My parents didn't go to Baylor.
I don't come from a long line of Bears, nor did I grow up listening to stories about the good ol' days. I didn't apply to Baylor to continue any kind of tradition. I'm actually not quite sure why I applied. I suppose, it was because my sister went there before I did. I had been to visit once or twice and thought it was a neat place; so, when it was my turn to apply, Baylor made it into the mix. When the results came in and it looked like Baylor would give me the most money, the choice was easy.
All that to say, when I got to campus, when I made it through orientation and found a few friends and got my line jersey, I had no idea what to expect from "Baylor Football". I had never heard of Grant Teaff, nor was I aware of the traumatic loss to UNLV. To me, this was a brand new introduction to college football, a chance to be a legitimate fan, cheering from the stands for the team of MY school... and I was really excited.
Our first game that year was at a Cal team that had gone 1-10 the previous year.
It seemed like a great opportunity to get off on the right foot. I remember talking with my friends about how it would be a nice warm-up for the Bears to get ready for the rest of the season. I remember being sad that our first game was in California and I could not attend.
Then, on their first play of the game, Cal ran a trick-play double-pass for 71 yards and a touchdown. On the ensuing drive, Baylor QB Greg Cicero threw an INT that was returned 50 yards to the Baylor 9 and Cal punched in a second score three plays later. After a Baylor three-and-out, the Golden Bears scored again to make it 21-0 with about 8:30 remaining in the 1st Q.
There aren't many thoughts that go through one's mind in the face of such devastation. Those first few drives alone would be enough to humble just about anyone, but the brutality only got worse. On the next drive, the Bears drove down to Cal's 2 yard line, only to have Cicero throw another INT, this time a 101 yard pick six. On the next drive, Cicero threw another interception - this time on the very first play of the drive - that was also returned for a touchdown.
Drive after agonizing drive, Baylor Football was a showcase of offensive (in both senses of the word) ineptitude. At one point, the ESPN play-by-play reads:
1st and 10 at BAY 35 Jonathan Golden rushed left side for -1 yds
2nd and 11 at BAY 34 Aaron Karas pass complete to Jonathan Golden for 10 yds
By this point, Steele had pulled Cicero, and Karas had shown some life, but it was only the kind of life that makes the coming death all that more painful. The next two plays?
3rd and 1 at BAY 44 Jonathan Golden rushed left side for -4 yds
4th and 5 at BAY 39 Punt by Daniel Andino
We lost that game 70-22, in what would turn out to be rather dramatic foreshadowing of the rest of the season.
My friends and I went to every game that year. We ran in the line; we painted our faces; and, we yelled unrepeatable things at each opposing bench. We stayed up all night for homecoming, guarding the flame and trying to talk one another into believing we stood a chance against KState, that a win like that would right the ship and would salvage a somewhat respectable year. Of course, they beat us 44-10 the next morning, returning even a blocked field goal for a touchdown.
To put that season in perspective: the 2013 Bears scored 209 points over their first three games this season. The total number of points the 2002 Bears scored for the whole season? 202.
**If you want a real mind-bender, check out the headline for the recap of our: 49-9 beat down at the hands of Oklahoma
The following years were equally as dark. We fired our coach and brought in Guy "I like double letters" Morriss, but the results remained the same. In fact, the Bears' current win total for just this season matches the number wins we had over my first three years on campus.
That, for me, was "Baylor Football". It wasn't just losing; it was inventing ways to lose that most teams had never even considered before. It was storming the field to celebrate a single conference win (often, our only conference win). Hell, we even tore down the goal posts after we beat a Kansas team that actually won fewer games than we did that year. We played at homecoming (someone else's) almost every week from September through November because we were the reliable win that everyone could trot out to please the alums. We never even really had a rival (not mutually anyway) because to call Baylor your rival was to say something pretty awful about your own program; and besides, doesn't a rival actually have to win one every once in a while?
That, of course, is also what makes this moment so special
I took my son to the Bears' conference opener against West Virginia this year and it was like stepping into an entirely different world. The tailgating grounds were packed with thousands upon thousands of fans, thoroughly enjoying themselves, many with TVs tuned to the OSU/KState game, trying to get a glimpse of what our future competition might look like. We went into the stadium early to grab some food and find our seats and the stands were already filling up with anxious and energetic fans, willing to clock to move just a little bit faster so that we could finally get the show on the road.
Then, it happened. Three plays in to Baylor's opening drive, Bryce took the snap, settled into the pocket and launched the ball down the right sideline. I had seen Goodley getting separation down that side and, beyond my control, "Gotcha!" erupted from my mouth before Bryce ever let go of the football.
Sitting amongst a bunch of WVU fans, I was immediately embarrassed. What if Goodley dropped the ball? What if it wound up as an interception or, worse yet, a pick six? My years of Baylor fandom had taught me to expect the worst and, in that excruciating second, it all came flooding back. Yet, there was Goodley racing past defenders, meeting the ball full stride and screaming to the end zone.
I got a text from a friend as the game got out of hand, asking me if I was going to leave. There were several reasons that would have made sense: I had my 4 year old son with me, whom I could have gotten home and put to bed a little sooner; we live in Dallas which meant a 2 hr drive whenever we did leave; and there really was no more question about who was going to win. Yet, with all of that in mind, I just couldn't leave.
Sitting there, watching the Bears light up the score board with their first, and then their second, and then their third string players, it felt like being cleansed, washed clean of all the knee-jerk doubt and safely low expectations. It felt as though, basking there in the glow of the bright helmets and the even brighter hopes of this team, all the disappointment and frustration of typical "Baylor Football" began to melt away.
Now, think of where the Bears are right now
Points? They have more than they know what to do with. The Bears are on pace to break the all time records for points per game and points per season and do so by a healthy margin. Wins? The Bears are in thoroughly uncharted territory, having reached 9-0 (9-0!!) for the first time ever in their history. Rivalries? For three straight weeks, opposing fan bases have comforted themselves with "Baylor Hate Week"s and composed missives about how "uppity" and presumptuous we are. Teams that once would have been sullied at even the mention of being Baylor's "rivals" are now all clamoring for their shot at the Bears.
The Bears face one more of those challengers today, in sleet-covered Stillwater, one more voice shouting down their achievements, one more team seeking to prove this has all been a mirage, that the Bears have punched above their weight, have hit a lucky streak in a down year, but still don't fully belong. Yet, this time, the voices of those predicting the Bears' demise echo with their own worry and self-doubt. Their challenges and critiques run shrill under the strain of the nagging fear that maybe, beyond all the years of evidence to the contrary, just maybe these Bears are legit.
No matter what happens this evening in the house that T. Boone built, I am choosing today to enjoy and delight in this moment, to finally put away all of the traumatic memories and the expectations of doom and gloom and breathe the fresh air of hope and excitement, knowing that the future is long and, with TGCAB at the helm, incredibly bright.
Clear eyes, long sleeves, can't lose.
GO BEARS, GO!
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