Oct. 2, 2009
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
For Frank Ditta, the 1980 football season was proof that Baylor "belongs."
"We did something very special," said Ditta, an All-America offensive guard for the 1980 team that finished 10-2 overall, 14th in the country in the final Associated Press poll and won the Southwest Conference by a full three games. "Being 10-1 in that conference, when we were picked to finish sixth or seventh . . . and we didn't just do it luckily. We beat people, and we beat them pretty good. We proved that we were a pretty good football team."
Along the way, Ditta proved that he was an outstanding offensive lineman, despite topping out a feather-light 255 pounds. A two-year starter for the Bears after transferring from the University of Oklahoma, Ditta helped pave the way for running back Walter Abercrombie to rush for a school-record 1,187 yards and the team to average a school-record 296.8 yards rushing per game - marks that still stand nearly 30 years later.
"Statistically, there's never been a better team at Baylor," Ditta said. "That gives you a little pride."
The 51-year-old Ditta is also proud to be joining another team. Along with quarterback Jay Jeffrey and defensive end Charles Benson from that 1980 championship team, Ditta will be inducted into the Baylor Athletic Hall of Fame in ceremonies Oct. 23-24 during the 100th anniversary of Baylor's first Homecoming.
"Think about it this way," Ditta said. "If you averaged 100 people a year for the last 100 years, that's at least 10,000 people that have played athletics at Baylor. And as of today, 174 of those have been chosen. That's a heck of a team to be on, and I'm proud of that. The second thing is I can never be cut. There are 174 of us that have been chosen out of 1,000. I'm really proud of that. And no one can ever take it away."
Ditta's decision to come to Baylor was on a chance visit to see former high school all-star teammates Sammy Bickham, Kenny Griffin, Frank Pollard and Arland Thompson.
"Quite candidly, I fell in love with the university. It was just beautiful to me," he said. "I loved that small-school atmosphere. And then when I made up my mind that I wanted to leave (Oklahoma), they offered me a scholarship."
As a starter for the 1979 and '80 teams that were a combined 18-6, Ditta was part of an offensive line that "averaged 240 pounds . . . maybe."
"Today, they wouldn't even get looked at," Ditta said. "But the bottom line was we would get after you."
The genesis of Baylor's turnaround in 1979 and '80 was actually a 3-8 season the year before, when the Bears lost their first five games to Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio State, Houston and SMU by a total of 21 points.
"We had some bad breaks that year and got off to a horrible start," Ditta said. "But we could see that there was an undercurrent there of talent. In '79, we got off to a good start and we surprised some people quite honestly with the season we had. When you're coming off 3-8, I don't think a lot of people were thinking you were going to do too much. But one of the catalysts was we beat Texas (38-14) in that last game of the year. That really gave us a lot of momentum going into the next year, knowing that we could play with people and compete and win some games."
Ditta describes the 1980 season as "the pinnacle." Other than a head-scratching 30-22 loss at home to San Jose State - "To this day, I still don't know what happened," he said - the Bears put together a perfect regular season before losing to Alabama, 30-2, in the Cotton Bowl.
"If it hadn't come a flood in the first quarter, we would have slapped 60 on the Aggies," Ditta said, referring to a 46-7 win over Texas A&M. "They were thankful that it was raining by the time we finished with them. And then we ended up the year by blanking Texas (16-0), which hadn't been done in forever."
The Cotton Bowl, he said, was another matter.
"To be quite honest, we were just excited and happy to be there," Ditta said. "It was a reward for us, where Alabama had lost two out of three and came there to prove a point that they were still Alabama. It's not that we didn't try, and it would have been great to win the game. But we were having a great time that week in Dallas. And that's what a bowl game should be: It's a reward. We weren't playing for the national championship or anything like that."
In addition to his all-conference and All-America honors, Ditta was named the SWC Offensive Player of the Year by The Dallas Morning News - the first and only time the award was ever given to an offensive lineman.
The capper, though, for Ditta was being named to the AP All-America team and appearing on "The Bob Hope Show."
"In my view, that was the pinnacle for all the All-America teams," Ditta said. "There were some other ones that were all wonderful. But for me, my goal had always been to be on `The Bob Hope Show.' I had watched it growing up, and then to be named to the team, that was the culmination of a lot of hard work."
Drafted in the ninth round by the Chicago Bears in 1981, Ditta was let go on the final cut.
"I always told myself that when it wasn't fun, I wouldn't play anymore," he said. "I was up to around 270 then, and it was hard for me to keep the weight up. I'm naturally about 225, 230. So when I got cut, I came back, finished out school and lost a ton of weight and just got on with my life."
Ditta, who said he's been an entrepreneur his whole life, started his own consulting business and spent 12 years in Australia before moving back to Texas and settling in The Woodlands with his wife, Kelly.
Thirty years later, the man who coached him still holds a special place in Ditta's heart.
"Coach (Grant) Teaff has been a wonderful friend of mine since I played at Baylor, and we stay in touch even now," Ditta said. "And the reason for that is because Coach Teaff was a man of his word. When he told you something, you could take it to the bank. He's a man that walks the walk, and he has ever since I've known him."
But Ditta is also a fan of current Baylor coach Art Briles.
"Coach Briles is a winner," Ditta said. "It might take him some time. And in this world of what have you done for me in the last 24 hours, I'm sure he's going to take some flak for (last week's 30-22 loss to Connecticut). But he understands recruiting, which is the lifeblood of college football. And he's innovative. He's going to get it done, there's no doubt in my mind."
Tickets for the Hall of Fame banquet, which will be at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23, at the Ferrell Center, are $45 ($35 for Baylor letterwinners). Contact the "B" Association's Tammy Hardin at 254-710-3045 or by e-mail at email@example.com.