He wanted a plane ticket to Phoenix. If not that, a ticket to an airport that got him within a four-hour drive of Phoenix. That was all our 28-year-old son wanted for Christmas, from his mother, his aunt, and me. Because Steven Godich, TCU Class of 2017, had a ticket to the Horned Frogs’ College Football Playoff semifinal game against Michigan. He just had to find a way to get there.
If you follow college football, you know how this story ends. It isn’t pretty. But we’re not here to write about that. We’re here to relive the journey. A round-trip ticket from Austin to Phoenix was running about $1,800. Tucson was about $600 cheaper, but that necessitated a stopover. So I used miles to book a flight into Las Vegas two days before kickoff, then paid $400 for the return flight on New Year’s night. Merry Christmas!
It had already been a pretty good year for Steven. He and his girlfriend, Madeline, had adopted an adorable dog. He had been in Amon Carter Stadium to watch the Frogs throttle Oklahoma, in Austin to watch them whip Texas (again), in Fredricksburg to witness on TV the miracle victory over bitter rival Baylor. Fredericksburg, you ask. Steven was in town to propose to Madeline, and had planned a party for 40 at a winery there. She said yes! He pulled the whole thing off! (Thank goodness the Frogs did as well.)
In Phoenix, he met his dorm hallmate from his freshman year. Ryan was there with his wife and father, who had secured four coveted tickets and generously offered one to Steven. He left behind his magnificent fiancée. On New Year’s Eve! What a gal!
But why TCU? It became Steven’s dream school way back in 2010, when we were living in New Jersey. We had visited the campus that summer. He fell in love with the place; five months later, the Frogs shocked Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Steven was all in.
Over their whirlwind trip, Steven and Ryan reminisced, broke bread, and consumed a cold beverage or two. It was a reunion of sorts. They were with their people, among the tens of thousands of TCU alums and fans who had made the trek west. Then they were treated to a game to remember.
The Frogs never trailed and, in fact, built several double-digit leads. But Michigan wouldn’t go away. Almost every sports fan has the pessimistic gene, and as he is wont to do, Steven was furiously texting me during the game.
When the lead dwindled in the third quarter, he texted: “They aren’t going to win this game.”
“C’mon!” I replied.
When things got especially tight in the fourth quarter, he texted: “This is gonna hurt.”
“Suck it up!!!” I replied.
My wife, Leigh, and I had made dinner plans, a poorly timed 6:15 p.m. reservation with my sister. When we left our home in Kessler Park, the Frogs led 34-18. By the time we picked up my sister at her condo along Turtle Creek and before we had arrived at Ziziki on Travis Street (best lamb burger ever, btw), it was 48-38.
There were more anxious moments, but TCU prevailed. We snapped a pic at our table, glasses raised, and sent a congratulatory text to Steven. When the moment strikes me, on Facebook I occasionally post a thought under the heading, Why we love sports (along with an apt number). On New Year’s Eve I wrote:
Why we love sports, reason No. 5145: That football game between TCU and Michigan. Plus, knowing your son, Class of 2017, was in the building to witness it. For a sports fan, these are the moments we want our children to experience. Hypnotoad!
I have a passion for college football and am a long-teased, longer-suffering alum of the University of Missouri. In 2007, my Tigers, led by Southlake Carroll’s own Chase Daniel, were ranked No. 1, tied with Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, and one half away from playing for the national championship. (Shameless self-promotion: I parlayed that memorable season into a book.) In 2013, my Tigers were one quarter away from playing for the national championship, three points down to Auburn in the SEC title game. Leigh and I were in the building for that one. Another tease. Another heartbreak. Oh, to have that experience. Just once.
Now Steven was about to experience it. TCU—“that small school from Texas,” as he tweeted—was playing for a championship. And he was going. Of course he was. Before the semifinal, he had booked a refundable ticket to Los Angeles. He raved about flying Delta, the preferred airline of the grandfather for whom he is named but sadly never met. (In a stroke of good luck, he took a later flight out on Sunday after Delta offered him 30,000 miles to change.) Again, Ryan’s father generously offered a ticket.
“I’m a nervous wreck.”
The text arrived at 6:25 p.m., 15 minutes before kickoff.
“Relax,” I replied. “You’re not supposed to win. Everything from this point is gravy.”
When Georgia jumped to an effortless 10-0 lead, he texted, “Could get ugly if you don’t score here.”
TCU did score. But then it did get ugly.
Over the next couple of hours, he sent two dozen texts, complaining about the play-calling and the officiating and this and that, before finally becoming resigned to the inevitable outcome.
The phone call came later that night. Steven had dropped off Ryan and his father at their hotel and was headed to his. I was surprised by the upbeat tone of his voice. The perspective gene, I thought. He mentioned how the three of them had gotten soaked in the deluge that fell as they walked from the stadium to the car. A fitting end to the night, I told him. I also surmised that nobody—and I mean nobody—was beating Georgia that night, that the Frogs would’ve been better served to face the Dawgs in the semifinals, when they were obviously rusty. I also noted that 128 other college football teams would’ve loved to be in the Frogs’ shoes, even if it meant being whipped like they were.
There were Georgia fans staying at his hotel, and he said he might stop by the bar to congratulate them. Classy, I thought. I suggested he might even wangle a free beer or two off of them. That’s the least they could do, I said with a laugh.
And then after we hung up and before I called it a night, I stumbled upon something Steven had posted on Facebook:
“It all came full circle tonight, minus the result. My interest in TCU came after watching them stun Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, just outside of L.A. The script was written. The Frogs were going to kick the door down and begin a golden age. Nobody would’ve beaten that Georgia team tonight. Regardless, I’m so damn proud to be a part of this university and its family. Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m not sure if they’ll make it back, but I will continue to live with the purple and white. Thank you, TCU, for making this fall so memorable. Cheers to many more. And congratulations to the new top dog in the SEC.”
There was nothing else to say.
“Bravo!” I replied.