WACO, TX - NOVEMBER 19: Head coach Art Briles of the Baylor Bears during play against the Oklahoma Sooners at Floyd Casey Stadium on November 19, 2011 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
I’m ready for football season. I mean I am really, really, ready. However, it wasn’t always this way. My first Baylor football game took place on September 11, 1999. That day lives in infamy for many Baylor fans. It was the first home game of the season under first year coach Kevin Steele. I am not going delve too far into Kevin Steele; most of you know how that story goes. You probably know how that game went as well. Twelve seconds left, with the lead and the ball, UNLV with no timeouts, a running play instead of a kneel down, and the rest is history. Kevin Steele was gone after the 2002 season, and was replaced by Guy Morriss, who was marginally more successful. Nevertheless, what happened on that day in 1999 is what defined Baylor Football for the better part of a decade.
In 2008, things changed, and there was finally a thin ray of hope. Art Briles arrived from the University of Houston with recent success on his resume. He also brought a dynamic freshman QB who did things we had never seen from a player wearing the green and gold. Despite a 4-8 record that year, there were signs of improvement. As the 2009 season started, and that thin ray of hope seemed like it was getting brighter. I was back at Floyd Casey on September 26, 2009 when it all came crashing down. Robert Griffin III tore his ACL sometime in the second quarter (and still managed to finish the half). That game against Northwestern State was a route, but essentially, the year was lost. The lone bright spot the rest of the season was gray shirt QB Nick Florence’s record setting passing performance against Missouri, securing the Bears only other win on their way to another 4-8 record.
In 2010, RG3 was healthy, and the Bears opened the season with a 5-2 record. As October 23 approached, the game against K-State loomed large with bowl eligibility on the line for the first time since 1995. That game was plagued by what seemed like a 12-hour rain/lighting delay where I got as soaked as I have ever been in my life. The game finally got back underway and the Bears held off the Wildcats 47-42 to become bowl eligible for the first time in 15 years. The majority of the crowd stuck out the rain, and a celebration ensued when the final whistle blew. The Bears went on to upset Texas the next week in Austin, and then proceeded to lose their last four games, including a disappointing loss to Illinois in the Texas Bowl. Not satisfied with just a bowl appearance, changes were made on the coaching staff and defensive guru Phil Bennett was brought in to run the defense.
The 2011 season should have begun with great optimism, but the dark cloud of conference realignment hovered over the Big 12, as Baylor’s future, as well as that of the conference was very much in question. As a lot of us settled in to the 100-degree heat at Floyd Casey on September 2, news started to leak out that the Oklahoma Sooners were flirting with the PAC 12, a move that almost certainly would have set the dominoes in motion for the destruction of the Big 12. Thanks to the shoddy internet access at FCS, I was in the dark about what was going on, and was treated to (up until that point) the greatest Baylor football game I had ever seen. RG3 made himself known as a serious contender for the Heisman Trophy, and Baylor let the nation know that this was not a football team to take lightly. The rest of the season was filled with many highs, including an undefeated a record at home. The biggest win came over Oklahoma on November 19, capped off by the most exciting play I have ever seen in person. Baylor went on to beat both Texas Tech and Texas, propelling Robert Griffin III to the Heisman Trophy and the school to its first back-to-back bowl appearances since 1991-1992. The Bears added the exclamation point when they took on the Washington Huskies in San Antonio at the Alamo Bowl. If you are a fan of offense, this was your game. If you are a fan of defense, you probably are not reading this. Baylor jumped out to an early lead and managed to dig themselves a hole, all before halftime. In the end, a spectacular game by senior RB Terrance Gannaway whose 200 yards rushing and five touchdowns made the difference as the bears went on to win 67-56.
We’re only 6 days away from the 2012 football season, and the greatest player in the history of Baylor football has moved on to the NFL. With the loss of RG3, Terrance Gannaway, Kendall Wright and others, most CFB pundits have Baylor pegged to return to the bottom half of the Big 12, but I am more optimistic. Nick Florence may have the most difficult job in the nation this season following the Heisman Trophy winner, but I am supremely confident in his ability to lead our extremely talented offense. The defense is a question mark again this season, but I have a big glass of green Kool-Aid ready, and I think Coach Bennett will have them much improved. In any event, I cannot wait to get to FCS on Sunday to see this iteration of the Bears make the bad memories fuzzier, and the good ones even better. Sic’em Bears!