Purple haze returns for TCU faithful

FORT WORTH, Texas -- It was the calm before the culmination of a decade's worth of work. The crowds were minimal at nearby TCU campus favorites such as Fuzzy's, Dutch's and the University Pub. The horn of the Burlington Northern train was the soundtrack for the past week.

It was apparent that Fort Worth still is handling its season-long Horned Frogs hangover.

Indeed, the city still is in recovery mode from what its private university with an enrollment of less than 9,000 has done to the college football landscape. It has been a perfect storm that has left homes and businesses covered with TCU flags in its wake, reinvigorated the community's support of its keystone institution and dared a fan base to dream big.

Frog Fever finally has arrived.

Maybe this is what Gary Patterson and his staff envisioned all along. The excitement has shifted to Glendale, Ariz., as the purple storm will come to a crescendo Monday against Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.

This next step might seem natural for TCU, but it's been a long time coming. Memories of Sammy Baugh, Davey O'Brien and Dutch Meyer from TCU's early years were drowned out by futility, tragedy and a probation sentence during a forgettable three-decade period for the program.

Of course, when you're legendary sportswriter and TCU football historian Dan Jenkins, you appreciate where this program has been and the road it has taken to get back.

"It's been slow but worth waiting for," Jenkins said in an e-mail. "We were great in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, particularly the '30s when because of Baugh and O'Brien we became one of Grantland Rice's favorite teams, and because it was expected of us nationally. Newer generations don't recall this, but some of us geezers damn well do."

Pat Vinsant, one of the unsung, behind-the-scenes heroes during the course of the program's history, has done it all for TCU. From being a cheerleader to making tuna-fish sandwiches for the teams of the '70s to getting elected as the first female president of TCU's Frog Club for student-athlete scholarships, Mrs. V, 81, has given her life to the institution.

"I was deeply concerned and hurt for my school," Vinsant said of the program's rough stretch. "I've always cared about it, and I get very emotional about it. There were difficult times, but I never gave up on TCU."

Vinsant, wearing a purple sweater with earrings to match, flipped through TCU clippings of the '70s that were among others she had preserved in folders throughout the decades. Through this history lesson of sorts, she mentioned a quality that stood out about the current Frogs coach when he was promoted to the big chair after Dennis Franchione left for Alabama in 2001.

"One thing about Gary was that he was willing to learn and try," she said. "He really put himself out there. He even had a cooking class one time at Central Market. He was really trying to reach out to the community. Some of the recipes -- purple coleslaw and Gary's this or that -- were great. He put himself out there."

It's been slow but worth waiting for. We were great in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. ... Newer generations don't recall this, but some of us geezers damn well do.

-- Legendary sportswriter Dan Jenkins

Patterson's willingness to embrace people such as Vinsant and get involved with a community with an abundant Big 12 alumni base has been crucial to TCU's newfound appeal on both on a state and national level.

"Whenever I go anywhere in any airport and I have a purple shirt on with TCU on it, people come up to me and talk TCU," university chancellor Victor Boschini said. "They like the story of TCU -- being the little guy and beating the big guy. I just think it's a great story, and people have responded to that."

Depending on the age of TCU fans you engage with, you're likely to find an interesting dialogue between old-time fans of the program and recent graduates and current students.

"When we had 'College GameDay,' one of the old-timers had a shirt that read, '1-10 to BCS busters,'" new athletic director Christopher Del Conte said. "A young kid walked up and said, 'Why would you wear a shirt like that? We've always been winners.'

"We have a group of people that only knows TCU as a group of winners the last 12 years. In the instantaneous society we live in with the tweeting, the blogging, text messaging, everything else that gives instant gratification, they know nothing but TCU as being a great football program."

While sitting with Vinsant, you can feel the pride she has for her alma mater in every sentence. She vows to be at the TCU Hall of Fame ceremony in 10 years -- when this 2009 team gets inducted into it.

Yes, Mrs. V can finally see a life's dedication pay off on one of the biggest stages in the sport, where all the pain and times of struggle and adversity go away.

"My heart gets stuck into my throat thinking about it," she said of the moment. "It's hard for me to talk about it.

"I'll talk to you about it after the 4th after we win."

Tim Bella is an investigative researcher for ESPN and a former sports editor of the TCU Daily Skiff.