After 70 years, still National Champions
It's been seven decades since TCU's only undefeated, untied team ruled college football. Led by their three All-Americans Davey O'Brien, Ki Aldrich and I.B. Hale, the 1938 Frogs were 11-0 and undisputed national champions. This season as TCU Athletics celebrates the 70th anniversary of arguably the Frogs' great team ever and inducts the entire squad into the Lettermen's Hall of Fame, here are 38 things you may not know about the 1938 National Champion Horned Frogs.
By Rick Waters '95
1. 1937 was a disappointing season for TCU. In 1935, the Sammy Baugh-led Frogs beat LSU in the Sugar Bowl and finished the season 12-1 and No. 1 in the Williamson rating system. In 1936, Baugh's boys were 9-2-2, ranked the entire season and victors over Marquette in the inaugural Cotton Bowl. The '37 Frogs, however, tumbled to a 4-4-2 record, although they did finish ranked 16th in the Associated Press poll due to the difficulty of their schedule. But quarterback Davey O'Brien showed he could fill the big shoes left by Slingin' Sammy. O'Brien ranked second nationally in total offense (1,411 yards) in 1937 and led the nation in punt returns and passing.
2. Three weeks before the season was to start, senior back Johnny Hall received a present from some mischievous Texas A&M cadets. Inside a small package, the Aggies had neatly wrapped a tiny horned frog. On the box was written, "This is the size you will be when we get through with you at College Station October 15." The Frogs would beat the Aggies that season 34-6, one of the worst defeats A&M had ever suffered at Kyle Field.
3. The Frogs' biggest player was senior All-America tackle I.B. Hale of Dallas, the team's captain, who topped the scales at 247 pounds. Today, Hale would rank as only the 35th heaviest on the 2008 Frogs, which boasts 319-pound Marcus Cannon as its beefiest player.
4. Head coach Leo R. "Dutch" Meyer called his chalkboard talks "skull practice," and sportswriters often referred to the Purple eleven as "Meyermen."
5. The Frogs were picked by most experts to win the Southwest Conference and "placed high in all preseason ratings," according the Skiff. The Frogs had won the SWC title two times before in 1929 and 1932, but 1938 was seen as a potentially special season with seniors O'Brien, Hale and center Ki Aldrich returning as second-team All-Americans. As Bill Haworth of the Skiff wrote in a September 23, 1938, column, "On every side, it really looks as if the Frogs will make a lot of football history this year." Even Baugh was convinced. He told the Star-Telegram that his national championship team would scrimmage against the O'Brien-led freshman team in 1935 and struggled mightily: "We couldn't handle them. … We figured that by the time they were seniors, they'd have a good chance to win it all."
6. Some favorite nicknames: "The Pounder from the Panhandle" was sophomore fullback Connie Sparks' moniker for his booming punts and line-plugging skills; senior guard Allie White went by "Chief" because "he had some Indian blood in him," according to the Skiff; "Smilin' Don" was what they called senior end Don Looney for his likable personality; "Ibey" for senior tackle Insall Bailey Hale; "The Temple Tornado," "Old Skinned Beak" and "The Roman-Nosed Terror" were all names for the rampaging Charles Collins "Ki" Aldrich; senior back Johnny Hall, the team's fastest man, was referred to as "Indian."
7. The opening game of 1938 against Centenary was a revenge game. The Gents upended the Frogs, 10-9, in Shreveport the year before in a contest that was considered a "breather." But the Gents wouldn't be as fortunate this time. Finding little running room against the powerful, rock-ribbed Centenary defense, the Frogs went to the air with O'Brien throwing for 259 yards, including a 65-yard bomb to Looney. While Purple fans were chagrined at only 91 yards on the ground for the Frogs, TCU was never threatened and won easily 13-0.
8. In game two of the season versus Arkansas' passing-minded machine, the Frogs showed its own flair through the air, connecting on two long passes early to build a two-touchdown lead. Then the Frogs began gashing the Hogs with the Pounder – Sparks, who piled up more than 100 yards and two touchdowns. Coach Meyer pulled his starters in the second quarter, up three scores. But "Porker passes started clicking late in the game and made the score closer than indicated," the Skiff reported. The Frogs won 21-14, and the Arkansas coach Fred Thomson said after the game, "That TCU team is as strong as any I've seen in recent years. They handled my guards like straw men." Thomson also predicted that no team would score more than 13 points on the Frogs the rest of the year. He was right. TCU wouldn't give up more than 7 in a game the rest of the way.
9. Coach Meyer was 33-4 as the TCU freshman coach for 11 seasons before taking over the varsity in 1934, when his predecessor Francis A. Schmidt left for Ohio State. In four seasons prior to 1938, Meyer built a record of 33-11-4, which nearly matched Schmidt's 37-4-4 in his first four seasons. Schmidt had two Southwest Conference championships, but Meyer would surpass that with a national title in 1935 and another in 1938.
10. The Frogs beat the Wogs freshmen in a game of Memory Baseball on radio station KGKO, which aired a program called "Frog Frolics" every Monday and Wednesday at 10 p.m. Aldrich captained the varsity. Each team got a series of trivia questions, having to get four correct before three incorrect guesses in order to score. The varsity won 1-0 in 4 innings.
11. Coach Meyer understood the importance of media coverage all over the country, especially sportswriters on the East Coast. When he took over the Frogs in '34, he scheduled games over the next few seasons against Santa Clara, Loyola of New Orleans, Ohio State and Fordham. The 1938 schedule had major road trips to Philadelphia to face Temple, coached by the legendary Pop Warner, and to Milwaukee to face national power Marquette.
12. The game against Temple in Philadelphia would be played on a Friday night under the lights to accommodate a large media contingent. Since it was the team's first night game since a September 1936 loss at Texas Tech, the Frogs had four practices under the lights prior to that game, including one in Fort Worth. The team hopped a train Tuesday afternoon and had stops at night in Denison, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, where Coach Meyer ran the team through the paces. The Frogs worked out again Thursday night in Philadelphia.
13. The East Coast media was amazed at TCU as a football power since the school had fewer than 1,500 students. They were particularly in awe of O'Brien, whom they declared was the greatest passer they'd ever seen. Ironically, "Lil' Davey" would play professionally in the City of Brotherly Love with the Eagles for two years. His last professional game was against the Washington Redskins and Baugh. As for the Temple game, the Frogs' aerial attack was in its usual form, helping the Purple roll up a three-touchdown lead at half and eventually pulling away for a 28-6 victory. With 232 yards passing, O'Brien became a serious Heisman contender and the Frogs emerged as one of the nation's best teams.
14. The TCU-Texas A&M game surpassed the Aggies' annual Thanksgiving clash with Texas in the number of pressbox and grandstand requests, according to the A&M publicity office. It was suggested that the winner would be the Southwest Conference's champion. The TCU seniors had never beaten the Aggies, but the raucous College Station crowd would fall silent early as the Frogs looked like a juggernaut. TCU outgained A&M 336-175, and the 34 to 6 score was one of the worst home defeats in the history of Kyle Field. Two days later, the first Associated Press poll of the season placed the Frogs seventh.
15. A third straight road game would take the Frogs on the train to Milwaukee to face Marquette, TCU's foe from the 1937 Cotton Bowl. The Frogs stopped in Kansas City for practice along the way and had to sweat out a hustling White running 100 yards to catch the train after he overslept. O'Brien, though, was wide awake. After a couple of early touchdown tosses from "Lil' Davey," Coach Meyer rested his road-weary team and substituted freely, coasting to a 21-0 victory. The Frogs outgained the Avalanche 410 yards to 71. In the Oct. 24 poll, the 5-0-0 Frogs jumped to fourth in the country.
16. Baylor students picked the TCU game as its official student body trip. More than 1,000 Bears arrived in Fort Worth for the game between the last two unbeatens in SWC play and the league's top two offenses. For the Frogs, it was another revenge game. The previous year's 6-0 loss in Waco was the first time Baylor had beaten a Coach Meyer team. Meyer wouldn't hold back this time. With more than 25,000 watching, the Purple put on a spectacular display: 22 first downs and 520 yards of offense. Sparks scored three touchdowns, and junior all-around talent Earl Clark took two passes from O'Brien for scores. The end result: Frogs 39, Bears 7. Two days later, 6-0-0 TCU found itself at No. 2 in the nation.
17. Another road trip -- the team's fourth of six during the regular season -- took TCU to Tulsa for its final intersectional game. As had been their custom, the Frogs jumped to an early two-score lead, and then Coach Meyer rested his regulars and played backups most of the game. Senior Ward Wilkinson scored twice on smashes over the goal line and senior back Pat Clifford added another touchdown grab to give the Frogs a rather pedestrian 21-0 victory. But it was anything but ordinary in the polls, as the 7-0-0 Frogs were now the nation's No. 1 team.
18. TCU's ex-students association honored Coach Meyer before the start of the Texas game as "a worthy leader and inspiration to all." Amon G. Carter emceed the presentation. Meanwhile, O'Brien, Aldrich and Hale received All-America nominations, and talk of TCU in the Rose Bowl began to rumble through the national media. The Longhorns' 6-3-2 defense stuffed the Frogs' run early, but O'Brien's passing clicked. TCU overwhelmed the Steers 329 to 65 in net yardage and 28-6 on the scoreboard. At 8-0-0, the Frogs somehow slipped to second after a week at No. 1.
19. In a rare interview, Coach Meyer shared with the Skiff his philosophy on the game and why he coaches: "I guess the biggest kick I get out of coaching is watching what a star football player becomes after he leaves school. The greatest lesson the team learns is how to come back after defeat -- they'll have to know that in life, you know. Any coach will teach his boys that. … I try to teach the boys to think, to size up situations and to give them the weapons to meet those situations. They do the rest. "
20. An early November Skiff advertisement offered train fare to Houston for the TCU-Rice tilt. Round trip: $4.90. About 700 students and the Horned Frog Band make TCU's official student body trip. For those who couldn't travel, NBC radio broadcasted the game nationally with the voice of Bill Stern. TCU scored the first time they had the ball on a long O'Brien-to-Looney pass. "Lil' Davey" threw touchdown passes to Clark and junior end Durwood Horner and called his own number on a quarterback keeper. TCU had a 27-7 lead at half and coasted to a 29-7 victory to come within a game of a perfect regular season. TCU owned another huge disparity in total yard: 329 to 186. At 9-0-0, the Frogs remained at No. 2.
21. As it always seemed to, the TCU-SMU game would decide the conference championship. The Frogs were 5-0; the Ponies 4-1. More than 24,000 would watch the game in Dallas, with the Frogs taking command the whole game. Sparks scored on two touchdown rushes to clinch the SWC scoring title, while Hall caught an O'Brien throw for another score. Total yards gained: Frogs 262, Mustangs 87. SMU's only points came late in the game on a blocked punt. TCU won 20-7 to capture its first conference title since 1932 and finish 10-0-0. It was the first conference crown for Coach Meyer. The next poll still had TCU at No. 2, but the regular season-ending Dec. 5 poll bumped the Frogs back to the top spot before bowl season.
22. The 1938 Frogs shattered the Southwest Conference scoring record of 129 points, set by the 1935 Horned Frogs. The '38 boys put up 171 points against only 47. Defensively, TCU's 1932 team, which only surrendered 18 points, remained the conference's best-ever defense.
23. Eight Frogs were named to the All-Southwest Conference team: center Aldrich, tackle Hale, quarterback O'Brien, guard Forrest Kline, end Looney, fullback Sparks and tackle White. Aldrich was a three-time all-conference performer, while it was the second selections for O'Brien and Hale. TCU would later welcome Aldrich, Hale, O'Brien into the Lettermen's Hall of Fame. The rest of the team will be inducted on Oct. 2.
24. The Frogs dominated individual scoring in the Southwest Conference, with the top four scorers. With 10 touchdowns, Sparks led the league with 60 points, which was 13 more than the Frogs gave up in six league games. O'Brien was second with 46 on three touchdowns and 28 PATs. Clark was third with six touchdowns for 36 points, and Hall was tied for fourth with 30 points on five TDs.
25. Fort Worth businessman Amon G. Carter paid for O'Brien, his mother, his coaches and teammates Aldrich and Hale to fly to New York City to accept the Heisman Trophy. O'Brien even enjoyed a stagecoach ride down Broadway with Carter.
26. The TCU community – team, coach, fans, student body -- clearly wanted to see the Frogs in the Rose Bowl, the oldest and most highly regarded game in the land. The Frogs had never been, and they almost got their wish. Locked in a 0-0 game late in the fourth quarter, the Duke Blue Devils blocked a Pittsburgh punt out of the end zone to win the game and preserve Duke's unblemished record – unbeaten, untied, unscored-on. Had the game ended in a draw, the Frogs would have been headed West. Instead, the Rose Bowl selected the Blue Devils as the more attractive team to face hometown Southern Cal. Even with the No. 1 ranking and the Heisman Trophy winner, the Frogs were politicked out of the game. And what did Dutch Meyer think? After accepting the Sugar Bowl invitation, he left Fort Worth for a weeklong hunting trip in South Texas. Workouts would resume in 10 days. In an editorial, the Skiff referred to the Blue Devils as the Rose Bowl's "stand-in team" for the Frogs.
27. Despite playing in New Orleans in 1935, the site of their previous national championship, the Frogs were pleased to go to the Sugar Bowl and even more pleased with their opponent. At 7-1, No. 5 Carnegie Tech was regarded as the best team in the East at the end of the regular season. The Tartans had beaten crosstown rivals and defending national champion Pittsburgh, a top 10 team, and lost its only game to a highly ranked Notre Dame squad. The game was billed as a contrast in styles -- TCU's dazzling aerial attack against Carnegie's bruising running game.
28. During the season, one Dallas writer said that "TCU had the sorriest uniforms I ever saw on a football field." The frugal Frogs had worn the same jerseys dating back to the Francis Schmidt era. But for the Sugar Bowl, TCU wore new satin uniforms -- "santex" -- which featured white stars and miniture horned frogs on the purple-shouldered white jerseys. The pants were cream satin.
29. Carnegie Tech proved to be the rugged foe TCU expected. After a 1-yard Sparks' touchdown to lead 6-0 early in the second quarter, TCU trailed for the first time all season just before half time when Carnegie quarterback Petey Moroz launched a 37-yard pass that hit George Muha in stride for a touchdown. The play made Coach Meyer doubly mad because the Frogs' Clark had intercepted the ball the previous play and ran it back to the Tartan 35, but an offside penalty by Horner nullified the turnover. With a second chance, Carnegie took advantage and a 7-6 lead at halftime. The Frogs would come roaring back, driving 80 yards in five plays on the first possession of the second half. "Lil' Davey" hit Horner on a 44-yard strike to put the Purple back in front 12-7. O'Brien missed his second point after touchdown of the day, but later redeemed himself with a fourth-quarter 19-yard field goal to put the Frogs ahead 15-7, the game's final margin. After the Sugar Bowl, Coach Meyer and his players agreed that Carnegie was the best team they faced all season. Meanwhile, USC upset Duke, 7-3, at the Rose Bowl to make the Frogs undisputed national champions. Tennessee, winners of the Orange Bowl against a 10-0-0 Oklahoma team, finished at No. 2 as the only other undefeated, untied team.
30. Estimated "take" from the Sugar Bowl was $50,000 for TCU, but the players came away with some swag too. At a Lion's Club luncheon before leaving for New Orleans, players received two shaving kits, a can of cigarettes with purple leather cover, metal miniature horned frog with purple and white ribbon, personalized pencil with player's name on it, personalized fountain pen with player's picture on it, and passes for two to local movie theater. Players also were invited to attend the TCU Student Council's "Gridiron Hop" for free. For everyone else -- couples or stags -- the price was 65 cents.
31. O'Brien put on a stunning show in New Orleans, completing 17 of 27 passes for 224 yards, and TCU finished with 365-168 edge in total yards. Famed New York sportswriter Grantland Rice quipped, "That boy must be stuffed with scrap iron." In 1939, O'Brien would have his No. 8 jersey retired, in 1955 and 1956, he would be inducted in the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. In 1960, he was one of 25 players named to Sports Illustrated's Silver Anniversary All-American squad.
32. The Frogs outscored their opponents 269-60 and held 10 of 11 foes to a touchdown or less. The Frogs had just two games decided by fewer than 13 points -- a 21-14 victory over Arkansas, who was the only team to score more than a touchdown, and the 15-7 Sugar Bowl win. Seven of the victories were by at least 21 points, including routs of Texas A&M (34-6), Baylor (39-7) and Texas (28-6). The 1938 team remains the only undefeated and untied team in TCU history.
33. More examples of TCU's dominance: The Frogs received only eight kickoffs in 11 games. They kicked off to opponents 53 times.
34. O'Brien was named to all 12 first-team All-America lists, while Aldrich made 10 and Hale made seven. Aldrich and Hale were on the second teams of the others. The trio would be invited to play in the College All-Stars vs. Pros game, where they encountered rough - and some say "unfair" play - by the professionals. The Pros won, 6-0.
35. On the season, O'Brien completed 94 of 167 passes for 1,457 yards and 19 touchdowns. He led the nation in passing and total offense (1,847 yards). The Frogs ranked first in passing and second in total offense. O'Brien was an easy choice as the winner of the Heisman Trophy and unanimous first-team All-American, but he also won the Maxwell Trophy and Walter Camp Award, as well, the only Southwest Conference player to do so. In November 1977, just before O'Brien passed away from cancer, longtime friend and business partner Charles Ringler and other members of The Fort Worth Club established the Davey O'Brien Foundation (the Foundation) and the O'Brien Memorial Trophy. Today, it is given to the nation's top college quarterback.
36. O'Brien's 19 touchdown passes in 1938 stood alone in the TCU record books for 55 seasons until Max Knake threw 24 in 1994. The 19 TD tosses remain second all time. O'Brien's 1,457 passing yards were a school record for 30 seasons until Steve Judy passed him with 1,677 in 1969.
37. While "Lil' Davey" is known for his offensive prowess, he also was a stellar defender, he was the Frogs' all-time leader in career interceptions with 16 until Ronald Fraley unseated him in the 1953 season. O'Brien remains No. 2 all time in interceptions.
38. At the end of regular season, Coach Meyer penned a tribute to his boys in the Skiff's front page Views 'n' Viewpoints column: "Many times people have asked me the question, 'How does TCU consistently have such good teams?' My candid belief is that: First, the faculty [at TCU] is closer to the student body than in any university in the country. They take a personal interest in the students as individuals. This creates a feeling more like father and son than just mere acquaintances. Second, the student body is well acquainted with each other. Everybody knows everybody else by his first name. This is more like brother and sister groups than rank strangers, which is the case in bigger schools. Third, the players pull for each other at all times. All of them appreciate their teammates. I have never seen such loyalty to each other. No one man thinks he is the whole show but rather that the success of the team depends upon the whole squad. In other words, this is one big family which understands, appreciates and sympathizes with the success or failures of the individual members of its great family. A great big family who lives together, does together and celebrates together -- that's the Frogs."
TCU 13, Centenary 0
TCU 21, Arkansas 14
TCU 28, Temple 6
TCU 34, Texas A&M 6
TCU 21, Marquette 0
TCU 39, Baylor 7
TCU 21, Tulsa 0
TCU 28, Texas 6
TCU 29, Rice 7
TCU 20, SMU 7
TCU 15, Carnegie Tech 7 (Sugar Bowl)
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