Perhaps the most anticipated week in TCU football history has arrived as the Horned Frogs prepare to open their season against Grambling State.
But the momentous week is about so much more than just the season opener.
Fans can finally get to tour the renovated Amon G. Carter Stadium during an open house at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. The Frogs' inaugural season in the Big 12 Conference is finally just days away.
"You pinch yourself," said TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte, who will be on hand, along with chancellor Victor Boschini and others for a 1 p.m. dedication ceremony prior to the open house Thursday. "It's a huge week for us. It's here."
The new stadium, 21 months in the making, and the new conference, 16 years in waiting since the demise of the Southwest Conference, come together in one week that signifies a new era around the campus. For longtime fans, who sat through three decades of mostly losing football in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, it's a moment to reflect on how far the school -- not just the football program -- has come.
"It's a different TCU from the school I attended and graduated from," said former TCU player Chuck Mooney, who lives in Aledo. "I need a tour guide just to find my way around campus. The bricks and mortar are different, the attitude is different. When I was there our wildest dreams were to win the Southwest Conference and go to the Cotton Bowl. That would have been the perfect season. These kids playing there today, their dreams are much wilder than ours ever were. If these kids have a perfect season they have a legitimate chance to play for a national championship."
As optimistic as players were while playing for coach Jim Wacker, said Mooney, who played from 1987-90, "Something like that would have never entered our mindset."
The mindset was changing by the time Michael DePriest was part of one of coach Gary Patterson's first recruiting classes in 2002. DePriest played receiver from 2003-06 and brought his 6-year-old nephew to Daniel-Meyer Coliseum on Saturday for the Meet the Frogs autograph session. He was taking in the new stadium, new weight room and other facilities during the visit.
"The guys before us said 'you guys have it good,'" DePriest said. "Now we come here and we see all of this. It's just amazing. They talked about doing all that stuff [back then]. I always believed it and knew it was a matter of time."
He credits Patterson for not only being a winning coach, but teaching players about life outside of football. Both helped build the school to this moment, he said.
"I think that's what has made this program so good," DePriest said. "That's made a lot of people buy into the program and that's the reason we have a lot of this stuff we have now."
Of course, winning is the most important ingredient in pulling off such a wide-ranging and expensive makeover. And TCU has won a lot under Patterson. He'll become TCU's all-time winningest coach with a victory over Grambling State on Saturday, surpassing legend Dutch Meyer's school record of 109 wins. Patterson is 109-30 in 11 seasons at TCU. He'll pass Meyer's total in eight fewer years.
While this week may be a culmination of dreams for many TCU alumni and administrators, Del Conte cautioned that it's really just the beginning.
"It's really about the journey we've been on since the Southwest Conference broke up," he said. "All the trials and tribulations we went through and all the investment they made. This week symbolizes that journey. It's not ending, but it symbolizes that now is a new frontier. We've worked our tails off to get to this point and now it's upon us and it's a great time to celebrate it, but it's also to say, 'Here we are and it's not the pinnacle.' It's a jumping-off point."
Incoming freshmen were just 3 or 4 years old when Patterson arrived at TCU in 1998. They've grown up in a world where Frogs football teams have won 77 percent of the time.
"We had to be successful for an entire generation so that it became cool to go to TCU games, wear TCU shirts and hats," Mooney said. "We are definitely at that point. The athletic department is the window through which so many people view your university, so you better make sure it's the prettiest window you can possibly provide. The success the athletic program is having is so far-reaching. Much of what you see on campus is at least, in part, due to the success we've had in athletics."
It has become a widely held opinion among TCU alumni and administrators that, in retrospect, being left out of the Big 12 when the SWC broke up after the 1995-96 school year was probably the kick in the pants the athletic department needed.
"It gave us an opportunity to retool and rebuild and that's what they've done, and they've done it so well," said Mooney, who has been a season-ticket holder since graduating in 1990. "There's a whole generation of Frog fans who've never heard of the Southwest Conference before. To me, it's coming full circle and back to where we belong. It really is heartwarming to look across the stadium and see the student section so full and so purple and see those kids painted up and really into the game from start to finish. We would have killed for that back in our day."