The fans at TCU spent most of three quarters last Saturday afternoon waiting for a breakaway by their Frog Prince, Kenneth Davis. A 5'10", 210-pound junior, Davis had run 50 or more yards on a play from scrimmage six times this season. But, though he went into the game leading the nation with a stunning eight-yard-per-carry average, Davis had been held in check by Texas Tech, and time was becoming a factor.
With 1:15 left in the third quarter Tech was leading 16-10 and TCU faced a third-and-two on the visitors' 39. If the Horned Frogs failed to convert, they would spend the entire fourth quarter chasing Tech and their Cotton Bowl dream into a 21 mph wind.
The call was "42 veer" to the weak side. TCU quarterback Anthony Sciaraffa stuffed the ball into Davis's grasp, and Davis banged into the Red Raiders' short-yardage defense. Breaking a tackle at the line, he sprinted into the secondary, broke a second tackle, picked up speed with his stocky legs and outraced the Texas Tech safety to the end zone. The Breakaway Kid had done it again.
The Horned Frogs went on to win 27-16, as Davis added a 75-yard touchdown run en route to gaining 203 yards on 29 carries. This cracked Jim Swink's 29-year-old school record by increasing his season rushing total to 1,368 yards. In the process, TCU continued to break away from its past. After 12 consecutive losing years, including a 1-8-2 mark in '83, the Frogs are 8-1 and No. 14 in the SI Top 20. They're alone atop the Southwest Conference for the first time in 26 years, and if they beat Texas this weekend and beat or tie Texas A&M on Nov. 24, they'll go to the Cotton Bowl. Welcome home, Slingin' Sammy Baugh! The good old days are back, Davey O'Brien! Aren't you proud of the alma mater, Bob Lilly?
In recent years, TCU heroes have been as rare as live versions of the school mascot, an endangered species now under the protection of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. Since the Horned Frogs' last winning season in 1971, they'd been regulars in the Bottom 20. Some TCU students once held aloft a banner reading WE'RE NO. 133. One coach had a fatal heart attack on the sidelines, and another lost a foot in an auto accident. Someone suggested the fight song should be Backward, Christian Soldiers.
But things are different now. "People are coming up to us instead of turning their heads," says flanker James Maness, whose 24.2 yards per catch is almost as remarkable a stat as Davis's running average. A couple of spirited, if cacophonous, songs, Horned Frog Kiss and Ballad of the Fighting Frog, are local favorites. And all around Fort Worth, cars are carrying a bumper sticker reading TCUNBELEEVABLE.
That's a tribute to the Frogs' zesty coach, Jim Wacker, who recently signed a seven-year contract and promised a national title by 1986. Wacker's favorite expression is "Unbeleevable!" He's also fond of "Fiddle!" "A-men!" "Fantastic!" "Sonofagun!" and "By golly!" Cheerful? Upbeat? Like Emerson, Wacker believes that "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."
After winning 104 games and four NAIA and NCAA Division II titles in 12 years at Texas Lutheran, North Dakota State and Southwest Texas State, Wacker replaced FA. Dry before last season. At his first press conference Wacker announced, "I want to find kids who cannot be bought, because Wacker ain't buying any." That hardly endeared him to fellow Southwest Conference coaches, and he further ruffled feathers by sending his fellows a letter proposing they talk about honesty in recruiting at their spring meeting. But, he says, nobody was interested. Wacker doesn't just pay lip service to high ideals like scholarship. The TCU team's grade-point average was 1.99 when he arrived; it was 2.52 after the most recent marking period.
Wacker has been known to yell at his troops when a few of them skipped class. He also carries on about such virtues as courtesy, classiness and closeness. Then he'll turn around and poke fun at himself. One of his Sunday evening television shows this season began with a shot of him falling fiat on his face while crossing the field. "Unbeleev-able, Wacker! Let's see that again," he said. It was shown in slo-mo. "That's the way it is in life," he sermonized. "If you get knocked down, you've got to be able to bounce back up again."
"I wasn't going to come to TCU," says sophomore nose guard Kent Tramel, "but when I talked to the coach, I figured that if he was for real, this was the place to be."
"He's like a father to you," says strong safety Byron Linwood. "Most coaches teach football; he teaches everyday life."
"My first feeling was, 'Who is this man? Football is a tough guy's game," says right offensive tackle James Benson. "He had us saying 'Yes, please' and 'No, thank you,' cleaning the dorm and generally representing the university. But his positive approach molded us."
"Athletes can do anything they believe they can do," says one self-described Wacker Backer in the booster Frog Club, "and Wacker's got them believing." It's obvious that Wacker believes in them. In the Tech game, Sciaraffa noticed that the linebackers and cornerbacks were converging on TCU's dive back. Wacker promptly ordered a pitchout, and as the defenders fell for a fake to Davis's excellent foil, freshman Tony Jeffery, Davis was off on his 75-yard touchdown romp.
One of 12 children born to a dietician mother and a hospital housekeeping supervisor father in Temple, Texas, Davis signed a letter of intent with Nebraska in February of 1981 but chose to attend TCU because "I wanted to be here when the excellence rolled in." Before the start of his freshman year, however, Davis suffered a knee injury, plunged into despair and dropped out for the fall semester. He reenrolled in the spring of '82 but again turned inward when a brother had a serious auto accident in June of '83.
"I lost a lot of hair worrying," he says. "I did a great deal of soul-searching. I decided I was thinking too much about my own problems. I felt the best thing I could do was work for Coach Wacker."
Since last December, Davis has increased his weight from 195 to 210, his vertical jump from 28" to 31½" and his bench press from 275 to 365 pounds, while lowering his time in the 40-yard dash from 4.6 to 4.47 seconds. He has been bursting through lines and outrunning secondaries ever since. "All you need to do is open a hole about a foot," says right guard Tommy Shehan. "And raise both hands for a touchdown," adds center Mike Flynn.
With Davis in the vanguard, the Frogs have been making great leaps forward. Following the Tech game, they milled around the locker room, index fingers held high, and chanted, "Hey, hey, ho, ho—TCU to the Cotton Bowl."
"I never thought Cinderella was a Frog," said Wacker, "but now I do. Unbeleevable!"
After taking a while to get loose, Davis ripped Tech for 203 yards and three TDs.
Wacker's enthusiastic approach has paid off with players like Jeffery, who ran for 80 yards in TCU's 27-16 victory over Tech.