Nobody wanted to go home.
The field was swarmed. Students were taking selfies. Old grads were milling about, wiping away the tears in their eyes.
Strangers were hugging strangers. Mamas were hugging their linebacker sons. Security guards were hugging wide receivers.
And somewhere in the middle of the celebration was coach Gary Patterson, who had once looked around the new neighborhood and humbly predicted that it would take at least three or four years for his TCU Horned Frogs to truly belong.
He missed by a few weeks, as it turned out.
The scene on the field Saturday after TCU had upset the previously unbeaten, No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners 37-33 tore a page from Horned Frogs history.
This one, however, carried with it a message — whether the current head coach wants his team to hear it or not.
“It depends on the eyes of the beholder,” Patterson said. “I told the team in the locker room, ‘Why are you getting so excited? If you want to become a great program, you’ve got to act like you just beat Minnesota or Samford or whoever, because you’ve got to do it again next week.’
“That’s what this league is all about.”
He was talking, of course, about the Big 12 Conference, the rough new neighborhood where TCU won only two of nine games a year ago.
It’s been a tough initiation — and a somewhat misleading one, Patterson pointed out.
Someone asked him Saturday about this team’s resiliency, and Patterson answered with a history lesson, of sorts.
“Our group last year, they came back,” he said. “You don’t lose to Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas State — five teams altogether — by less than 11 points total ... this group learned how to fight back. We just didn’t have quite enough firepower last year.”
Give Patterson, the obsessive defensive scientist, credit for realizing that a program can’t win in today’s Big 12 by trying to win 10-7 games. A team needs points. For the sake of its defense, a team needs an offense that can generate drives, pile up possession time and score touchdowns.
Which is why Patterson made the decision after last year’s 4-8 season to hire Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham to change the TCU offense.
“It even changed the playing field,” Patterson said. “When some people are that big and physical, you’re not going to be able to push them around.”
In junior quarterback Trevone Boykin, Patterson thinks the coaches have found a matured leader who now understands his role. Boykin threw for 318 yards Saturday, completing 20 of 38, and outgained the Sooners’ Trevor Knight (309 yards on 14 of 35 passes with two intercepted). Boykin’s feet added 77 more yards.
Knight kept the OU offense moving with his scrambles, finishing with 61 net yards on the ground. But he didn’t seem the same after leaving the field and being treated by trainers in the third quarter.
The TCU defense also had a lot to do with that. One early Frogs adjustment, shifting cornerback Kevin White’s frequent responsibility to Sooners receiver Sterling Shepard, seemed to slow down the Oklahoma offense.
Patterson, meanwhile, was working it, his arms even more animated than usual as he called defensive signals from the sideline.
“We ran stuff in the second half that we didn’t work on all week, as far as coverages,” Patterson confessed. “We had to roll in some three-deep-zone blitzes. We blitzed from every angle we could. You name it, we tried it.”
It was fitting, therefore, that the winning touchdown was scored by one of Patterson’s defenders, linebacker Paul Dawson.
The final seconds set off a wild celebration, as first the TCU student section, and then the alums streamed onto the field.
It was a full 20 minutes or more before the Frogs players were finally able to make their way to the locker room.
Nobody wanted to go home.
But that was OK. Finally in the Big 12, TCU realized it was.