TCU’s Tuesday media luncheon with coach Gary Patterson was missing much of the usual media. Most were either covering the Rangers’ end of season press conference or in Austin for Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds’ retirement announcement.
In fact, the sparsely attended gathering, complete with Chick-fil-A sandwiches, was a whole lot like the Horned Frogs’ luncheon before TCU’s 2005 opener at Oklahoma.
“No one paid any attention,” Patterson said. “No one came to media days, no one came to Meet the Frogs, nobody came to anything.”
But that anonymity was part of a perfect storm that allowed the Horned Frogs to upset then No. 7-ranked Oklahoma 17-10 in Norman, Okla.
It’s one of a select few wins during Patterson’s 16-year tenure that marked a sea change in TCU’s football program — others include the 1998 Sun Bowl win over USC and the 2011 Rose Bowl victory. Each time, Patterson said, the program went to another level.
For most of the TCU players, 2005 is ancient history. Most were between the ages 10 and 13 and playing middle school football at the time. But they know about the Frogs’ win in Norman; they know its significance.
“I have seen highlights of it personally and coach Patterson has referenced it,” TCU defensive end Jon Koontz said. “But he talks about old seasons all the time so it’s not something he specifically brings up in Oklahoma week. It’s just a big game in TCU history that he does go back and mentions from time to time when he talks about the tradition we have here.”
More than 80,000 will be on hand at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium for a nationally televised conference game between teams many expected to battle for the league title. Two early losses knocked the Frogs out of the polls and injuries to key players such as Devonte Fields and Casey Pachall have taken some media shine off the Frogs’ season.
“I’ve seen the stadium, but it was empty,” TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin said. “People tell me it gets pretty loud there. It’s just something you have to prepare for. Texas Tech was pretty loud but once the ball is snapped everything is sort of tuned out.”
Although the perception of TCU football is in a drastically different place than in 2005, a win Saturday would be no less of an achievement. In many ways, it would trump the win eight years ago.
For starters, TCU (2-2, 0-1 Big 12), despite its slow start, isn’t sneaking up on teams anymore, especially Sooners coach Bob Stoops, who heaped praise on Patterson’s team this week. The ’05 loss was Stoops’ second at home and only one of five he’s lost in Norman in his 15-year career. Oklahoma wasn’t sure who its quarterback would be that season, knew little about TCU and overlooked the season opener. (TCU, of course, infamously lost the next week at SMU, its only blemish that season.)
Plus, 11th-ranked Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0) is rolling. The Sooners are coming off a big win at Notre Dame and their improved defense is holding opponents to 300 yards per game. Said Koontz: “Going into venues like Norman week after week, getting to play in these exciting stadiums and on the big stages, is a lot of fun.”
To win Big 12 titles, Patterson often says, teams must win at Texas and Oklahoma.
“It’s a great atmosphere,” Patterson said. “It’s very loud. We’ll do a lot of crowd noise [work] on Wednesday and Thursday to make sure we get ourselves where we can communicate.”
The ’05 win, while a major milestone for Patterson, is many miles in his past. He’s not sure what it meant or how his team pulled it off, but knows people started to take notice of his program.
“And they’ve been taking notice ever since we did that,” he said. “It was the beginning. We’re now on a plateau where you have to grow your team up so you can keep climbing the levels.”
Then Patterson seemed to try to recapture that under-the-radar vibe prevalent in ’05.
“We’re not in a situation we haven’t been in before. Because of what we’ve been able to do I think people want instant success,” he said. “But it takes a little bit more planning, a little bit more time to be able to do all that kind of stuff.”