Tom Gibbons is juggling two huge events this week.
His daughter, Hillary Caruso, is scheduled to have labor induced Friday. So Gibbons and his wife, Lorie, raced down to Houston on Thursday to be there for the birth of their third grandchild.
But Gibbons won’t let that get in the way of what is arguably TCU’s biggest home football game in decades — and his daughter is perfectly fine with it.
“If I wasn’t going to this game, she would wonder what was wrong,” Gibbons said.
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By Saturday morning, Gibbons and his Frogmobile — a converted ambulance decked out in TCU purple — will be in the parking lot just outside Lupton Stadium (TCU’s baseball field), where he will host 30 or so of his closest friends.
“Everybody in purple is welcome ... as long as it’s not Kansas State purple,” said Gibbons, referring to TCU’s opponent Saturday night in the Big 12 showdown, one of the biggest games Gibbons has ever seen.
“It’s right up there at the top. I really can’t think of one that’s been bigger with so much at stake,” said Gibbons, 52, who has driven the Frogmobile, along with his younger brother, Tim, to the Rose Bowl in California, to the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona and to a game against Clemson in South Carolina.
For Frog fans who suffered through the ’70s, when TCU won only eight games from 1974 to 1979, or felt the sting of being left behind when Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor bolted the Southwest Conference to join the Big 12, this season has been especially sweet.
When thinking of the last great late-season home game, many TCU fans would cite the 2009 contest against Utah, when the Frogs won 55-28 and ESPN’s College GameDay came to town. That game served as the springboard to the Fiesta Bowl.
But this year has been entirely different. Since the beginning of October, when TCU beat Oklahoma, every game has been bigger than the last.
“It’s huge because of this new thing called the College Football Playoff — it’s not some mythical championship like in the old days,” Fort Worth sportswriter and novelist Dan Jenkins said.
A rare Top 10 game
This is the first time since 1935 that Amon Carter Stadium has hosted a game in which both TCU (No. 6) and its opponent (No. 7 K-State) were ranked in the Top 10.
In 1935, TCU and SMU squared off in the “Game of the Century,” and both were ranked in the Top 10 of the Williamson Poll, the year before the Associated Press poll came into existence. SMU won, but TCU would claim one of its two national titles after beating LSU in the Sugar Bowl. SMU lost in the Rose Bowl.
Without much prompting, Jenkins will start recounting the 1935 SMU game, when he was a child and saw Sammy Baugh firsthand. That game spurred a lifelong love for the Frogs and college football.
“I thought it was the biggest stadium in the world,” Jenkins said. “And there were probably only 30,000 people there.”
To Jenkins, the last home game that carried as much significance was nearly 59 years ago, when the Horned Frogs played against Bear Bryant and Texas A&M in 1955. The Frogs lost to the Aggies 19-16 but still went to the Cotton Bowl.
“It will be crazy Saturday night, but that’s what college football is supposed to be,” Jenkins said. “If they win, the fans will be able to go home feeling like they had something to do with it.”
SEC is interested
The fervor has built slowly this season as TCU stacked up wins and steadily climbed in the polls.
When the Frogs won on a last-second field goal Saturday against West Virginia, John Denton, the color commentator on TCU’s radio broadcasts, said his phone started buzzing immediately.
“I got text messages from people all over the country and even in Europe,” Denton said. “We were still on the air, but people were so excited about it. They couldn’t wait.”
The buzz hasn’t stopped all week as Denton has given radio interviews nationwide. Some of the most fervent interest has come from stations in Alabama and Mississippi, where Southeastern Conference schools may view the Frogs as an interloper on the four-team playoff.
“I think they view TCU as a threat there,” Denton said. “I think there’s probably a little selfish interest from some of those stations.”
A must-see game
For TCU-area restaurants, the winning season has meant more customers.
Buffalo Brothers has been standing-room only during games.
Several doors down, Dutch’s Hamburgers has seen business rise 35 to 40 percent on Saturdays. Manager Kay Greenlee plans to stay open two hours later Saturday night for the after-game crowd, but she said the restaurant could be open later if the Frogs win.
“If they want to stay and celebrate, we won’t kick them out,” Greenlee said.
While some fans are still scrambling to get to Fort Worth for the game — and find tickets —others will be at alumni watching parties across the country. More than 20 such events are scheduled, from Boston to San Francisco.
Some TCU alumni will have their regular watching party 1,400 miles from Fort Worth at Hollywood’s 3Dog Cantina, which bills itself as “Hollywood’s Premier Cantina.”
“My guess is that it’ll be standing-room only by kickoff time,” said Glenton Richards, a 2006 TCU graduate.
‘A lot of football left’
TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte said the “phone is off the hook” with calls from excited alumni, but he cautioned that Saturday night’s game isn’t the season finale: There’s a month to go.
“You can’t ask for a better six weeks of football,” Del Conte said. “This is one game in the gauntlet. It’s a huge game in terms of what’s at stake, but at the same time we’ve got a lot of football left in the season.”
Still, Del Conte sent an email to season ticket holders Monday listing the bowl possibilities now that the Frogs are bowl-eligible. They ranged from the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (prices $30-$75) right here in Fort Worth, to the College Football National Championship ($450-$650) a few miles away in Arlington.
Of course, to reach the national championship, TCU would have to make a side trip to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena ($175 a ticket) or the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans ($175-$250) and win a semifinal game.
But that hasn’t stopped Gibbons from thinking ahead. He said the old ambulance, which he plans to repaint this off-season, has another road trip in it.
“There’s been a little dreaming,” he said. “You can’t help but do a little of that.”