As TCU’s bowl game is just a few hours away, Frog fans (including myself) will be descending on San Antonio for tailgating, drinks, fun and football, all as we seek another marquee bowl win for the Horned Frogs football program.
There’s more to it for me though, and it’s an uncomfortable feeling that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to shake for the rest of my life.
To be blunt and to the point, I dearly miss my father, who left this earth a little more than a year ago now. I miss being able to watch and discuss TCU football with him. I miss watching him pump his fist when he heard the Frog Horn go off. I miss his voice saying "Right on!" as TCU makes a big hit or gain on the field.
He was one of my best friends, and a loyal Frog fan to boot, despite him not having a single connection to the university other than me. As a devout man who routinely went to church on Sundays, Saturdays and a midweek service, my father rarely missed church in his Christian life, ever.
That was, of course, unless TCU had a primetime Saturday night matchup.
I had the privilege of taking him to his first TCU football game in 2013, and I miss being able to talk with him during the week to hear him argue why the BCS was biased toward the Frogs or how the playoff committee was full of it once again.
I don’t consider myself a religious man by any sense of the word. I don’t even consider myself a good person of prayer. But when it comes to the bowl season, I can’t help myself - I just feel the need to pray.
I know I don’t need to do it. I also know that in reality, it’s more than likely just a self-soothing comfort to do before TCU takes the field in the post-season. But man, are those fleetingly brief moments ever so powerful to me when I pray the prayer that makes me more uncomfortable and feeling vulnerable.
So, I pray.
Last year, as my father passed away just a week after it was announced that TCU was going to play Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl, I prayed just before the game that he would get to watch TCU’s first NY6 Bowl with some well-deserved company.
You see, my father wasn’t the only dear Frog friend to me who died unexpectedly in recent times then. On Christmas Eve 2013, just short of a year before my dad pased, I was given horrible news through social media. Clay York, a former Mr. TCU and one of the greatest TCU ambassadors of all time, had suddenly died in his sleep as he was pursuing his passion of dance in New York.
As Clay York was undoubtedly one of the biggest TCU fans I knew, I prayed that he would find my father in heaven so that they could watch the game together. I know my dad would get a huge kick out of Clay walking in, dressed in purple body paint and rocking a Superman logo on his chest, complete with a TCU-designed cape. I'm sure my father would also fully agree with Clay's life mantra: "Nothing is impossible, and there is always time for friends."
I love thinking of the image of those two laughing together and talking about how great the Horned Frogs are. That image comforts me, and it makes me know that I can feel well with my father being gone for games.
So, I pray.
Clay isn’t the only person I pray to see my dad for bowl games. In summer 2014, I was given a series of heartbreaking text messages from my buddies and former classmates Alex Apple and Landon Haaf. Beloved TCU grad and sportswriter extraordinaire Richard Durrett had just passed away, another fantastic friend and TCU connection who died far, far before his time.
Just as I prayed that Clay would find his way to my dad, I prayed for Richard to meet up with my dad as well. I asked that he, the man who befriended me while covering bowl games and taught me more about sports coverage than arguably any one else, would show the same kindness to my father.
It was a Sunday tradition for me and my dad to break down the TCU game and speculate on why polls treated the Frogs in certain ways. And during games, my dad loved trying to analyze plays and argue with refs on why there should or shouldn’t be a flag, and he loved coming to me to ask questions about football subjects that he was murky on.
I can’t help but get a stupid grin on my face while thinking of Richard getting into it with my dad as my old man picks his brain on why Gary Patterson calls a certain play or why a receiver was in bounds or not. Richard was one of the kindest and smartest men I ever met, and together with Clay York and my father, I feel confident that he'd be a great asset at the celestial watch party.
So, I pray.
This brings me back to this post-season. As I went through the motions of a Christmas Eve service just a few weeks ago, I took part in communion and kneeled at the altar so that I wouldn’t look like the only person in the church who just walked back to his pew. Lost at the idea of what to pray for, or even who to pray to, I chose on that night to pray again for another party in heaven.
Once again, I asked Clay and Richard to hang out with my dad. But this time, for this next party, I prayed for two more men to join my dad in this new annual tradition as well.
The honorable Jim Wright, a former Speaker of the House and long-time friend of the Frogs, and Scott Nix, the engine behind one of TCU’s most popular message boards, are men I pray have found my father’s tailgate in heaven for this year’s bowl game. He certainly would welcome their presence.
My dad always had a passive interest in politics, but once the subject was brought up, he’d love to talk to death about it. Jim Wright, the gentle man I interviewed several times for student media and happened to hang out with for a few of my days at TCU, would be an amazing conversation partner for my dad during halftime. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t mind cheering for a few TCU scores as well.
So, I pray.
As for Scott Nix, I never actually met him in person beyond small talk once or twice while in line for food at media events. However, his earthly legacy - much like my dad’s - was so much larger than his life. I know that the former letterman has several stories to tell my dad that would tickle him pink, and I know that he and Clay York would probably get into a friendly contest of who would be the bigger TCU fan of the day.
Scott, like my father as well, was a family man who put his family and Christ first in his life. I’m more than sure that he and my dad would see eye-to-eye on several things, and for that, I certainly hope that Scott finds his way to my father’s place.
So, I pray.
I pray for Robert Stanley Moore. And Scott Nix. And Jim Wright. And Clay York. And Richard Durrett. And all the Frogs and friends alike that would love to attend dad’s heavenly tailgate.
It’s not a prayer I like to do. It’s one I wish I never needed in the first place. But I know that there is no other greater comfort to myself, no matter how many tears I shed when I pray it or how difficult it is for me to form the words in my head.
Just like I prayed last year, I sincerely hope that the prayers for this game are heard on high. I know my father, just like he did on earth, would welcome anyone who would want to come his way and don some purple as the Frogs take the field.
That’s something I hope is happening this Saturday, and it’s something that I hope happens for the rest of eternity.
So, I pray.