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Don Woodard: Frogs will not jump gentle into that good night

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Under Coach Gary Patterson, the TCU Horned Frogs have become a nationally acclaimed gridiron powerhouse. People all over the country wonder how in the world a football team came to be named Frogs. Hoping that this column in Fort Worth Business might find its way into sports magazines and perhaps the Internet, I venture to offer this elucidation from my best selling Black Diamonds! Black Gold! The Saga of Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company, published by Texas Tech University Press in 1998.

In 1897, in Eastland, Texas, ten miles west of Ranger and forty miles west of Thurber, a strange experiment took place. News of the event swept over the entire region and became the talk of Texas. Texas’s most famous horned frog, Old Rip, was buried alive in a cornerstone of the Eastland County Courthouse. He was entombed by a County Clerk who was curious about old timers’ claims that these lizards can survive for years without light, water or air. The outcome of the Clerk’s experiment would not be revealed until that court house time capsule was opened three decades later.

On February 28, 1928 after the courthouse had been demolished and the corner stone pried open, a horned frog materialized, alive and kicking. A crowd of two thousand citizens was on hand to witness the unbelievable. The horned frog was immediately christened Old Rip after Rip Van Winkle. Had it really been thirty years? It didn’t take long for tales of a hoax to surface, but most Eastlanders became steadfast believers that Old Rip had slept for thirty-one years in the cornerstone. Witness after witness said a metal seal and several layers of brick were on top of that cornerstone.

Old Rip made headlines across the country, and Will Wood, son of the County Clerk who in 1897 placed a horned frog into the cornerstone, took the animal on an extended tour, including a brief visit with President Calvin Coolidge. It is not recorded what transpired between President and resurrected frog. It can be assumed that the conversation was brief, with Rip saying about as much as Silent Cal. Coolidge’s taciturnity was proverbial. In probably the most famous tale told about his penchant for silence, a woman supposedly told him that she had bet she could get him to say more than two words at a dinner one night. “You lose,” the President is said to have responded.

In the fullness of time, some four score and seven years later, came Oklahoma and for the Frogs the Coolidge fiat, “You lose.” But in their pangs and agony of defeat, I believe that Gary and his troops will, like the poet, say:

Out of the night that covers us

Black as the Oklahoma pits from pole to pole,

We thank whatever football gods may be

For our unconquerable soul.

OLD RIP WILL RISE AGAIN!

Don Woodard is a Fort Worth businessman and author of Black Diamonds! Black Gold! The Saga of Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company.

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