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TCU fans look for a happy ending to a storybook season in Monday’s National Championship game

Fiesta Bowl Football
Rick Scuteri
/
AP Photo
TCU cheerleaders during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football semifinal playoff game against Michigan, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Glendale, Arizona.

It’s the first time a Texas team has made the College Football Playoff National Championship since it began in 2014. The spotlight on the Fort Worth school has fans, students and alumni reflecting on this decades-long journey.

Texas Christian University hasn’t claimed a national football championship since before World War II.

Its last was in 1938. Before that was in 1935, when two-time All-American center and captain Darrell Lester helped lead the team.

Lester's great-granddaughter, Katherine Lester, is now a senior at TCU.

“My grandad’s really proud of that,” Lester said. “He likes to talk about it a lot. He has, like, a whole room in his house that’s just TCU stuff.”

She was there when TCU beat Michigan 51-45 in the Fiesta Bowl New Year’s Eve in a win that surprised fans and the nation alike. With first-year head coach Sonny Dykes and a football team that went unranked last season, one word gets repeated whenever football fans talk about the Horned Frogs — “underdog.”

Now TCU will face the No. 1-ranked University of Georgia Bulldogs in the National Championship in Los Angeles Monday night, and TCU students, alumni and other avid supporters get to root on their local team on an even bigger stage.

Lester said she’s glad the team is entering this new era of success during her final year. She attended the Fiesta Bowl game and is flying to watch the Frogs again in California.

"I'm sure there's, like, a little bit of doubt in people's minds," she said. "But, I mean, the whole season we've been saying, ‘we want Georgia,’ and here we are."

Like many college football fanbases, Lester said tailgating and coordinated purple-and-white outfits are part of TCU students' gameday traditions.

Then there's the Hypnotoad, the image of a toad with psychedelic eyes from a Futurama episode that has been co-opted by TCU fans and its athletics department.

"Everyone posts them on their stories, and we all send them to each other, and, like, everyone's just been really engaged in it this year," Lester said.

Though the Hypnotoad is often seen as a good luck charm, Geoffrey Mitchell — co-host of the FrogCast podcast — says there’s no magic: this moment has been a long time coming for a hardworking team.

"In 2014, if you ask any TCU fan who should have been in the playoffs, they say: ‘TCU should have been left in the playoffs,’" Mitchell said. "And the argument that Frogs fans would make is they were left out because they're not a, quote, 'blueblood program.'"
Although TCU didn’t make it that year, the introduction of the College Football Playoff in 2014 did give teams like TCU a better shot at making the championship game. Before, the Bowl Championship Series relied more heavily on a subjective and opaque selection process that favored larger, more prestigious programs.

Now, four teams are selected by a committee for the playoffs. TCU is the first Texas team to make the playoffs.

Next year, the playoff pool will be expanded to 12 teams, opening the door for even more schools. And once a team gets in the playoffs, it can control its own destiny — potentially leveling the playing field for some lesser-known schools.

The Georgia Bulldogs were undefeated all season, and they’re looking to win their second-straight national championship. But Mitchell said this is no David-and-Goliath story: What TCU might lack in name recognition, he said its fans make up for in dedication.

“TCU is in the center of a state and in the center of a metropolitan area that is more passionate about football than any other state in the country," Mitchell said.

Steve Stroud is president of the TCU Dallas Alumni Association. He's aware the football world might turn up their noses at the Horned Frogs and their smaller fanbase. But Stroud said for him, TCU has been on the map for a while. Now, everyone's looking.

“You know, you don't need 50,000 of us to be good at something,” Stroud said. “You just have to have a few people show up and do it really well.”

Despite some naysayers, others have shown a grudging respect for TCU — even the school's upcoming opponents.

Sarah Secrist is a drum major for the University of Georgia Redcoats band. She said she doesn’t know much about the Horned Frogs, but out of all the other teams that could have made it to the championship, she's glad it’s TCU facing her school.

“Even though I wanna beat them, I know that it would mean a lot for them, and it would be a great story for them to be able to win as well," Secrist said.

On Monday, fans get to see how that story ends.

How to watch TCU vs. Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship Live

SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles
Date: Monday, Jan. 9, 2023
Time: 6:30 p.m. CT
TV/Streaming: ESPN

Got a tip? Email Toluwani Osibamowo at tosibamowo@kera.org.

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Toluwani Osibamowo is a general assignments reporter for KERA. She previously worked as a news intern for Texas Tech Public Media and copy editor for Texas Tech University’s student newspaper, The Daily Toreador, before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is originally from Plano.