Even the most cynical Cowtown resident is apt to say this about Big D: "The best thing about Dallas is that there's a world-class city 30 miles to the west."
Answering Texas native George Strait's song, Fort Worth seldom crosses my mind when counting hot spots in college football. On Interstate 35 alone, Austin is where one usually looks and, across the Red River into Oklahoma, Norman is a frequent hotbed on fall Saturdays. It was at OU, in the heyday of coach Bud Wilkinson, that a school president sought "a university that the football team can be proud of."
TCU, Fort Worth's team, is big again as when Sammy Baugh or Davey O'Brien was quarterbacking in the 1930s. And, before the NCAA caught up with the Horned Frogs, coach Jim Wacker's teams measured with the best (or worst) of Southwest Conference cheaters.
The SWC is gone like Nineveh and Tyre, greed listed as a cause of death. But these are fresh and exciting times in Tarrant County football, where people still dance to the Texas two-step and Cotton-Eyed Joe at Billy Bob's and the local Stockyards were vital in the city's early growth.
Fort Worth produced pianist Van Cliburn, whom Russians fawned over, and where John F. Kennedy awoke on the last day of his life. TCU home football games still are played at Amon Carter Stadium, honoring a late newspaper publisher in the city; then 7, I remember current Hot Springs Village resident Jesse Branch tearing for yardage in a 1962 Arkansas win over TCU at Amon Carter.
Fort Worth native and TCU alum Dan Jenkins returned home to cover that game for Sports Illustrated, and is said to have pounded his hand on a desk, with the Razorbacks pulling away, "TCU will never beat Arkansas again." That held up through 1980 (Arkansas with 22 straight wins in the series) with TCU, once a going power under coach Dutch Meyer and hanging on through the 1950s under Abe Martin, dropping from championship rank.
In recent years, TCU made strides with LaDainian Tomlinson carrying the ball and Gary Patterson coaching. The Frogs surprisingly let Patterson go last season, confining their coaching search to the Metroplex and selecting Sonny Dykes at SMU. Native Arkansan Rhett Lashlee succeeded Patterson on Mockingbird Lane, while the ex-Frog coach surfaced on Steve Sarkisian's staff at Texas.
Dykes is a national coach-of-the-year candidate after a 12-0 season with the Frogs among the College Playoff Committee's top four teams before a rematch with Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Saturday. Kickoff is 11 a.m. at Jerry Jones' AT&T Stadium in Arlington, midway between Dallas and Fort Worth on Interstate 30.
Under Dykes, led by quarterback Max Duggan, TCU is the team that Texas dreamed it would be under Sarkisian, Oklahoma with its own first-year man, Brent Venables, and Texas A&M with Jimbo Fisher. Among the schools watching the Big 12 game Saturday will be two-loss Alabama, needing a TCU defeat to propel its postseason hopes, the Crimson Tide slipping only in close games at Tennessee and LSU.
The Frogs stand atop certain former SWC rivals and current Big 12 schools. They first gained attention on this radar screen with a 42-34 win over SMU, Dykes' former team, then triggered a sonic boom that could not be ignored when scoring 55 points (in three quarters) against Oklahoma. A 38-31 road win at Kansas came when the Jayhawks were undefeated and ESPN GameDay visited America's Heartland. The Patterson menace was repelled when TCU beat Texas 17-10 in prime-time at Austin, and the Frogs became a trendy team nationally after beating Baylor 29-28 with a field goal at the gun.
In a season that Alabama, even with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, may not be the monolithic force of old and Michigan left Ohio State unthinkably dead at Columbus -- by air, of all things -- this is a college season far from closure. Some top-10 teams of September -- Arkansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M among them -- have gone south. Teams coached by Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin have assumed lesser roles while LSU warmed to new coach Brian Kelly -- at least until a mystifying last-game defeat to A&M -- and Auburn, forever between coaches, went with another former Arkansas State man, Hugh Freeze, his past problems at Ole Miss notwithstanding.
With the conference championships and bowls upon us, TCU may prove not only college football's best story but its best team. Think they're not watching in Dallas?