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Despite being a smaller university, TCU has no shortage of tradition.

Frog Fever: The spirit that drives TCU football

FORT WORTH, Texas — TCU isn’t considered a flagship national program when it comes to the college football landscape.

The private university in Fort Worth has a student population of just more than 10,000  students. Amon G. Carter Stadium — which the Horned Frogs call home — seats 45,000 fans on game days, making it the smallest football stadium in the Big 12 Conference and near the bottom of all Power-5 programs.

That hasn’t stopped the city from bleeding purple seven days a week.

This can be seen with some of the greatest traditions and fans surrounding TCU football. It’s a glimpse of what you can expect to see on campus when the Horned Frogs get ready to battle it out on the gridiron.

The Frog Horn

The Frog Horn was donated to TCU in 1994. (Dean Straka/Diehards Staff)

It’s big, it’s loud and it’s a staple to TCU football. An homage to Fort Worth’s rich railroad history, the Frog Horn can be heard from hundreds of yards away when it sounds after a TCU score.

The Frog Horn was built by Fort Worth-based Burlington-Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway in 1994 as a gift to TCU. It was first rejected, but after some convincing the student-maintained contraption has become a fixture in the south end zone on game days.

“They managed to push it through and then when we got the Frog horn it became more of a tradition,” TCU Ranger Justin Povinelli said. “Ever since, it’s almost been our version of how the University of Texas has the cannon.”

The Frog Horn is managed by the TCU Rangers — a spirit-squad that pays tribute to Fort Worth’s iconic cowboy culture on game days.

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The TCU Rangers manage and maintain the Frog Horn during every TCU football home game. (Dean Straka/Diehards Staff)

Povinelli, a sophomore, said the experience of representing the spirit of TCU and Fort Worth on the field has been one of a kind.

“It’s been awesome. It’s such a unique tradition and being a part of it — the games, on the field — the rangers are just a great family as a whole and it’s one of the best experiences I’ve had.”

The Frog Horn and rangers also make appearances at TCU home soccer games. With more than two decades of operation, it doesn’t appear that the Frog Horn will be sounding its final blast anytime soon.

And for those listening on the Horned Frogs’ radio network, the horn gets some kind of mention in almost every game. TCU play-by-play announcer Brian Estridge has incorporated the tradition into his game calls for the biggest plays at home games.

When TCU scores a spectacular touchdown, Estridge is ready with his own frenzied call that’s almost as loud as what’s taking place on the sidelines.

His “hit the horn” has become known among fans of the Horned Frogs. It wouldn’t be a TCU game without the call or the noise from the sidelines.

Road warriors

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TCU fan Damon Hickman designed a custom purple jeep. (Dean Straka/Diehards Staff)

TCU football has made its presence known on the road in recent seasons, winning all but five games dating back to the 2014 season.

TCU alumnus Damon Hickman, a 39-year resident of North Texas, has been an ambassador on the road for the Horned Frogs — literally.

Hickman, a member of the class of 2001, can’t be missed when driving on the roads of Fort Worth. Not with his custom purple Jeep — complete with color-changing headlights that can often resemble a Horned Frog shooting blood out of its eyes.

Hickman’s Jeep, which he has owned since 2014, has been featured in several notable events, including the 2016 Fort Worth Parade of Lights (below) and the 2017 TCU Homecoming Parade.

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The Parade of Lights is an annual Christmastime tradition in Fort Worth. (Damon Hickman)

But the idea wouldn’t have been born without the purchase of a parking space outside of Amon G. Carter Stadium several seasons ago.

“We originally started tailgating with a van. When we moved from Weatherford (Texas) to Fort Worth, my wife and kids said I needed to ‘up my game,'” Hickman said. “Well, if I’m getting rid of my van, I want something that I want — something that is one of a kind.”

Hickman said he knew he wanted to paint his new ride — which is capable of off-roading — even before he purchased it. Three years later, it’s a product he proudly drives around town — especially on Saturdays.

“Pretty much everything on it is designed to help me tailgate,” Hickman said. “We’re rolling down the aisle and everyone is like, ‘ah, I love your jeep!'”

Hickman said he hopes the dedication he displays through his jeep reflects how passionate TCU fans can be and should be through thick and thin.

“To me, one of the discerning characteristics of a Frog fan is that you aren’t a fair-weather fan,” Hickman said. “You have to buy into the team and not have this lofty expectation that you’re playing for the national championship every year, but you want to go out and have a good showing. There doesn’t seem to be that jump on and off.”

Frog Daddy of ’em all

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“Frog Daddy” has been attending TCU football home games since Halloween night, 2009. (Gerald White)

Anybody who has attended a TCU home game since 2009 is certain to have seen him — whether it be during the tailgates or on the Jumbotron at the stadium.

Jim Vaughan, more commonly known as “Frog Daddy” for his flamboyant, gaudy game-day outfit, has been in the grandstands for more than three decades. As a member of both the 1982 and 1995 classes, Vaughan has been a loyal fan through TCU’s ups-and-downs as the Horned Frogs went from football nomads to national title contenders.

“It’s just insane how much change there has been, in a good way,” Vaughan recalled of TCU’s pre-Big 12 days. “When we were drummed on by Texas and Texas A&M I stayed through singing the alma mater, no matter the weather I was there. I just bleed purple — for a long, long time and then in about the past nine years Frog Daddy rolled around.”

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“Frog Daddy” is no stranger to some of TCU football’s most notable figures. (Gerald White)

Long gone are the days of empty seats at Amon G. Carter Stadium. TCU has been in the national conversation since an undefeated regular season in 2009, which happened to be when Vaughan first started wearing his iconic costume.

According to Vaughan, it began when his wife and daughter spotted a purple suit costume for sale while shopping for Halloween decorations eight years ago. They insisted he purchase the costume and wear it to an upcoming home game.

“We started piecing things together and we bought this hat from another place, started embroidering it and different things and before you know it, we came up with this character Frog Daddy,” he said.

Vaughan debuted his costume during TCU’s home game against UNLV on Halloween night, 2009. The Horned Frogs posted a 41-0 shutout win over the Rebels.

Since then, Vaughan has made his presence known from Fort Worth, Texas all the way the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., as he attended the Horned Frogs’ thrilling 21-19 victory over Wisconsin in January 2011. Vaughan said the experience of wearing the costume from the Los Angeles Metro bus system to the stadium was an experience unlike any other.

“I was just a fantastic venue,” Vaughan said. “I took a billion pictures [with fans]. I didn’t want money but people were throwing money for pics with Frog Daddy.”

No doubt, Vaughan gets considerable attention for his gameday outfit. He’s even in the running for “college football’s most interesting fan” — the winner of which will receive a statue at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta next  month.

But the attention isn’t what drives Vaughan’s game-day tradition.

“I’m out there for sure, but it’s just my fun and the moment,” Vaughan said. “It’s the reaction of the people and I’m trying to bring a good time to the game. TV isn’t why I’m there.”

Vaughan, who works in a local public school system, added he has used his platform to bring students to TCU home games who otherwise wouldn’t have the chance — simultaneously giving them a glimpse of what a college education is about.

“As far as a college football game day, I think we’re in the top 5 in the country,” Vaughan said. “We may not have 100,000 people like A&M and LSU, but we have a beautiful venue and it’s so family oriented.”