By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
They are the new kids on the block, and like so many kids who move into a new neighborhood, they have run into the bullies.
A year and a half ago, West Virginia University and TCU were finishing up being bullies of their own, establishing a national name and respect, for in the end no one looks at what conference you play in, only whether you are a winner or a loser.
Ask anyone who has the better program, Indiana of the Big 10 or Louisville of whatever the hell that conference is being called these days now that everyone who was anyone has spread themselves across the football landscape.
I suspect you won’t get many votes for the Big 10 team.
WVU, of course, came into the Big 12 brash and bold, winning five in a row and looking as if it was going make the likes of Texas and Oklahoma and their big reps and bigger budgets eat dirt, but by the time the season ended WVU would find itself nothing more than a 7-6 team with a bowl loss to – of all teams – Syracuse.
TCU, like WVU, won seven games, but somehow came out of it with a lot more respect than did the Mountaineers, who sent the heart and, more important, the soul of that 7-6 team off to the NFL and had a bare cupboard prepared to replace them.
You almost could feel those teams out of the Southwest celebrating each WVU defeat through the second half of last season and the first eight games this year, each one seemingly saying “No outsider’s coming in here and showing us up.”
It was different with TCU, for while is a teaching and research institution associated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and with an enrollment of about 8,200, it was one from the same neighborhood.
Being located in Fort Worth, most of its players and fans could agree on rooting for the Dallas Cowboys and didn’t know a whole lot about the Pittsburgh Steelers, like us West Virginians do, or of the Miami Dolphins, in whose territory a good many WVU stars through all the ages had grown up.
Unlike West Virginia, TCU brought with it the prestige of having won a couple of national championships, and the fact they were won nearly 70 years ago dimmed the memory of them but not the glory.
Their early heroes were as western as Hopalong Cassidy or Roy Rogers, beginning with the Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh, who must have been a pretty good passer to have acquired the nickname of “Slingin’ Sammy Baugh,” but he was so much more than that.
He came out of an era where players played both ways and was a pretty good defensive back and a great punter, retiring with the best average ever recorded in the NFL at 45.1 yards per punt.
Baugh was so “Texas” that in 1941 he starred in a 12-week serial as “Texas Ranger Tom King,” the episodes running in theaters with Saturday matinees. His co-star was Duncan Renaldo, who went on to television fame a decade and half later as the Cisco Kid.
And Baugh must have been pretty good as an actor, for Robert Duvall patterned his role of Gus McCrae in the television series “Lonesome Dove,” particularly his arm movements, after visiting Baugh at his Texas home in 1988.
The glory days of TCU live on today through the award given the top college quarterback, that being called the Davey O’Brien Award, and when you look at what he did going from Baugh’s backup to a national championship and TCU’s only Heisman Trophy winner you understand why.
O’Brien did everything for that team, setting the NCAA record for most combined passes and rushes in a season while being named to 13 All-America teams.
O’Brien was from Dallas, Baugh from Texas … and all of that gave TCU instant membership into the club, while WVU was an outsider, having little in common with Texas or Oklahoma.
This is not to take anything away from the rich football history West Virginia has compiled. It’s just that it did it without a drawl, playing Pitt and Penn State and Maryland and Syracuse and Virginia Tech … good teams, proud teams, but teams that have nothing to do with the land that makes up the Big 12.
West Virginia is coal country, Texas and Oklahoma oil country, and that just doesn’t give much to bring your cultures together.
Now you have the two schools going against each other with their seasons very much at stake, the winner taking a big step toward qualifying for a bowl and the loser putting itself back there with Iowa State and Kansas among the have-nots the Big 12.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.