As a girl, my father, a former football player, would tell stories of the glory days of Southwest Conference football from the early 1950’s in Texas. Dad would get a far away look in his eye and speak of an era that is gone by. It has taken me the past 40 years to understand why he was so nostalgic.
There was one tale that made an indelible impression on me. To me it seemed to celebrate honor and integrity, and was proof that the Team, the Coach, and the University held those same ideals. It was about TCU.
In October of 1954, TCU played the University of Oklahoma in a game that the Horned Frogs were not supposed to have any chance of winning. A Brite Divinity student named Johnny Crouch was Captain of the TCU team, and had been selected the 1952 – 54 All-Time Letterman.
The TCU boys took an overnight train to Norman, Oklahoma sleeping on the train so the Athletic Department would not have to pay for a hotel. Arriving the next morning at a railroad track siding across from the field house, they had to haul their gear to the stadium.
According to the Quarterback of the TCU team, Chuck Curtis, “We held the lead until the end of the game, and then late in the 4th quarter I threw a pass to Johnny Crouch in the end zone that would have given the Frogs a victory.” A touchdown was signaled and the points were put onto the scoreboard, however Johnny went to the referee and said “Sir, I did not catch that ball, it hit the ground first.”
Astonished at the young players’ honesty, the official went to the sidelines and approached Coach Abe Martin. “Coach Martin, your team captain says he didn’t catch it. I’ve already signaled, what should we do?” Without hesitation, Martin was said to have replied, “If Johnny Crouch says he didn’t catch it, then he didn’t catch it.”
The points were removed from the scoreboard, and Oklahoma went on to win the game 21-16.
The following week Sports Illustrated wrote, “The most genuinely amazing development in college sports this week prevented rather than instituted an upset.”
With football championships worth their weight in gold, it would be difficult to turn away from a big victory for any collegiate team. It might even mean a dismissal for any coach who allowed that to occur. Abe Martin wasn’t just any coach. Martin was known to be a fatherly figure whose players adored him, they lived and died to win for him, knowing that he stood for doing the right thing, no matter the cost.
It says something about the climate at TCU that Johnny Crouch wasn’t criticized for his simple act of honesty; instead he was awarded a great honor as the Most Valuable Player of the Year and given the 1954 Rogers Trophy for his outstanding leadership and athleticism.
I believe that we at TCU continue to honor those who stand for the right, the good, and the best in humanity. It is a legacy that lives throughout this campus and this University, and it is what makes me proud to be a small part of what happens here.
Jennifer Carr is a vocal instructor at TCU’s School of Music. She received her Masters degree at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where she studied Voice with Susan Clickner. She was a fellowship recipient to the Aspen Music Festival, performing with the Aspen Choral Institute and Aspen Opera Theater. While living in New York City, Jennifer sang with the Opera Orchestra of New York in Carnegie Hall, New York Choral Artists, Regina Opera Theater, NY Gilbert & Sullivan Players, and the New York Opera Forum. Ms. Carr made her Lincoln Center debut under the direction of Zubin Mehta with the NY Philharmonic Orchestra. Ms. Carr is an active singer, vocal coach, accompanist, and choral director. She resides in Fort Worth, TX.