It won’t matter to a single player Saturday night in Fort Worth, Texas, because none of them was born the last time Arkansas and TCU played, but the Razorbacks had quite a run of success against the Horned Frogs before they left the Southwest Conference for the SEC in the early 1990s.
The last meeting in 1991 somewhat typified the series from 1959 – when Fred Akers (yes, that Fred Akers) beat the Frogs in Fayetteville with a field goal, 3-0 – to when it concluded with Arkansas’s exit from the SWC.
Jim Wacker, then at TCU, was one of my favorite coaches in the Hogs’ SWC wind-down, when I was covering the conference for the old Arkansas Gazette. I could always count on Wacker for a good quote on the spot over the phone, including the summer day in 1990 when it became official that the Hogs would be headed to a new league. “Well, they may see going to the SEC as better for them, but the fact is, somebody in a conference has to lose,” Wacker said, and not with the same disdainful tone for the Hogs that some other SWC coaches suddenly had when the news broke. Wacker, tremendously successful on the Division I-AA level before taking the TCU gig, knew from where he spoke, having fought to rebuild the Horned Frogs’ fortunes before the pay-for-player schemes that destroyed SMU took apart TCU as well and inevitably doomed the SWC.
TCU’s payola plan wasn’t nearly up to SMU levels, but the Horned Frogs got hit with the second worst penalty, just behind SMU’s death penalty, that the NCAA had ever dealt at the time. Huge scholarship losses gutted the roster – Wacker once said with chagrin about the penalties, “At least SMU didn’t have to play.”
But by 1991, he had the Frogs on the rebound by joining the other teams that were copying the wild Houston run-and-shoot – that would be akin to the popularity of the spread offense today – and the Horned Frogs had dealt a 54-26 shellacking to Arkansas and head coach Jack Crowe in the awful 1990 campaign. Wacker’s nephew, a highly touted prep star, was quarterbacking TCU in ’91, and the Frogs raced to a 21-0 lead over Crowe’s second team on a mild October night in Fort Worth. A 42-0 score at the half didn’t seem out of the question, either.
But the funny thing about college football is the way momentum can suddenly shift. TCU lost its edge.
Crowe had turned the team’s attitude around before the season with the hiring of fiery defensive coordinator Joe Kines, and it was Kines who would say the magic words that turned the Hogs around that night in Texas.
If you catch “Mr. College Football” Tony Barnhart’s internet item this week about Arkansas and TCU, he apparently spoke with the retired Crowe, and related this story: Before Crowe could give the team a halftime chewing, a player stepped up and said, “I’ve got this, coach.” I’m not sure people even said “I’ve got this” back in 1991, but nevertheless, starting safety Rick David from that team remembers halftime differently.
David, who appears regularly on KTHV, Channel 11’s “HogZone” during the football season and is in medical equipment sales in Little Rock, recalled that Kines did the talking and calmed down a rattled defense, then lit the fire. “Kines gave the defense a great talk at halftime,” David said. “He addressed the D smiling after a get-together with the coaches in the locker room, and said we were going to win.
Kines said, ‘We can’t let them score again, and we need two turnovers.’ They didn’t score again.”
Linebacker Darwin Ireland returned a mid-air fumble for a touchdown, lineman Scott Long recovered a fumble that set up a short scoring drive, and Arkansas slipped out of Amon Carter Stadium with a shocking 22-21 win that propelled the Hogs to a run of October upsets, beating Houston in Fayetteville and Texas in Little Rock, and gave them a chance at an SWC title. Those hopes would end in a 9-5 loss to Baylor on a cold November day when quarterback Jason Allen tore up his knee, but a 6-5 regular season won the Hogs a bowl date in Shreveport with Georgia. Athletic director Frank Broyles couldn’t fire a head coach who had beaten Texas and made a bowl game, so it took an opening-day loss to The Citadel in 1992 for Broyles to sack Crowe, briefly promote Kines to the top, and start Arkansas’s long road to recovery in the SEC.
It’s been a bumpy one, obviously.
Broyles might have started 1992 with a whole new coaching staff had the Hogs not rallied at TCU. And who knows how Broyles’ own career might have gone had his sophomore-heavy squad in 1968 not rallied from 7-3 halftime deficit to pull out a 17-7 win, then go on to tie for the SWC title, beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl and set up all that transpired in 1969, including “The Big Shootout.”
Bruce James, a 1970 All-America defensive end for the Hogs, remembers Broyles at halftime asking the young Hogs if they wanted to be the first team since his first year to lose to TCU. Since Akers’ game-winning kick in 1959, the Razorbacks always started SWC play 1-0 with a win over the Frogs.
The winning continued, no matter where they played, when Arkansas met TCU: Joe Ferguson rallying the Hogs from 13 points down with four fourth-quarter touchdown passes in 1972 in Amon Carter; Kevin Scanlon and the Hogs coming from behind to steal one on Ish Ordonez’s late field goal on the same field in a magical 1979 season with Lou Holtz at the helm.
It was probably fitting that a 22-game Arkansas winning streak over TCU would come to an end when all seemed lost for the Frogs in 1981, trailing 24-13 with 5 minutes to play and 95 yards from the end zone.
And yet TCU pulled it out miraculously with two touchdowns in the final minutes over a Lou Holtz team that just weeks later would blast No. 1 Texas to smithereens 42-11. It was a weird year, to be sure.
TCU would only beat Arkansas twice more before the rivals parted ways. The Hogs won 30 out of the last 33 meetings. Amon Carter Stadium has been completely gutted, razed and rebuilt into a wonderful, modern Big 12 football facility that occasionally reaches capacity of 48,000. Jim Wacker eventually gave way to Pat Sullivan, who bottomed out in Fort Worth in the late 1990s, before Dennis Franchione started the TCU program back to days not realized since the 1950s with legendary Coach Abe Martin.
The TCU big-money people were smart enough to notice his defensive coordinator, Gary Patterson, was serious head coaching material in 2001, and the Frogs haven’t looked back, with just one stumble, a 4-8 mark in 2013. In 2010, TCU did what most would have thought was unthinkable 25 years ago: win the Rose Bowl. By 2014, the Frog faithful were rightfully upset that the first College Football Playoff committee left the one-loss Frogs out of the final four teams to play for a national championship; so they took it out on Ole Miss to the tune of 42-3 in the Peach Bowl.
The late Jim Wacker would be proud of TCU these days, and I’m trying to imagine what funny quip he’d have for it. Somebody has to lose, but lately isn’t hasn’t been TCU; not often, anyway.