Tarp era ends in time for Baylor's big game

WACO, Texas -- The Tarp deserved better. For such a meaningful artifact of college football, its demise was nothing short of unceremonious.

Baylor announced it had reached the end of an era on Wednesday. Workers pulled it down Thursday. They stashed it in a storage building near Floyd Casey Stadium. And just like that, a decade of mockery was laid to rest.

The nation will be watching Thursday night as No. 6 Baylor tries to knock off 10th-ranked Oklahoma without the help of the trusty tarp that spent the past 10 years overlooking the south end zone.

In the days leading up to that much-anticipated matchup, a movement is growing around a unifying message: Burn The Tarp.

On the week Baylor prepares for the biggest game in school history, this is its fan base’s rallying cry. Step inside the famed Vitek’s BBQ joint here in Waco and you can even buy a $20 tee with “#BurnTheTarp” screen-printed on. They have the backing of Baylor’s players.

“They should burn it,” quarterback Bryce Petty said. “That’s hidden a lot of doubt and a lot of pain and agony, really.”

Petty does not say that with overwhelming sarcasm. To Baylor fans, The Tarp was no point of pride. It served as a tangible weekly reminder that the Bears couldn’t find enough fans to fill their 50,000-seat stadium. Prior to this season, Baylor had only four sellouts at Floyd Casey since it was built in 1950.

“It’s a very big deal for Baylor and the city of Waco,” receiver Tevin Reese said.

School officials had it installed in 2004 at the request of their own fans. Nick Joos, Baylor’s executive associate AD for external affairs, said he has long looked forward to the day the school would no longer need a forest green tarp declaring “This is Bear Country.”

“It’s been a long time coming,” Joos said. “It’s been 10 years of hard work to get to this point. We’re excited.”

The reign of The Tarp has been interrupted just once, when Baylor procured a packed house for 31-21 loss to Texas A&M in 2006. Baylor officials had already announced it would come down for the last-ever game at Floyd Casey Stadium, Dec. 7 against Texas.

They were surprised to learn Baylor fans had scooped up the final 600 Oklahoma game tickets by last Monday. Drastic measures were required. Farewell, sweet Tarp.

“We had always said that when we had the demand for the tickets, we would pull it,” Joos said. “And we had the demand for the tickets. We’ve been very up-front and said that from the start. That’s what we’ve done.”

That decision comes with immeasurable pride. Even coach Art Briles bragged in a “College GameDay” interview on Saturday that Baylor was finally going “tarpless.”

“It certainly shows progress,” Briles said Monday. “That’s the way I look at it, it’s progress. We’re moving in the right direction.”

The tarp became so deeply embedded in the fabric of Baylor football that Joos’ office actually received a voicemail from a disgruntled fan after last week’s announcement.

“We got a crazy call from somebody that said, ‘Don’t take that tarp off. That’s the mystique of Floyd Casey, and you are guaranteed to lose your last two home games,'" Joos said. “I don’t know if he had a voodoo doll or something.”

The man didn’t leave a number. Someone might want to hurry up and trademark “Curse of the Tarp,” just to be safe.

Folks who do fork over $38 for a general-admission spot in the revived south end zone are in for a cold, hard surprise. There are no actual seats or metal bleachers built in. Just concrete. Rows and rows of concrete.

As for The Tarp, it is sadly gone forever. It will not be honored in any way at the new Baylor Stadium which opens next fall. It’s now old history that the undefeated Bears are ready to forget.

Tarp fans can take some consolation in knowing that, despite all the outcries, it appears unlikely The Tarp will be burned.

“I think the EPA might have an issue with us burning something like that,” Joos said. “We can’t bring live bears to games, either. It’ll probably just get destroyed at some point in time.”

That might seem unbecoming for a Big 12 treasure, but these are new days for the Bears. In shedding The Tarp, they’re shedding the shame of years of futility. They’re opening their doors for 3,000 more fans and a brave new tarp-less future.

“This tarp is pretty much the story of us,” safety Ahmad Dixon said. “We’re pretty much like Floyd Casey [Stadium] -- we’ve had a tarp on us long enough. It’s time to take the tarp off and let it all loose.”