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TCU Magazine "Riff Ram"

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Getting his kicks

Frog Club Director and TCU radio color analyst John Denton '85 sounds off on football parking issues, 20 years in the broadcast booth, his favorite moments with Jim Wacker and life as a walk-on kicker.

By Rick Waters '95

You are a 1985 journalism graduate from TCU, how did you manage to get yourself in charge of the Frog Club? Between my broadcast work for TCU  and having served on the Frog Club Board in past years, I had been involved and knew what the Frog Club was striving to accomplish.  When the job came open, I felt led to look into it. TCU’s athletic department has accomplished so much, and we still have a long way to go.  I bleed purple. I wanted to help our program and our coaches, so here I am.

The Frog Club has kind of remade itself the last few years. You’ve worked hard to overcome the long-held notion that the organization just accepts checks and assigns parking. In reality, you’re fund-raising for athletics scholarships. Do you think TCU fans are beginning to understand the Frog Club’s role? Scholarships for Champions is the slogan that we’ve come up with for the Frog Club. I think that says it all. We’re working to financially support $11 Million worth of athletic scholarships at TCU each year. Frog Club members support our student-athletes and we want them to be champions – in academics and in their respective sports. Sure, football parking is a big part of what we do, but we have so much more to offer donors and, hopefully, the donors feel pride in the big picture. It’s about the student-athletes and supporting the overall program, not the parking spot.

Managing the donor parking around Amon Carter Stadium is a pretty thankless job – there’s no way to make everyone happy. What was the rationale behind removing the donor name signs in several of the lots, which has caused a bit of a stir? When it comes to football parking, we work with what we’re given. Parking is a hot topic all over campus. Changes are occurring with football parking, just as they are all over campus where construction is underway.  Current and future construction and the possibility of a gas well near the stadium gave us some uncertainties to work with as we planned for the 2008 season. We’ve made decisions based on what we know we can offer donors next season. In some lots that means no signs. In the future we may be faced with closing some lots and moving donors to different lots. We dodged that this year, but may not be able to next year or the year after. When considering the big picture, the lack of signs in Lots 2, 3 and 8 should not be that big of an issue. Frog Club donors will still have the best game day parking in Texas. After all, Frog Club is in the scholarship-funding business, not the sign business. I hope people remember the big picture.

What other parking changes are in store for the fall? We have a few surprises that we’re working on that we believe will improve the overall game day experience. We’ve made strides with directional signs and we’re working on ways to improve visibility and identification of each lot.

Traditionally, the Frog Club has been a bit of an older crowd. How are you going about infusing fresh blood to the group? You could probably say that about the Frog Club twenty years ago, but the organization has changed. When I came back on campus, the president of the Frog Club was younger than I was! Frog Club has over 4,000 members and the success of our athletic program has brought in a lot of new members. We have also developed a membership level for Young Alumni who are within 10 years of graduation and we have put an emphasis on recruiting new members.  Our Board of Directors approves all our major initiatives and their average age is 51.

This fall will be your 20th season in the TCU radio booth. What’s the best part of calling games? Broadcasting is a true love of mine.  It allows me to stay involved in the program and get to know the coaches and players. We have a great radio crew and I enjoy being a part of the team.  It’s almost like being a player – and I prepare the same way I did when I played. By the time we hit the air on game day, I’ve spent about 25 hours watching video of the opposing team, preparing charts, watching practice, interviewing players and preparing a scouting report. The best part is when a listener tells me that I help them understand or enjoy the game.  A few years ago, I met a blind TCU fan who told me how much he enjoys my work on radio – that hit me like a ton of bricks.

How would describe your style as color analyst? I’m a huge college football fan and I’m a former player. I try to blend the passion with the knowledge and keep it fun. Too much X’s and O’s is not a good thing, but you have to have a certain level of that in each broadcast. I also try to relay the energy of the game I experienced as a player – there’s so much intensity on the field.

You were a walk-on kicker and punter under F.A. Dry, eventually earning four varsity letters. What was that experience like?  Greatest experience of my life.   I was very fortunate.  Out of 47 walk-ons in 1980, only RB David Davis and I ended up on scholarship.  Easy? No.  I spent my first year on the offensive scout team as a running back and wide receiver.  I was nowhere near the depth chart, but I was learning the system and adjusting to the college game.  Coach Dry taught me everything I know about kicking and special teams play.  Ask any kicker he ever coached – he taught you self-diagnostics.  He used to say, “You’ve got to know what you’re doing wrong and how to fix it.”  Coach Dry has a great football mind and didn’t get credit for it while he was at TCU because he never won big here.

How is it different being a walk-on today compared to when you played (1981-84)? I don’t think it’s changed a whole lot.  It’s still tough.  It’s about fighting your way onto the team.  The main thing a walk-on has to do to survive is adjust quickly to the speed of the college game and be smart.  Being willing to do anything to help the team is good, too.  That’s how I became a holder and lettered as a redshirt freshman.

Coach Jim Wacker came on board in 1983, and he was a very influential person in your life. What’s your favorite story or recollection about him? I could write a book on Coach Wacker.  He was one of a kind.  He was loud, he was boisterous and he cared about his players.  He was a great example and, for some of his players, the only role model they had.  He made us believe in ourselves, showed us how to work through tough situations and how to be happy through daily recognition of the blessings in our lives.  And he was a disciplinarian.  He was what TCU needed at the time.  Probably Frank Windegger’s greatest hire.   

What's your favorite story from that Unbelieeeevable Bluebonnet Bowl season in 1984? When we beat Arkansas 32-31 in Fayetteville, we knew we had a good team.  It was a crazy game, but that day TCU found a way to win instead of waiting for the other shoe to drop.  After the game, amidst a wild locker room scene, Coach Wacker called for silence, and then declared, “TCU is not a joke anymore!”  That was a great day.

What’s your take on the self-reported NCAA violations that came after? Did it tarnish what happened that season? Coach Wacker did what he said he was going to do the day he was hired – report any and all violations.  The ensuing sanctions and the probation were pretty heavy.   Coach Wacker believed the NCAA would be lenient since TCU self-reported.  They weren’t.  The ’84 season stands on its own merit since it had been such a long time since TCU had seen football success.   The NCAA sanctions did take a lot out of Coach Wacker.

We read that only 11 of your 60 kickoffs in 1983 were returned. What do you consider your best football moment? During my playing career at TCU, I never had a kickoff or punt returned for a touchdown – I was proud of that.  Best single moment: Being told by Coach Wacker that I was being put on full scholarship – the Holy Grail for a walk-on.

Will Gary Patterson ever listen to you, a former kicker? Only because we’re near the same age! Seriously, we have discussed aspects of the kicking game before, but I don’t stick my nose into it unless I’m asked. Gary and his staff have done a great job here. If I can help, I’m happy to contribute.

Why are kickers so maligned? Is that unfair? Kicking is a mental exercise – control what you can and let the rest go. Kickers are always going to catch grief from their teammates because they don’t get hit much and they’re sitting around at practice a lot. Fans get on kickers because they think the job is so easy. Kickers get one chance per attempt. Try getting a hit in baseball while being allowed only one strike. And, oh, by the way, you have to get a field goal attempt off in less than 1.1 seconds (not to mention the rush). Sound easy? Next time you’re out at the park, try kicking an extra point (and that’s only 20 yards).

After some tough seasons, what do you see in store for the men’s basketball team? I see a bright future for TCU basketball.  TCU has traditionally had good (and sometimes great) basketball teams.  Jim “Killer” Killingsworth was the head men’s coach when I was a student.  He and his staff rebuilt a downtrodden program on intense recruiting, great defense and connecting with the fans. Danny Morrison is committed to having a top-flight basketball program and he has the background and connections to make it happen again at TCU.

Best story we can print on Brian Estridge? I bought him a ticket to a Paul McCartney concert when we were in Las Vegas on a basketball trip. There we are at the MGM, watching half of the greatest song-writing team of all time.  Estridge fell asleep. 

Toughest TCU coach to interview? Pat Sullivan was very protective and self-conscious.  He wouldn’t tell you anything.

Best TCU football team of all time – 1935, 1938, 1955, 1984, 2000, 2005? 1938 – A National Championship and a Heisman winner in the same year?  No question.  (That ’84 team wasn’t bad).

Is it true that you had a tryout with the Minnesota Vikings? Yes, in ’85 and ’86.  I was just another leg in camp.  Then in ’89, Kenneth Davis got me a tryout with the Bills, but I turned down the chance to go to camp with them.  At the time, I hadn’t kicked in three years.  It was time to hang it up.

We hear you’re a huge fan of the Beatles, even going so far as to see the Beatles Review show at the Sahara when you’re in Las Vegas. What’s your favorite Beatles tune? Huge Beatles fan.  I have every album they ever released on vinyl and almost all on CD.  I’ve been to many Beatles shows and the one at the Sahara is the best.

The best Beatles song is ...? "Day Tripper." Great guitar licks. 

You ran a Senior PGA TOUR event in Dallas for several years. Which tournament and how did you come to be involved? My dad had been involved in organizing golf tournaments for years.  I had worked many of those events as a volunteer.  One of the tournaments was selected for conversion into a full-fledged Senior Tour event in 1985, about the time I graduated from TCU.   I went to work on the event as a staffer.  The golf tournament business is hard work and we had staff come and go.  Eventually, I ended up as the GM of the tournament.  It was great experience and gave me a chance to work closely with my dad for 11 years.

You’re a collector of football helmets and like to turn them into retro TCU helmets. How’d you get into that? I’ve collected old helmets for years.  They’re a distinctive part of the game.  I started researching TCU’s helmet history and designs two years ago and have produced some reproductions of the 1950’s and 60’s helmets.  Old helmets from past eras are easy to find, it’s the old facemasks that are the tough part. 

Will the Flying T ever make a comeback?  Even for a throw-back day at Amon Carter? The Flying T is a great logo- it shows movement, and has a cool lean in the design.  It had its day.  I love it, but I don’t think you’ll ever see it in a throwback game – too modern- looking.

A new thing you and the radio team are doing is answering submitted  questions from Frog Fans all over the globe during the game. We heard  you even got one from a listener in Ulan Batar, Mongolia. How cool is  that? Amazing isn’t it? Estridge set that up a couple of years ago. David Branch, one of our Frog Club Board Members, listened to last year’s Baylor game from Mongolia.  It’s fun to hear from people all over the world via e-mail and instant messages, especially military personnel stationed around the world.  We’ve even passed messages back and forth on-air between a soldier who was listening online in Kuwait and his wife, who was listening stateside. We hear from all parts of the globe. During one game, we received messages from six of the seven continents. Apparently there are no Frog fans in Antarctica. 

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