving their helmets, sticking out their tongues to catch the purple confetti as if it were an unexpected winter snow.

"Everybody said we couldn't do it!" shouted receiver Jeremy Kerley. "But look at us now, we're the Rose Bowl champs!"

Indeed they are, the most refreshingly joyful champs in the 20 years that I've covered this game, TCU finishing an unbeaten season with an unlikely 21-19 slugging of giant Wisconsin on Saturday in the 97th Rose Bowl.

Everybody put every bit of passion we had into this game," said safety Tejay Johnson. "What you saw was all that passion coming out."

Standing on many football fields after many important victories, I'm often fearful of being trampled by a charging student body. Saturday was the first time I was worried about being trampled by the actual team.

The final seconds ticked away and here came the Frogs, bouncing everywhere and nowhere, streaming tears and giddy hugs, wet purple and soggy tape, everyone rushing to the end zone to dance for the marching band, rushing back to midfield to receive the trophy, then rushing back to the music again.

In the arms of a team that was truly happy to be here, the Rose Bowl was reminded of its meaning again. On the backs of a team that finished unbeaten yet unshaken about not having a shot at the national championship, college football was reminded of its strength.

"Sometimes in life you have to take what is given to you, and this is one of those times, and, man, we'll take it," said Kerley.

This was supposed to be a column about the great injustice dealt a TCU team that is 13-0 yet, because of the quirks of the Bowl Championship Series system, will be watching college football's national championship game next week between Oregon and Auburn.

But how can you call any Rose Bowl victory an injustice? How can you say that a triumph by a Mountain West Conference school of about 9,000 students over a Big 10 powerhouse is anything less than the end of the rainbow?

The game was clinched with two minutes left when a TCU defender with bloody knees and the name Tank stuck his paw into the air and knocked away a two-point conversion pass by a Wisconsin offense that had just driven nearly the length of the field, and this is not enough?

Why is it so wrong that TCU will not play the winner of next week's title game for the real championship? Why is it so bad that the Horned Frogs' season ends here, unbeaten Rose Bowl champions with enough lingering mystery to keep their memory alive forever?

If there was a college football playoff, we would not have had the meaningful regular season that culminated in Saturday's dramatics. If there was a college football playoff, the Rose Bowl would have simply been another elimination game that would have ended with TCU quietly scurrying off to watch film of the next opponent.

"The Rose Bowl deserves a lot more than that," said Gary Patterson, TCU coach. "To be able to look at those mountains and see … everything that went on with the game … I would be doing them an injustice by saying anything less than I was glad to be here today."

In two seasons, TCU will be a member of the Big East Conference and thus an automatic qualifier for the national championship. But for now, this is indeed enough, knocking off a Wisconsin team, let's be honest, is not in the same league as an Oregon or Auburn.

In becoming the fifth of five Big Ten teams to lose in bowl games Saturday — a lousy collection of football teams was predictably outscored, 211-102 — Wisconsin was plagued by missed tackles, dumb penalties and nutty coaching.

On the Badgers' first play from scrimmage, Montee Ball rushed up the middle for 40 yards — yet they finished the game throwing 21 passes. On the Badgers' final drive, they rushed the ball on nine of 10 plays — yet Coach Bret Bielema called a shotgun-formation pass play on the two-point conversion.

Tank Carder, a blitzing TCU linebacker who had already delivered several big hits, simply raised his hands and batted the pass away.

Said Carder: "We all thought they were going to run it, so I was sent in on a blitz. Then I seen him cock his arm back and I jumped and that was the end of it."

Said Bielema: "That was something we saw on film."

Film is one thing. Fight is another. TCU showed plenty throughout the afternoon, its defensive line being outweighed by an average of 42 pounds, yet the Horned Frogs always making the big play, its offense small in stature but big in moment.

Andy Dalton, a red-haired kid who looks as if he could be Andy of Mayberry, led the Horned Frogs in rushing and passing and smarts, saying, "We never thought we'd end up in the Rose Bowl, but there's not a better game out there.... It's a dream come true."

Carder, with the mustache and beard stubble of a kid cowpoke, led the Horned Frogs in hits and honesty, saying, "This is not just for us, but for all the teams who never get a shot.... We showed we can play with the big boys."

They not only can play with the big boys, but they can beat them with the sort of unbridled enthusiasm that turned even the oldest among them into, well, just boys. Before leaving the interview room Saturday, Patterson paused at the microphone and said, quite spontaneously and surprisingly, "Thank you, Rose Bowl."

It was Granddaddy's pleasure.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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