Thousands of football fans braved the cold and rainy weather to watch the epic Alamo Bowl showdown between Texas Christian University (TCU) Horned Frogs and the Oregon University Ducks at the Alamodome on Saturday. Against the odds, the Frogs won the game 47-41.
At halftime the Frogs were down 31-0. Their best player, quarterback Trevone Boykin had been suspended after a bar fight in San Antonio days before the big game along with wide receiver Preston Miller. If any Frogs fans had left early, I wouldn’t have blamed them.
But I would be pretty sad for them if they did.
A tale of two halves doesn’t really tell the story. A tale of two blowouts only tells half the story. Oregon dominated the first half, and a majority of TCU fans, from my vantage point as a TCU alum, walked the concourse at halftime trying to figure out what had gone wrong. Very few returned to their seats expecting such an epic comeback.
Earlier this week, TCU fans vowed to paint San Antonio purple, driving down I-35 from Forth Worth to cheer on their Horned Frogs. Bookmakers in Vegas had named the team as a one-point favorite. Most fans thought it would be a good game.
Then the Frogs woke up on Thursday, Dec. 31 to some shocking news; quarterback Boykin would not play Saturday’s game. Boykin and Miller were suspended for breaking the team’s midnight curfew and Boykin was arrested for punching a San Antonio police officer during a fight at Pat O’Brien’s. Boykin’s assault of a public servant led to a night in jail. By mid-morning he was suspended from the game and issued a lengthy apology via Twitter that night. Most fans didn’t even know which backup quarterback would replace him, but Bram Kohlhausen ended up leading TCU to victory.
Before the kickoff, I spoke with many TCU fans who were worried about the game. Vegas adapted the bets, making the Ducks a touchdown favorite, and most fans I spoke with agreed with the odds. With Boykin, the Frogs were confident; without him, they just hoped for a good game.
Thirty minutes in, TCU fans were watching a nightmare. The Ducks had marched up and down and scored at will against the Frogs’ young defense. Fans dressed in TCU purple, including myself, moved slowly throughout the Alamodome concourse. They were crushed, but stayed for one reason: they just wanted to see something to cheer for.
Just under five minutes into the second half, something finally happened, but it was only a field goal. Oregon fans near me chuckled – the little school from Texas had finally gotten on the board. Big whoop. The Ducks’ offense had no issue with TCU’s defense in the first half, and there wasn’t any reason to believe things would change in the second.
But Oregon had a quick punt. Then TCU drove down the field for its first touchdown. And the large crowd in purple finally had a reason to celebrate. With touchdown after touchdown, there was a palpable shift in emotion. Oregon fans kept looking at the clock while TCU fans confidently looked at the field. Their team was still down big, but the momentum had shifted.
During kickoffs, TCU fans usually chant “T-C-U Frogs” as soon as the kick is made. When Oregon kicked off after each touchdown, the chant got softer and softer. By the second half, even the true believers were just saying the words out of sheer habit. But the more TCU scored, the louder the chant became; soon, people screamed with everything they had.
At the end of the third quarter, Oregon’s lead was down to 31-17. Still plenty of time for TCU to come back, but the ball had to bounce right. In the first half, the ball did everything it could to bounce Oregon’s way. Midway through the second quarter, TCU managed to block a punt in Oregon territory, only for the ball to fly right to a Ducks’ lineman. Not only did TCU not get a turnover, but Oregon got a first down. That’s something that just doesn’t happen.
With bounces like that and a 31-0 score, any TCU fan who left were more than justified to do so. More than one usher asked me if I was looking for an exit as I walked the concourse at the half with my down-trodden brethren.
But TCU’s fans, and certainly its players, had their sights set a bit higher. As unbelievable as it sounded, the Horned Frogs still believe they could win.
Oregon fans near me kept counting the clock tick down. “Seven minutes,” they said after the Frogs kicked a field goal to make it 31-20. “Three minutes” after San Antonio’s own Aaron Green scored a touchdown to pull within a field goal. “We just need a couple first downs, and the game is over,” a nervous Duck fan told his daughter beside me.
By that point, the game was no longer an Oregon stranglehold, and the faithful Frog fans who stayed through the hell of the first half were making their presence known. No longer content with a simple touchdown, a close game, or moral victory, TCU fans wanted it all.
After one final Oregon punt, something incredible happened. TCU had the ball with a chance to score a game-winning touchdown. Every fan with a superstitious bone in their body was working every mojo that had worked in the second half. People shifted seats, flipped their hats over, and high-fived in a specific order. Fans even speculated that head coach Gary Patterson, who switched shirts at half time, had something to do with the magic happening before them.
A touchdown didn’t happen, but TCU settled for a tying field goal, and the tale of two halves was to be decided in overtime.
An Oregon fan who hadn’t said much all game tapped me on the shoulder. “Good luck in overtime,” he said genuinely. Whether in Vegas or San Antonio, all bets were (metaphorically) off.
TCU scored quickly in overtime, gaining its first lead of the day. Oregon had to score a touchdown of their own, something they hadn’t done in hours after making it look so easily in the first half, or the game was over. But Oregon converted. Both teams traded field goals in the second overtime to keep the game going on. After one more TCU touchdown, Oregon needed to match. And on fourth down, a TCU defender knocked down Oregon’s pass to the end zone.
TCU fans cheered. They high-fived. They hugged. “El Hornito,” a TCU fan in a luchador mask, held his hands up in victory as the fans cheered him on. Another, who’d held his arms out like in the movie “Angels in the Outfield,” laughed like he was an actual prophet.
And as the fans exited the ‘Dome, there was a sense that something magical had just happened. The words I kept hearing were “I don’t believe it.” The fans had spent so much time hoping that they never really took the time to really consider what they’d just seen.
The Frogs have won a lot of games in the last 16 years. Winning the Rose Bowl in 2011 was universally considered TCU’s biggest win. But for a lot of fans, all things considered, the 2016 Alamo Bowl might simply be their favorite.
*Top image: TCU team and fans, initially considered underdogs due to TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin’s suspension, were ecstatic about the 2016 Alamo Bowl win. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.