Ten seconds after his entire Horned Frogs team rushed off the sideline to a midfield celebration, TCU's Tejay Johnson was frozen. His eyes started to well up. The All-American safety tried to fight back the tears from streaming down his face, but as reporters circled, he was overwhelmed. His team didn't win the national title Saturday night in the Rose Bowl, but you could've sworn they did from the reaction that unfolded in Pasadena.
Cheerleaders danced with players. Silver-haired Horned Frogs die-hards, who became TCU fanatics in the Davey O'Brien era in the 1930s and had been told 20 years ago that major college football had left them behind, whooped it up on the Rose Bowl logo. Grizzled old TCU coaches acted like lottery winners.
"This," said Johnson, as he paused to try and compose himself, "this, it's indescribable." He stopped for another 20 seconds.
Johnson had just broken down a few moments earlier when a TV reporter asked about the magnitude of winning the Rose Bowl and beating Big Ten champ Wisconsin, and now his eyes were welling up again. The tears just kept coming. "It's so overwhelming."
Johnson is one of the leaders of a curious collection of football talent, most of which had been pushed into the margins of the sport. This is a program loaded with two-star recruits who proved to be four-star college players. In reality, it usually works the other way around, but that is a testament to these players and the TCU staff.
Andy Dalton, the team's redheaded star QB, played in a high school system that didn't throw the ball much, and he only had scholarship offers from UTEP and Memphis before TCU noticed something and came after him just two weeks before signing day. Tank Carder, the one-time BMX phenom who blossomed into a tackling machine for TCU, had gone to summer football camps at LSU and SMU, won camp honors, but couldn't get an offer from either. They said he was too small. On Saturday night, the 6-foot-3, 237-pound junior won defensive MVP honors for his efforts as an all-around menace to the Badgers' offense.