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Ode to the Case: Baylor Football in the Modern Era, From Despair to Heisman

In the midst of unprecedented success on the football field and the imminent opening of shiny new McLane stadium, it is fitting to take a walk down memory lane to remember the good times (and some not so good times) from Baylor’s 64 years at Floyd Casey Stadium. This multi-part series looks at Baylor football through the eyes of a fan who was in the stands for the first game, the last game and all in between.

Baylor opened the 1991 season with 5 straight wins and a #8 ranking.  This was on the shoulders of some Baylor notables such as JJ Joe, Robert Strait, Melvin Bonner, Santana Dotson and Robin Jones.  The sportswriters were jokingly saying that Baylor was the worst 5-0 team in the country.  In the 6th game that season there was an unfathomable loss to Rice which broke the winning streak and brought Baylor fans down to earth.  The Bears ended the regular season at a solid 8-3 with wins over Texas and Arkansas, but lost to Indiana in the Copper Bowl.  I would say this was a pretty good team and who cares what the yankee sportswriters think.

The era of Grant Teaff ended in 1992. That year marked another winning season, a win over Arizona in the Sun Bowl and best of all another victory over Texas. Looking back over Teaff's 21 years you will see that he had 10 victories over the Longhorns and won 6 of the last 9 meetings.  Most think that Texas always won, but Teaff beat them 50% of the time.  That is something that no other Baylor coach had done until Art Briles who is currently 3-3 against Texas.

Chuck Reedy came on the scene in 1993. I continued to go to all the games but nothing really outstanding occurred.  Chuck Reedy was Teaff's offensive coordinator and everyone was hopeful, but we all knew that he did not have the same level of coaching expertise that Grant Teaff had.  As the seasons wore on, the program slowly began to decline.  One reason was the Reedy was running out of Teaff's recruits and was having to depend on his own.  Jeff Watson and Jerod Douglas came on the scene in '94 and produced some excitement, but it wasn't enough to save Reedy's job.  Reedy was fired after the '96 season and having finished with an overall record of 23-22.  He quipped that he might be the only coach ever that was fired for having a winning record.  He had not had a season of more than 7 wins and had lost his only bowl appearance.

The Reedy years looked downright rosy compared where things were about to go though.  Things really went south for Baylor with the hiring of Reedy's successor, Dave Roberts.  Roberts went 4-18 over his 2 year tenure. His one redeeming factor is that one of his 4 victories was over Texas.  Other than that I had rather just forget those two years.  Roberts tried to motivate the team by telling them that they were the worst team in the country.  He also wouldn't let the players have their names on their jerseys.  That was his way to punish the team and make them better.  His main recruit of note was Odell James.  Odell is still doing a great job as part of Baylor family today and for that we are grateful.  Also Matt Bryant was the kicker for the ‘97 and ‘98 seasons.  Matt is still kicking on Sunday's for the Atlanta Falcons.  He got plenty of practice when he was playing for Baylor.  I had continued going to every game throughout this time period, primarily because for much of it I had kids at Baylor.  They earned as many degrees as Dave Roberts had victories, but granted, it took them longer to get there.

After only 2 seasons, Roberts was out and Kevin Steele was hired.  Kevin Steele had a record of 9-36 in 4 years, with his defining moment being the 100-yard fumble return loss suffered at the hands of UNLV.  As the losses mounted, the crowds at Floyd Casey were in steady decline. It wasn't a very exciting time to watch football in Waco.  The Bears had chalked up only one Big 12 victory in 4 years, but we were still going to the games.  Everyone was thinking that there had to be another year coming reminiscent of '74 or '80.  We thought, "Maybe this year will be the one or next year for sure".  But it never happened.  My Dad, who was a huge football fan, told me once when I was a kid that he might not live to see Baylor win the SWC.  Luckily that didn't happen.  He saw two years where Baylor won the Southwest Conference and enjoyed every single down of them.  At the end of Steele's tenure after the 2002 season I felt just like my dad had years before.  I would never live to see a Big 12 championship.  My fandom was at an all time low, but in the back of my head was:  Maybe next year...

That next year was still far into the future, but it was coming.  First we had to go through the Guy Morris years.  Morris improved somewhat on Steele's record going 18-40 in 5 seasons.  The big moment that I remember from the Morris years was the 2004 victory over 16th ranked Texas A&M.  Baylor had scored right at the end of the game and elected to go for two and either win or lose on the conversion.  Shawn Bell was the quarterback and completed a pass to Dominique Zeigler for the win.  It was one of the most thrilling finishes to a game that I had ever seen in Floyd Casey.

Morris' best season finished with a 5-6 record and although it was an improvement over Steele and Roberts it was still pretty clear that Baylor was not going to get where it wanted to go.  Each September there was a lot of hope and each November the fans were deflated looking back on another losing record.  It was a frustrating time to be a Baylor fan for sure.

Then in late December of 2007, Art Briles was hired.  The day that Art was hired a friend of mine called and was telling me about a phone call he had received from a friend of his in Stephenville, TX.  The Stephenville friend boldly predicted that, "when Art Briles is finished at Baylor we will forget all about Grant Teaff".  Although I was excited by the Briles hire, I did not fully believe that statement.  Teaff came to a program that was in the dump and in his third year Baylor was the SWC Champion.  He went on to establish a solid program and brought respectability back to Waco after years of football futility.  With all due respect to Art Briles and his amazing accomplishments, I will never forget what Teaff has done for Baylor.  Not just on the football field, but for Baylor as a whole.

Now in came Art Briles, a proven winner at Stephenville High School and the University of Houston. He was also a turnaround specialist and faced a similar task to what Grant Teaff faced when he started at Baylor in 1971.  I was excited to have him on board and felt for the first time in many years we had a coach that could take us to a bowl and deliver a winning season.  Much of the Art Briles history is yet to be written, but in his short tenure up to present he has been brilliant.

The Art Briles era has produced some of my best Floyd Casey memories.  It started in 2010 with the victory over Kansas St.  That was Baylor's 6th win and the Bears were going to a bowl for the first time since 1994.  My biggest emotion as the fans stormed the field was one of relief.  Finally we had broken the streak.  The next year produced great memories as well.  When RG3 completed the last minute pass to Terrance Williams to beat Oklahoma that became the all-time most exciting finish to a Baylor game in Floyd Casey.  What a performance!  For me, life couldn't have gotten any better, but for the Sooner fans it was a different story.  As I walked out of the stadium that night I can still see the look on their faces. They were thinking, "That did not just happen".  But it had just happened.

Two weeks later when RG3 beat Texas on a cold damp night to secure a 9-3 season and his Heisman trophy that was another great moment.  Erin Andrews was nationally televised getting soaked in a Gatorade shower that was aimed at RG3 while trying to interview him.  I don't think anything like that had ever happened in Floyd Casey before and obviously never will again.

The crowning moment at Floyd Casey though was the closing ceremony of the stadium in the bitterly cold, damp weather after the Bears beat Texas and won Baylor's first Big 12 championship.  Even though the weather was absolutely miserable the only thing that I felt was elation as I watched the final light go out.  Strangely the win brought back memories of my dad and his fear of never seeing a Baylor SWC championship.  His wait ended in 1974 and finally my wait was over as well.  Baylor had won the Big 12 championship and I had been alive to see it.

Briles has many more things to accomplish before he is finished a Baylor and I plan to be in Maclane stadium to see every one of them.  I can imagine one day in the future, walking across the bridge over the Brazos and seeing a bronze statute of Art Briles across from the one of Grant Teaff.  I will never forget the contributions of both of these men to Baylor, on and off the field.