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Both Baylor and TCU swear the state of Texas' biggest battle isn't a rivalry

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The Big 12's two best hopes have redefined Texas football. There's plenty of hate, but neither side's officials want to call it a rivalry. Yet.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It is not a rivalry.

There's a Baylor-TCU trophy somewhere, allegedly. It's sketched out on paper, waiting to be built and then handed off to Gary Patterson or Art Briles.

The concerned parties have held bull sessions to court corporate sponsors and agree on a name. "The Revivalry" is the unofficial favorite for some. Multiple sources at both schools and third parties have confirmed this.

They've also confirmed the consternation both sides have with making all this sudden hate so damn official.

"I wouldn’t necessarily call it a rivalry," TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin says in July. "It’s just a really big game every year. They came through in the end the last two years. We haven’t beat those guys since then. It’s been a game every year, so maybe that’s why people want to call it a rivalry."

This is the rehearsed party line for the Horned Frogs, evidenced more so when you press. What it would take for TCU and Baylor to be considered a rivalry?

"SMU. That's a rivalry game where you're competing for something, like the Iron Skillet. That's my definition of a rivalry," TCU defensive end Derrick Kindred says.

So Peach Bowl champion TCU's biggest rivalry game was a 56-0 win over 1-11 mid-major SMU?

"There’s no [Baylor] trophy. I know after the SMU game we get, like, an Iron Skillet," Boykin says. "I’m not saying what they need to do. If they want to, they can. But we’re going to play it like any other game. If we lose to SMU, it’s just as bad as losing to Baylor. We don’t want to try and make it bigger than it is."

No one wants to call it a rivalry. Never mind that it meets every requirement.

Proximity. A mere 90-mile stretch of Interstate 35 separates the campuses.

History. Baylor's 61-58 comeback thriller over the Frogs in brand new McLane Stadium last October defines the spread offense era. That afternoon, which upended the plot of the entire season, gave the Bears a 52-51-7 lead in a rivalry dating back to 1899, when both private Christian schools were neighbors in Waco.

Stakes. In 2014, these teams combined to go 15-1 in the Big 12 and 10-0 vs. the states of Texas and Oklahoma, moving national attention away from traditional rivalries like the Sooners vs. Longhorns. Both then spent the offseason claiming Big 12 championships, with no "co-." Entering 2015, the two rank in the AP Poll's top four and split every first-place vote in the Big 12 media poll.

And most importantly, vitriol. Natural animosity among neighboring fans has amplified since these coaches developed a public history of bad blood, with TCU's Gary Patterson calling out a Baylor player after each of the last two meetings.

"Have you ever watched that team on the sidelines? They're a bunch of friggin' idiots, and that comes from the coach," TCU booster Dick Lowe says.

On the final Saturday of last season, Baylor hosted Kansas State and ESPN's College GameDayBaylor fans focused their hate on a team the Bears had already beaten, rather than the day's on-field opponent.

#CollegeGameDay #bufootball #61-58

A photo posted by coreygum (@coreygum) on

Hours later, TCU fans returned nationally televised taunts of Baylor's efforts to get into the College Football Playoff and references to the Frogs' momentarily superior ranking.

And yet officials and players on both sides swear it off. Ask a Bear, and it's the same response, albeit with a more believable rationale.

"We don't consider it to be bigger than any other game because we want to keep our focus week to week. But yeah, when you look back, it's unexpected now that this is considered the big game in the state," Bears offensive lineman Spencer Drango says. "Some of the other teams in Texas obviously don't play anymore. So maybe we've moved up because of it."

A bit unexpected.

One was kicked out. The other was kept as a homecoming game.

Baylor survived the 1995 transition from the Southwest Conference to the Big 12 thanks in large part to then-Gov. Ann Richards, an alumna who helped the Bears avoid the mid-major fate of another private Christian school up the road.

Baylor's reward for winning realignment was a crippling run. The glory days of Grant Teaff and the 1974 "Miracle on the Brazos" had disappeared long ago.

The Big 12 started play in 1996. Briles showed up for 2008. In between, Baylor won 11 conference games. During that span, the small Baptist school whose location conjured images of Waco's 1993 Branch Davidian siege also felt the direct impact of the basketball program's Patrick Dennehy murder scandal.

(The university's currently drawing scrutiny for its investigation of an allegation against athlete Sam Ukwuachu, which would become a sexual assault conviction, and its treatment of his victim. Briles claims no knowledge of pre-Baylor accusations against Ukwuachu, which the player's previous school seems to back up.)

Sammy Citrano moved to town in 1986 and took over famous restaurant George's ("We sell more beer than anyone between Austin and Dallas!"), catering for Baylor coaches and selling food at Floyd Casey Stadium.

"I think one low point was back in 1999. The coach then, Kevin Steele, wanted to teach the team how to finish," Citrano says.

With 28 seconds remaining, Baylor had a first down on the UNLV 8-yard line, up 24-21. One, maybe two kneeldowns would've clinched the rookie head coach's first win. He called for a play. UNLV stripped the ball and returned it 100 yards for the winning touchdown. (Steele, after the game: "It will go down in history as one of the great 'Why did you do it?' questions.")

"We had the fajita concessions at the old stadium," Citrano says. "I'm standing back there thinking, 'We're gonna win this game.' And then I remember being so mad that I went to throw the hot water out of my chafing dish, but it went inside my sock. Third-degree burns."

He pulls up his pants leg to show the glossy patch on his ankle.

"Yeah. It was some tough times."

Baylor had banned alcohol at Floyd Casey, a university property. So Citrano leased a nearby parking lot from a Texas grad. He set up TVs and sold food, beer and margaritas.

"If it was a blowout, everyone left the stadium and came over. We'd look over and there'd be as many people in the tent at our place as there were at the game. I think it was 2001; there wasn't 1,000 folks for the Southern Illinois game [a 3-8 Baylor team's season finale]. Everyone used to think I was praying for those blowouts for business, but I wanted Baylor to win as much as anyone. Believe me."

Once Guy Morriss' 18-40 run ended after 2007, Baylor was officially a dead end job. The previous 11 seasons had produced one NFL Draft pick in the first three rounds. Associating the Baylor job with its long-dormant positives — Texas recruiting and a clean shot at a BCS bid — seemed inane.

Ninety miles north, apathy reigned. TCU carried zero influence during the Big 12 formation, having let decades pass without substantial facility upgrades. Combining that with a steady decline in the Southwest Conference and NCAA sanctions in the 1980s, the Horned Frogs landed in the WAC.

"I felt like we got what we deserved," Lowe says. "We hadn’t been contributing our part. Spending the money, hiring the right coaches. We hadn’t been doing anything to keep the football program up. It was inevitable that we were gonna get left out."

It doesn't get more Texas than Lowe. He and partner Hunter Enis, both TCU alumni, are oil men who came of age during TCU's highs in the 1950s and, in Lowe's case, had a hand in the lows. Lowe was named in that NCAA investigation of player compensation, a scandal that put the Horned Frogs on severe probation in the shadow of neighbor SMU's death penalty.

But while Baylor was directionless, the Horned Frogs became a mid-major powerhouse. After Dennis Franchione left for Alabama, his defensive coordinator started a run unseen at TCU since the 1950s.

"I never felt like it was hopeless. I didn’t have the feeling at all. Reason is, I knew we had a great coach," Lowe says.

As Lowe tells it, then-TCU Provost Bill Koehler encountered some players when he decided to start lifting weights one day. The hire that would make TCU happened there, says Lowe.

"The football players told him Franchione wasn’t really running the team, that Patterson was. He was running the defense; he was running the the offseason programs, the academics, the discipline; he was doing everything. So Koehler thought he was probably the guy who was more responsible for the success we’d had until that point under Franchione than Franchione was.

"When it came time to hire a new coach, that AD kept coming up with candidates Koheler wouldn’t approve until he got to Patterson, because he thought that he was the right guy. And I did my best to encourage him to hire Patterson."

In 11 seasons in Conference USA and the Mountain West, Patterson's Frogs would finish with double-digit wins eight times and crash the BCS twice, highlighted by a 13-0 2010 with a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin. Patterson would become one of the hottest coaches in America, and TCU would jump mid-major conferences three times, with a fourth, to the imploding power Big East, announced in 2010.

"Today I’d tell a young coach going through that to dig yourself in," Patterson says. "Be confident in where you're at. You have to win ball games, but you dig yourself in that place and give back. I hear more thanks for things we’ve done for Fort Worth than winning games or going to bowls."

As the Big East collapsed, TCU had arguably the best mid-major program, along with Boise State's, and one of the game's best coaches. But it had no home and no future.

In Waco, Baylor was temporarily safe inside a shifting Big 12, but needed to scrape to again survive realignment.

Since the 2005 season, no Texas team has a bigger win than TCU's 2010 Rose Bowl. And TCU wasn't even in the Big 12 at the time. Kevork Djansezian/Getty

"A sicker dog gets well," Art Briles says.

Briles helped convert the state of Texas into the foremost congregation of spread football during the 1980s and '90s as a high school coach. After he turned moribund Stephenville High into a three-time state champion, Briles worked his way from a Texas Tech assistant to head coach at Houston.

He landed as the unpopular pick of Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw, who says he received death threats.

"There was a very vocal group that included former players who wanted Mike Singletary, but from the moment he arrived and first interacted with people, there was no resistance," McCaw says. "Coach Briles won over the fan base instantly. His connection in Texas high school coaching translated immediately to recruiting, and I think that's started a trend, where today that kind of background is considered a great thing to have, where maybe eight years ago it was considered non-traditional."

"I saw [in Baylor] what I saw everywhere else I'd been. Just a stubborn belief that if you do the right things with the right people long enough, you can turn a situation," Briles says. "But the thing that helped in Waco at Baylor was the location. I knew the state of Texas, and I knew that Waco was centrally located, and I knew that mamas like to watch their sons play football."

Briles brought an up-tempo offense made for local talent and instant expertise in Texas recruiting. He also brought a track star he'd been recruiting to Houston, Robert Griffin III. Four years later, Griffin won the Heisman and Baylor started a 40-12 run that included two Big 12 championships. Briles levied his success on the field to support off of it, pushing for a new on-campus stadium, which opened in 2014 overlooking the Brazos River.

Ronald Martinez/Getty

In his 2014 memoir, Beating Goliath, Briles dismisses the concept of a single moment turning the fortunes of a program. Still, among current and former Bears, some say that point was RGIII's Heisman. Some say it was shooting out Washington in the Alamo Bowl that year. Some say it was making a BCS bowl two years after Griffin.

Regardless, Briles broke the cycle of bad football creating low interest causing poor fundraising, all of which assures the continuation of bad football.

"I don’t think we broke the mold in any way. You have to win," Briles says. "I think if we went in there and went 4-8, 4-8, 5-7, 4-8, 5-7, 4-8, I’d be gone. If you check attendance records, if you check giving and support, it’s different in ’13 than it was in ’08. The reason is that we did win games. We did change perception. You have to put the horse before the cart, and that horse is winning football games.

"Once you do that, you have opportunities to build a stadium like we have. You have a chance to generate an excited fan base, which we have now. That’s the benefit, and now the responsibility for me and my staff to maintain."

Right before Baylor's breakthrough, TCU was desperate to find an athletic director who could end the Frogs' march through mid-major hell. The school made the same demand to each candidate, including then-Rice AD Chris Del Conte.

"Just picture it. You’re sitting in a boardroom with all these guys from Texas, like 30 of ‘em in boots," Del Conte says as he leans in and starts to drawl, " 'We need two things from you. We need a new stadium, and we need to get into [a BCS conference]. You in?'

"And I say 'God blast, you really want to do this?' We were 9-0 when I was hired, headed to the Fiesta Bowl, and we’re all talking big. We have no idea what the Mountain West is going to do. We had no idea about the Big East or the Big 12. 'Yeah baby, let’s do this!' "

Here's a legendary tale in Texas college admin circles. Del Conte showed up cold in the office of former Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds, pitching TCU with the zeal of a door-to-door salesman. The talk continued through a steak dinner. And as the Big 12 lost Colorado, Missouri, Texas A&M and Nebraska, TCU received an invite to come home to the new 10-team Big 12.

"I’m just the guy who says, ‘Hey, let’s go!' If you can’t sell that, you’re not living. Turn your keys in at the morgue, cause you’re not ready for TCU."

Baylor had a football team. TCU had a power conference. Then, the money.

Football in Texas is without the burden of literary angst.

Ghosts and curses and fate and God are never assigned blame. Each success or failure is a paean to free market economics that teaches its fans one lesson: You lost because you spent less. The burden rests on you alone to change fate.

Money wins.

"We had three things that got us in [the Big 12]: we had a chancellor with big, audacious goals; a coach and a program that just went to the BCS; and oil was at $100 a barrel," Del Conte says.

"The schools that got invited to the Big 12 originally, they were our brethren, our history. That moment [of being excluded] was one of the most important in TCU history. When you pointed the finger and asked, 'Why?' there were three more pointing back at you. That critical decision to not include us made us look inward, made us put a plan in place."

Del Conte was hired in October 2009. By May 2011, he had secured $105 million in donations for an overhaul and refurbishing of Amon G. Carter Stadium. Del Conte can drive visitors past the state of the art facility and announce: "Paid for."

TCU provided no direct funding for the expansion plans to attract a power conference, so Del Conte had to hit every booster, known and unknown, as hard as possible. In five years, more than $250 million has been raised for the athletic department in private donations alone, according to TCU releases.

"I’m 87 now and my partner’s about eight or nine years younger than me, and [Del Conte] calls and says, 'Hey boys, I need to talk to you about this new stadium we’re gonna build,'" Lowe says. "I said, 'Sure, come on down. We’ll be happy to meet with you.'

"Before he got there, Hunter and I made a decision to give him $5 million. He came in and started to pitch, and I said 'Chris, stop, we’ve already decided to give we’re gonna give you $5 million. And he’s in his 40s … and he says: "Oh no, boys. I’m gonna need $15 million from you boys.'

"That's Texas. If your team's in Texas, you want to win Texas. Everybody in Texas is sort of a direct rival." -Baylor lineman Andrew Billings

"I said 'Well, you better get innovative. So we got innovative and got 15."

Del Conte shared the National Association of College Directors' AD of the Year award with three others, including McCaw, who can look at $240 million McLane Stadium from his office. Baylor claims to have raised $167 million specifically for athletics in the most recent two-year span. According to McCaw, Baylor fully funded an estimated $15.5 million tab for all 2013-2014 athlete scholarships through private donations, a first in school history.

"First we had to sell our own staff, to rebuild faith in the brand," says McCaw. "Then in the early days we made it a point to celebrate small victories. In 2004, our men's tennis team won the school's first national championship, and we made a huge deal of that to our alumni. That how we started to re-engage our donors and fans. The women's basketball team wins a national title; then the men's program is successful again. We built on each of them."

How this translates to sustained success is best represented by Patterson's and Briles' seeming reluctance to leave. Each has been highly sought by top programs.

"Compared to 18 years ago, to say we’ve built what we’ve built and are able to pay for it all in three years?" Patterson says. "And that’s without getting a full cut of the Big 12 Conference money. We’ve already got plans to change other things, to not just sit on our hands."

Consistency in coaching staffs translates to recruiting. There are not enough miserable tales of decade-old 100-yard fumbles to disrupt the short memory of a high school prospect.

Before Briles' arrival, Baylor recruiting ranked as low as No. 92 in 2004, according to the 247Sports Composite. Now the Bears haven't fallen below No. 36 since 2011. And in the nine years before rumors that TCU would join the Big 12, the Frogs' average class ranked No. 59.2. Their first class after the Big 12 announcement ranked No. 29.

"If you ask somebody from age 10 to 30 where the best football program is in the Southwest, from Arkansas to New Mexico, they’re going to say Baylor," Briles says. "Now ... 30 to 60 or 60 to 90 years old, you’re gonna get a different answer. But those kids recognize Baylor, and that’s something that’s working for us.

"These kids are 2017, 2018 prospects. All they’ve seen is Baylor winning. They know RGIII and great uniforms. A dynamic style of play and a brand new stadium on the river, folks jumping off of boats into the river on game day. They come and see an unparalleled atmosphere and education. That’s it."

Del Conte's math is simpler.

"Texas can only get 25 players a year. Texas A&M can only get 25. Oklahoma, 25. If we got every kid in Texas ranked 75 to 100 on the in-state ranking, we’d have a top-10 national recruiting class every year. We would. So a private school in this state can do something great, certainly."

A well-financed operation in Texas is a hard bull to rope.

"People don't want to give money to something and watch it go down the drain," Lowe says. "Patterson tried to thank me one time, and I told, 'Gary, you did it all. You think I would've given you two cents if you were an average coach?"

No, but seriously, it's not a rivalry.

Just a lot of coincidence.

"All the games are tough ... you know, Kansas almost beat TCU last year like Texas Tech almost beat us," Briles says in July.

A day before, Patterson touts his team's approach to dealing with the College Football Playoff snub, which contrasts fellow castoff Briles' immediate public outrage. TCU destroyed Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl, while Baylor lost to Michigan State in the Cotton.

"I’ve told people in some ways, we gained more from how we handled not being in the Playoffs and how we played in the Peach Bowl then if we had made the Playoff," Patterson says.

August's team picture day in Waco happens to feature uniformed players No. 61 and No. 58 side by side, a likeness of the winning score against TCU. Baylor calls it a coincidence.

If you buy that the state's two best programs really are avoiding the "rivalry" designation, you likely believe in the local concept of winning the state. If you don't, you don't, and you're probably from somewhere else.

"That's Texas, though. If your team's in Texas, you want to win Texas. Everybody in Texas is almost a sort of a direct rival. I'm pretty sure they do see SMU as a rival. The short distance brings that feeling," Baylor defensive lineman Andrew Billings says.

"I really don't care about a trophy though. When we play, I just want to beat TCU."

"I don’t feel like Baylor’s our top rival. I feel like Texas and Oklahoma are our top rivals. Baylor … I don’t like their coach, but he’s a good head coach. I don’t like getting beat by ‘em, so it’s a rivalry in that respect," Lowe says.

Briles couldn't be happier if everyone only talks SMU, which happens to be Baylor's Week 1 opponent.

"Our rival right now is SMU because that’s our first game, Friday night on ESPN. And if we’re looking past that, then someone needs to come up here and slap me in the face and rub my face in the dirt because that’s just stupid. I want to make sure I have today first. And today is that Friday night in Dallas, Texas in what’s probably going to be the most dynamic atmosphere SMU’s had in years. So if our guys are saying that, I’m gonna hug their neck and tell ‘em good job."

"It's a rivalry. Sure, it's a rivalry," Del Conte says. "We've been playing Baylor since we were in Waco. This is a long, long-standing game. There's respect for Baylor because they played us [after realignment] when no one else would. But all these games mean something. They're huge.

"They all mean something. We used to share a trophy with Texas Tech, the Golden Saddle! Hey, there's 50,000 Texas Tech alumni in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. There's 150,000 from Texas. They come out in droves. They populate like rabbits. We come out one at a time, like elephants."

"I don’t think you need a 'the game,' because for so long we were all in the same conference together. Seventy-five years," Del Conte continues. "Two big publics, ATM and Texas, then TTU, TCU, Rice, SMU, Baylor ... all these games meant something to this state. The Baylor game is huge, but it’s no different than us playing Texas on Thanksgiving or going up to Norman to play OU."

It's a rivalry to Citrano, without argument or qualifier. He sent his son to school at TCU, and gave his tickets to his son last year.

"It was a hell of a ball game. I'll never forget being on the sideline when we beat TCU, and Coach Briles turned to me and said, 'What does Kyle think now?' He loves Kyle, too, but Kyle graduated from TCU. The only week of the year he doesn't pull for Baylor is when they play TCU. He's already got tickets for us to go this year.

"It's real. It's definitely a rivalry now. Nobody gave us respect. And that's changed, the recruiting, the money, the donors. Hey, I've got no problem with TCU being rivals when we're the two best teams in the conference."

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