Once upon a time, Horned Frog purple wasn’t cool … and then it was

Editor’s note: The TCU Horned Frogs’ meteoric rise from mediocrity in 2021 to the toast of the college football world in 2022 reminded regular Business Press contributor John Fletcher of another time when the Frogs staged a flashy comeback and vindicated Frog lovers who had stuck with them during the down days. Fletcher dreamed up a way to make hay of that proud moment for fans draped in TCU purple and he shares the story with us here.

I was backing those old Horned Frogs
When all of my friends
Were diggin’ Baylor, Texas, and SMU;
I was purple when purple wasn’t cool!

I co-composed those lyrics with Bill Kinder when we worked together at KJNE-FM radio in Waco in 1984. We called the song I Was Purple When Purple Wasn’t Cool (a takeoff on the Barbara Mandrell-George Jones country classic, I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool) and we came up with it to call attention to a spectacular turnaround of TCU’s football program under Coach Jim Wacker.

Bill is now known as host of Big Billy Kinder Outdoors, heard on WBAP and Sirius XM Radio and close to 100 radio stations around the country.

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In 1984 he was the morning show host of Waco’s top-rated KJNE’s Jane & Jay Morning Show and I was a partner and general manager of the radio station with my father.

Bill had played offensive tackle on the Horned Frogs football team as a freshman, and I attended TCU on a tennis scholarship. I had attended games since grade school at Alice Carlson Elementary.

The first draft of the lyrics was aimed at TCU winning the Southwest Conference title and playing in the Cotton Bowl. However, a late-season loss to the University of Texas sent the Frogs to the Bluebonnet Bowl – not quite the Cotton but still a validation of TCU’s resurgence from one win the prior year to eight wins in 1984.

It all started as one of those “Wouldn’t it be funny if someone wrote this song?” moments. As I was waiting in the airport for a flight to Nashville, I whipped out a pen and paper and started playing with the potential lyrics.

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It was my “Aha moment.”

The song kind of wrote itself – I consider it a gift from God, a Godwink, one of those things that seemed to happen in a mere 15 minutes. When I returned to Waco a few days later, I showed the lyrics to Bill, because he’s a creative genius. He tweaked some of them and we moved forward.

We were required to join a publishing company, so we chose BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.) because the original song was written by Kye Fleming and Dennis Morgan and was published through BMI.

We submitted our proposed lyrics, which were approved by Fleming and Morgan with no changes. They seemed to appreciate that this was a tribute song and they apparently trusted that we had captured the spirit of their composition.

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For the female lead, Bill recruited Miss Texas 1982 Gloria Gilbert (now Gloria Gilbert Barron), who had graduated from TCU and was emerging as a popular entertainer. They knew each other since both had lived in Mineral Wells.

Next, I recruited Coach Wacker to perform the George Jones part – customized to address TCU’s successful season, of course. TCU fans from that season remember Wacker’s catchword: “unbeeeeeelivable!”

The coach’s part went like this:
Hey, man, I’m purple,
Unbeeeeeelivable, but true;
I’m proud and purple,
Why don’t YOU get purple, too?
Having fun, and winning games…
Hey, that’s the Horned Frogs’ goal.
See you down in Houston;
Let’s win that cotton-pickin’ Bluebonnet Bowl.
I love that purple. It’s our turn at TCU!

The recording session took place in Fort Worth at what was then Buffalo Sound on Currie Street off West Seventh. The studio provided the musicians and Gloria brought a friend to sing background vocals. I Was Purple When Purple Wasn’t Cool became the most requested title for two weeks on KVIL-FM, which was the #1 radio station at the time.

There was a later interaction with Coach Wacker – a moment that I’ll never forget. He was serving as athletic director at Texas State University in 2001 and I was negotiating a sponsorship package on behalf of my client, H-E-B Grocery. As I made plans to finalize our agreement with the university’s representative, I asked if I could have five minutes with Coach Wacker, who was in ill health and fighting cancer. I showed him a copy of the record and asked him to autograph two record jackets, one for Bill and one for me.

Then I told Coach that we had a gift for him, and I presented him with a copy of the record with Bill’s and my autographs for HIM. He smiled, laughed, and gladly accepted our “little gift” to him.

It was the last time I would see him. He passed away in 2003 at the age of 66.

He would have been thrilled, I’m sure, to watch TCU rise from the ashes of a 5-7 season to become the first Texas team to reach the College Football Playoffs and eventually end up as the No. 2 team in the nation. The Frogs’ loss to Georgia in the national championship game did nothing to diminish what they accomplished in winning 13 of their 15 games. In the days and weeks leading up to the title game, TCU was the “now” team, the “hip team” – one news story said the Big 12 Conference was looking to the Frogs to make it a “cooler conference.”

So those lyrics Bill Kinder and I cranked out in 1984 are just as true today:

Now look at all the purple in the stands again
I was purple when purple wasn’t cool
It’s our turn at TCU

John Fletcher is CEO/Founder of Fletcher Consulting Public Relations in Arlington. He grew up in Fort Worth and gained his entire education within three square miles – from Alice Carlson Elementary, McLean Junior High, Paschal High and TCU.