It is a trap of history, a chronicler of important events wrote long ago, to believe that eyewitnesses remember accurately what they have lived through.
However, as it concerns the TCU urban legend that grew out of the Horned Frogs’ game at Oklahoma in 1954, it was all those who came after that gave the myth gazelle legs.
As No. 6 TCU goes to No. 5 Oklahoma on Saturday, it’s a good time to revisit one of college football’s greatest (non) stories.
In 1954, in an age in which the internet didn’t yet spread untruths as fast as a flip of a light switch, the Horned Frogs, with future All-America Jim Swink, indeed came within six points of ending what eventually became the Sooners’ national record 47-game streak.
It is not true, though, that Horned Frogs tight end and team captain Johnny Crouch told a game official that he should overturn a touchdown because he was convinced that a teammate failed to catch what would have been a critically important scoring reception in the second quarter.
Yet, if you ask anybody about it, they’ll say he did just that. Two books detailing OU’s record streak state so, and more, as if truth spoken by the Dalai Lama.
“He was not the type of individual that would’ve admitted he didn’t catch it,” said Ronald Clinkscale, 84, the TCU quarterback who threw the pass, remembered jokingly. “Of all the games in college, I remember that one much more distinctly than any of the others. It was memorable because not only did we almost beat Oklahoma, but all the other events surrounding it.”
In the second quarter, with TCU leading 2-0, the Frogs worked the ball to the Oklahoma 34. According to the great Flem Hall of the Star-Telegram: “On third down, Clinkscale fired a long pass that [Kenneth] Wineburg appeared to catch between two defenders deep in the end zone. Field judge Don Rossi … who was in the end zone signaled touchdown. But Earl Schlupp overruled him … [saying] Wineburg dropped the ball and recovered it on a bounce. Wineburg said later that he didn’t know … that he thought the ball had bounced off an Oklahoma defender.”
That was that. If TCU protested, Hall didn’t notice. “We ended up not scoring on that drive,” said Clinkscale, a senior that season who went on to play professionally for four years in Canada. “If we could’ve scored, we probably would’ve ended up winning.”
The Frogs, three touchdown underdogs against the No. 20 Sooners, fell 21-16.
A day later, news emerged that Schlupp’s call was influenced by Crouch’s supreme example of sportsmanship. He had gone to Schlupp after the initial TD signal and said he believed the ball hit the ground.
Crouch denied it instantly, telling the Star-Telegram, in 1954: “It isn’t so. When I saw that official overrule the touchdown … I asked Ray Hill, one of our tackles, what happened, he said the ball hit the ground first. I turned to the official and said, ‘That’s OK. Nice call.”
Crouch, who had a high school coaching career that included a stint in McAllen, appeared to have last spoken about it in a 1991 interview with The Oklahoman, making clear as a then 59-year-old that he was a most reluctant folk hero: “I wouldn’t have given up a touchdown against Oklahoma for nobody. I wouldn’t give up anything in a football game. My teammates knew I’d rather die than do that and lose.
“You really want to know the truth? I thought the guy [Wineburg] caught the ball. I got after [the official’s] butt pretty hard. Ray Hill, a tackle who played beside me said, ‘Hey, you had better shut up or else he’s going to throw you out of the ball game.’ So I turned around and said, ‘Nice call,’ to the referee.”
This, Clinkscale said, was more likely. Hill, from Poly High School, “was that kind of guy. He was an older guy. Had come from the Marines. He was kind of the godfather for all of us.”
Sports Illustrated, though, ran with the myth, telling readers on Oct. 4, 1954: “TCU captain Johnny Crouch honestly confessed that the ball had bounced before it was gathered in, thus, in the end, enabling Oklahoma to win 21-16.”
The next week, on Oct. 11, SI attempted to clarify, saying the real hero was Hill: “Ray Hill, 22, is a stalwart tackle for Texas Christian University and a man of probity. In the TCU-Oklahoma game, Ray’s testimony to his captain that an end-zone pass had touched the ground before it was caught led TCU to accept an ‘incomplete’ ruling. … The touchdown, if allowed, might have made the upset of the week. Oklahoma won only 21-16.”
After the season, and much to the pleasure of Crouch’s teammates, the Kiwanis Club of Fort Worth awarded its Southwest Conference Sportsmanship Award to, who else, Crouch, the first TCU player to win the award.
As teammates are wont to do, that became an instant source of teasing material, Clinkscale said.
“They still give me a lot of hell about that day,” Crouch said in the 1991 interview. “They know I really wasn’t the greatest sportsman when it came to football.”
The Kiwanis, though, were candid, saying his selection was, in part, a result of “his honesty in denying any personal credit for an unusual incident in the TCU-Oklahoma game.”
Crouch also supposedly received a letter of commendation from President Eisenhower, though that appears to be part of the legend.
Two books helped cultivate the myth.
Harold Keith, a former OU sports information director, repeated it in his book “Forty-Seven Straight.” According to Keith, the story was confirmed by Schlupp.
In Jim Dent’s “The Undefeated,” the facts were completely muddied.
In Dent’s account, Chuck Curtis, who later became UT Arlington’s last football coach, was TCU’s quarterback, and the controversial catch was made on what would have been the winning drive in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, Crouch, according to Dent, was the intended receiver.
“Then, out of the blue,” Dent wrote, “the fans witnessed a rare event that only Hollywood could have invented. Crouch sauntered toward field judge Don Rossi and held out the ball.
“ ‘Ref, I didn’t catch it. I trapped it.’ ”
That was more than a decade before a president made “fake news” part of the vocabulary.
In reality, the game ended with TCU on Oklahoma’s 7-yard line as time expired.
“We had time for one more play. Abe [Martin] called a running play. We didn’t make it. I guess it was my fault because I was the guy carrying the ball.”
Oklahoma finished the season undefeated and No. 3 in the country. The Frogs, who finished 4-6 and 1-5 in the Southwest Conference, went on the defeat USC at the Los Angeles Coliseum and No. 17 Penn State at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
“In the heat of the game, that play didn’t get a lot of attention,” Clinkscale said. “Then later these different versions start coming out … .”
Versions of a story people simply wanted to believe.