12:35 P.M., THURSDAY, DECEMBER 22, 2011
Merry Christmas and Season's Greetings from St. Louis, Baylor faithful!
Baylor's walk in Winter Wonderland continued last weekend, just days after Robert Griffin III claimed Baylor's first Heisman Trophy, as the attention shifted (deservedly) to Baylor basketball. Apparently both the men and women's squads got the memo about BU's newfound domination.
The Saturday tradition of gushing over Baylor sports, previously afforded by football season, continued as the 7th-ranked men won a thrilling game on BYU's home court. The next night, our top ranked women beat #2 UConn in front of a packed Ferrell Center crowd.
Just another week in Baylor Athletics, right?
Well, since our football team walked off the field in Stillwater on October 30, the Bears have won 26 straight in the school's three most visible sports. On the gridiron, Baylor managed to win five straight conference games for the first time in over a generation. On the hardwood, the women have brushed aside three top 10 foes in just over a month while holding steady to their top ranking and the men have been perfect in their first ten games.
They've also recently been labeled `historically loaded.'
We are amidst the Golden Era in Baylor Athletics.
There's certainly an army of people to credit for the complete transformation of our athletic identity. Baylor fans should thank athletics director Ian McCaw. He has generated the funding for several new on-campus state-of-the-art facilities including a projected new football home. More importantly, McCaw has not only hired but also held on to an impressive arsenal of coaches who are often eyed by many other schools both in Texas and beyond.
We're also thankful for the leadership of President Ken Starr. Far beyond the challenges of maintaining athletic success, Starr is held accountable for holding onto the University's core values and ideals while overseeing a tremendous amount of growth and change in the landscape of the campus...all during a recession. Sure, Starr ruffled some feathers when he threatened to take legal action upon our friends in College Station's departure from the Big 12, but...well, we love him for that.
Should we thank our coaches? Mulkey was nearly successful overnight at Baylor, but for a full decade now she has maintained incredible consistency. Simply being favored to beat UConn should remove any doubt about the direction of the program.
Coach Art Briles completed his fourth year at Baylor earlier this month and while everyone gushed over RG3, it is clear that Briles has surrounded our Heisman winner with a bevy of talent at key positions. The coach recently signed a contract extension and has told media that his job will not be complete until the Bears new on-campus stadium is complete.
If there were a more difficult task than restoring football pride in Waco, it may be what faced Scott Drew when he arrived at Baylor. Drew has guided the Bears to unprecedented success and there's little doubt that this year's team is his best. After that, there's a log jam of talent waiting to hit the court.
This Golden Era was made possible by an administration at Baylor that prioritized the need for great coaches, who have built programs on little more than hope, heart and a ton of hard work.
The last piece of the puzzle of course was the addition of spectacular student athletes. Griffin has already been recognized as the nation's best, Brittney Griner is an early season favorite for player of the year, and the accolades for Perry Jones III are not far behind.
Wanna know the best element of the Golden Era?
It's only just begun.
The Heisman Arrives
10:55 A.M., TUESDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2011
After shocking us with a final minute win over TCU, after thrilling us with a last second win against Oklahoma, after rewarding us with a dismantling of Texas, Robert Griffin did the only thing possible for an encore.
RG3 entered himself into college football immortality Saturday night in New York.
Griff became the recipient of the 77th Heisman Memorial Trophy, it is Baylor's first and there is no doubt that the reward has never meant more to an institution or community as it has in 2011 to Waco and BU.
As the story will be told for generations, the season's final weekend miraculously afforded the nation the opportunity to see what Baylor, the state of Texas and most of Big 12 country had already learned; Griffin was the nation's most dynamic player.
When the votes were finally tallied and Griffin arrived in the big apple, Baylor's greatest ambassador then proved he was also one of the nation's most likable and cerebral figures.
After letting his guard down, by pulling his pant legs up and showing off Superman socks, Griffin delivered an acceptance speech a presidential candidate would have admired.
When it came time to offer thanks and provide some perspective about the significance of the award, Griffin talked only about what this means for the team, the school, the community and the fans and reassured all of us watching that `this is only the beginning.'
Considering the magnitude of the event, the long road it had been to this moment and the individual who was representing our school, it was understandable for Baylor fans to have a lump in their throats and tears in their eyes.
After all, our quarterback had just taken the program to heights it had never before reached.
Not bad for a school that was considered an afterthought or casualty in the sport's conference realignment chaos.
Not bad for a program still recovering from a decade-long stint at the bottom of the conference standings.
Not bad for a community still known most on the national level for...well, you know.
Saturday night, Griffin finally was given a reward fitting of all that he meant to Baylor University. There simply was not a more prestigious honor for a more deserving player.
This sport is funny. There are scandals, violations and improprieties that fill the headlines. There is a disturbing trend that seems to further blur the idea of a true `student athlete,' the playoff system is controversial, hard to grasp and even harder to embrace. The Big 12 Conference has 10 teams, the Big 10 now has 12.
The sport also has stories like Robert Griffin, student athletes that win in and out of the classroom and truly represent their school with class and take pride in doing so.
We would be foolish to think that Griffin is the only story of its kind this year, it just so happened that this remarkable individual and infectious ambassador was also an unbelievable quarterback.
So unbelievable, in fact, that he won the Heisman Trophy.
Like Griffin said, it was `unbelievably believable.'
12:05 P.M., THURSDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2011
I still remember getting the Facebook wall post from a friend this past April. He had chimed in sometime after the end of Baylor's disappointing basketball season and before spring really arrived in St. Louis.
`Baylor Football Kick-Off in 150 days!' the message said.
To respond to it with anything other than a sarcastic chuckle would have been pathetic for most of us.
However, for those of us that had our watch set on this season after several years of improvement, the 2011 campaign could not have gotten here soon enough.
Saturday's season finale proved to Baylor fans that the wait and hype were worth it.
In fact, for all those years of frustration, blowouts and rebuilding, perhaps it's just that the school's greatest ambassador ever is about to win the Heisman Trophy.
2011, a year no Baylor fan will stop talking about anytime soon.
Baylor's fairy tale season ended with the Bears getting the girl with win over Texas that both solidified the school's greatest home season ever and left very little doubt about who the nation's most electrifying player was.
Actually, any doubt about Griffin's ability to torch UT's vaunted defense was answered on the second play when RG3 hooked up with Kendall Wright for a 59 yard touchdown strike.
Consider it a statement moment for Griffin, consider the other 41 points scored, the six turnovers forced and the Bears 24 point victory a statement moment for Baylor football.
BU capped off the 2011 season with a 9-3 record, ranking 12th in the nation's final BCS standings. They finished third in a very sound Big 12 Conference and missed playing in the Cotton Bowl only due to the fact that the BCS mistakenly picked Virginia Tech over both Kansas State and BU. Baylor, of course, did more than just win nine games and make a terrific bowl game, however.
A complete overhaul of the school's nationwide athletic image seems all but complete. It started a decade ago when coach Mulkey arrived and quickly transformed our women's basketball team into a powerhouse. Scott Drew then did the unthinkable and reinvented our men's team into perennial contenders after a scandal threatened to destroy the program entirely. A few years later, Baylor football has proven to have found their man in Art Briles. Beating Texas and Oklahoma in the same season leaves little doubt.
Beyond coincidence now is the fact that while BU has accepted their Alamo Bowl invitation, the men's basketball team sits at their highest ranking in school history and the women are the unanimous #1.
It's a new era in Waco.
One more statement will be made this Saturday in New York and when it is made it will leave little doubt about one thing: student athletes can come to Baylor and win.
Even in football.
Consider the party to be on for all of us.
Running Down a Dream
10:30 A.M., THURSDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2011
The regular season of Baylor's 111th football campaign will come to an end this Saturday afternoon as the Bears host Texas on senior day. BU has the chance to complete an undefeated home season, defeat the Longhorns for a second straight season and work its way into a bowl game suitable for a team that has spent the majority of the season in the AP top 25.
Amazingly, each of these storylines is overshadowed by a much bigger phenomenon centering around Waco this weekend.
Floyd Casey Stadium has the chance to host a Heisman Trophy-defining moment that could ultimately lead to the nation's most celebrated award being earned by
Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.
If you're reading this and shaking your head, think again.
RG3 is still very much alive in the Heisman Trophy race. Arguably the red shirt junior's biggest Heisman obstacles, Andrew Luck and Trent Richardson, won't be playing Saturday.
Griffin and company will take the field as the favored Bears look to win their fifth straight and leave us all with one lasting memory of a dream season will likely be relishing for years to come.
Along with compiling a 6-0 record at home, Griffin has thrown for over 2,500 yards without tossing a single interception. BU has scored at least 40 points in each home game and has defeated five bowl-qualifying teams.
The home cooking has done wonders as it turns out.
It seems only fitting that this campaign will end at Floyd Casey on the season's final Saturday. After all, it was there that the Bears first grabbed the attention of the football world with their Friday night primetime win over TCU just three short months ago.
From there, BU rolled their other non-conference opponents, blasted Iowa State, ran wild against Mizzou and caused a second field storming with a legendary last-second win over Oklahoma.
Is it even fair for fans to be asking what this team can do for an encore?
During this week's press conference, Art Briles acknowledged that it's been an unforgettable season for Baylor. Having knocked off Texas Tech (whom BU had not defeated in 16 years) and OU (whom BU first played in 1901 and had never defeated) in consecutive weeks, Briles determined that BU had slayed the dragons of 126 seasons.
Yes, it's been that special of a year for Baylor.
The offensive record book is rewritten, the momentum and confidence in this team is reestablished and the nationwide image of the football team gained has been redefined.
All that's left to do is beat Texas.
If this magical ride lasts one more week, we can expect the Bears to be game and to be the better team Saturday. A win will be a coronation of a three month odyssey we will not soon forget and another dazzling performance Griffin would give us fans icing for the cake.
It could also give Heisman voters one last reminder of who has truly been the best football player in the country.
The dream continues...