Bill Kohlhausen did not live long enough to see his son start – and win – a major college football game.
But he still has one heck of a story about Bram Kohlhausen to tell the other dads in Heaven.
Presented with his chance on Jan. 2, Bram Kholhausen crossed the razor thin line between ordinary and legendary. He did something no college quarterback had ever done before.
The younger Kohlhausen engineered a comeback from a 31-0 halftime deficit to lead Texas Christian University’s Horned Frogs to a 47-41 three-overtime victory against Oregon in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. It is the largest comeback ever in a major college bowl game.
“He probably traded all his favors in Heaven for that one,” Bram Kohlhausen said with a smile, thinking of his father.
Horned Frogs head coach Gary Patterson knew what the moment meant for his quarterback. It was the chance of a lifetime, and Kohlhausen recalled his words of encouragement that sparked the comeback.
“Coach P said, ‘This is a good spot for you. If anyone’s going to help you, it’ll be your dad upstairs,'” Kohlhausen said. “Then he said, ‘Win this one for him.'”
That is exactly what Kohlhausen did, earning a place in football lore for himself and the Frogs. It capped an emotional final few weeks of the season after the death of his dad on Nov. 7 from melanoma, the same day TCU suffered its first loss of the season at Oklahoma State.
The Alamo Bowl was, ironically, the only game Kohlhausen started in his major college career because All-American Trevone Boykin had been suspended for off-the-field issues. And the game was not expected to be much more than another bowl game. TCU’s season had been marred by a couple of losses late the season. And the Frogs’ two stars were out – Boykin and injured first-team All-American wide receiver Josh Doctson. The Las Vegas odds makers had lost faith too: After Boykin was suspended, TCU went from a 1-point favorite to a 7-point underdog.
By halftime, his moment in the spotlight appeared to be memorable for all the wrong reasons. TCU was down 31-0 and that was just the score. They looked lost, too.
“Honestly, I thought I was getting benched. I was embarrassed,” Kohlhausen said.
But Patterson saw something in the fifth-year senior that made the coach stick with him. Perhaps it was the quarterback’s devotion to the team and sport even through the saddest time of his life, something he knew his dad would have wanted.
“Everything he went through a year ago, I thought it was truly incredible, losing his dad in the Oklahoma State game,” Patterson said. “I said take as much time as you want to, but he was back Tuesday at practice. That kind of sums up what kind of guy Bram Kohlhausen is.”
But there was a reason Kohlhausen was even on the TCU roster. He has never been one to give up.
After a couple of disappointing seasons at the University of Houston, he transferred to play at Los Angeles Harbor College for a year in 2013. Refusing to give up on his dream of playing at the highest level of college, he walked on at TCU for the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
Now, with only one half of a football game left in his college career, Kohlhausen was faced with exiting quietly or making the loudest statement in bowl history. Braced with newfound confidence from his coach, his second-half performance produced the latter.
“I said if we’re going to do this, we have to score on every drive,” Kohlhausen recalled telling his teammates on offense.
He didn’t do it alone. Safety Derrick Kindred rallied the defense and the historical comeback was on.
TCU did indeed score on its final nine possessions. Fate tipped the balance in TCU’s favor as well: Oregon lost its starting quarterback, Vernon Adams Jr., to an injury right before halftime.
“Once it became our backup quarterback and center versus their backup quarterback and center, we had them,” Kohlhausen said.
“At the end of the year we were playing with backups, and we showed them what TCU football is all about,” said good friend and offensive lineman Bob Thompson. “Bram seized his moment, and I am so glad to have been a part of it.
“The way Bram handled it when his dad died, he put that on his shoulders for the rest of the season and he really wanted to be the best he could be for his dad. I know his dad is so proud of him.”
Kohlhausen had one walk-through with the starting offense before the game. Boykin, his roommate on the trip, was suspended for activities on Dec. 31. Boykin’s college career abruptly ended when Patterson suspended the one-time top Heisman Trophy contender, who left his room after curfew in San Antonio and then got charged with assault on a public servant.
“Everybody started texting me. A lot of people were asking me why I let him leave the room,” Kohlhausen said. “Some were even blaming me.”
Kohlhausen , however, said he had no idea Boykin was gone before bedlam broke loose. He was asleep, expecting to be on the sidelines for most or all of the game, depending on how close it was.
Even for TCU fans used to jaw-dropping comebacks, the Alamo Bowl halftime deficit seemed too large a hill to climb.
“If I weren’t such a dedicated fan, I’d have turned off the TV at halftime,” said TCU employee Caroline Collier. “I didn’t want to be too optimistic even as they were coming back, but as we were going into the fourth quarter I began to get swept up in the possibility.”
But the Frogs had something important but intangible: momentum.
Kohlhausen scored on a 2-yard run in the closing seconds of the third quarter to pull the Frogs to within two touchdowns. He, likewise, could sense Oregon wilting under TCU’s momentum.
“When it was 17-31 I knew we were going to win,” he said. “After I dove into the end zone, you could feel the energy continue to rise in us and leave them.”
Kohlhausen would finish the game 28-of-45 for 351 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 45 yards and a pair of scores.
“I was so glad I was there in person, so I couldn’t turn off the TV. I remember watching people leave at halftime, and I was so disappointed, but they were the ones disappointed in the end for not sticking around,” said TCU student Kyla Wilcher.
The Alamo Bowl was not expected to be much more than a so-so game by two teams that had somewhat disappointing records. It ended up tying the record for the biggest comeback in bowl history and winning the respect of sometimes-jaded sports commentators. CBS Sports reporter Tom Fornelli ranked it the top bowl game of the season, writing, “Just an absolutely amazing game.”
Kohlhausen’s coach gives the backup plenty of credit for the amazing game.
“You had to have a performance by him, the way he played, very gutsy in the second half, to come back and win,” Patterson said. “He’ll always be a Frog.”
Patterson then chuckled as he recalled Kohlhausen coming by his office a couple weeks later and jokingly saying, “Perhaps you should have played me more.”
Kohlhausen was named the offensive MVP of the game. He then found out TCU had begun the process of putting him on scholarship for his final semester in the spring of 2016 as he finished his criminal justice degree.
“As a fan of backup quarterbacks, they sweat, work hard, and when they get that moment of glory, it’s great to see it pay off,” said Susan Nix, whose husband, Kent, was a former TCU signal-caller and NFL backup. “Bram is humble, like Kent, and that’s an admirable trait.”
Kohlhausen had been passed over in a previous chance to start against the University of Oklahoma in Norman late in the season when Boykin was out with an injury. He entered the game late, almost rallying the Horned Frogs from a 17-point deficit before a failed two-point conversion left them with a 30-29 loss.
“I was angry all week,” he now admits. “But a little adrenaline with anger made me a better player.
“I think that OU game helped me against Oregon when it became a close game.”
Kohlhausen said he also broke his wrist in the game against Oklahoma. He played with it taped up in the Alamo Bowl.
And if all this sounds like the stuff movies are made of, Kohlhausen said that is also a possibility. He said some folks had approached TCU about purchasing the story for a film.
“There were some preliminary discussions. They had a whole meeting about it,” he said.
And though his dad wasn’t there in San Antonio, Kohlhausen immediately found his mother, Donna Kohlhausen, and celebrated with her after the game.
“I saw her and embraced her,” he said. “This was such a special moment for both of us.”
Kohlhausen moved back to Houston after graduation but has a move to Fort Worth in the works. He spent the summer traveling in Europe and said he is ready to move forward in the business world, preparing to take a real estate exam.
Wherever life takes him, he said, he understands now the full meaning of never giving up.
“You have to always try again and again. You never know,” the 24-year-old said. “Persistence is the key. If I’d sat around at Houston, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity.”
And he said he will never grow tired of reliving the game – something he has ample opportunities to do. Once he’s introduced to anyone who knows anything about college football, he’s asked to tell the story.
“Every time I tell it more and more specifics come out,” he said. “Right after it happened, I was on ESPN and Fox every other day. It was all just a blur, but now that I’ve had time to soak it all in, I remember more details.
“A lot of people ask me would I rather have been a four-year starter at Houston. I tell them I’ll take the Alamo Bowl.”