Mac Engel: How Colin Kaepernick made TCU's Rose Bowl season possible

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Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick celebrates with fans after defeating a 44-26 win against UNLV at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas on October 2, 2010. - Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America/TNS

FORT WORTH, Texas — Colin Kaepernick has no formal affiliation with TCU, nor did he ever play the Horned Frogs in a game, but he made a tangible impact on the university that extends deep into the mortar, and the success, of the school.

This year is the 10th year anniversary of TCU’s Rose Bowl season, which would not have been possible without the contributions of the ousted NFL quarterback, Mr. Kaepernick, and his Nevada Wolf Pack.

On Nov. 26, 2010, Kaepernick “led TCU” to the Rose Bowl when Nevada upset No. 3 Boise State. That upset ultimately changed the trajectory of a team, a school and a city.

“I mean, just look at what TCU is today as a result of all that,” former Nevada starting offensive lineman John Bender said.

Just look at it. TCU is in the Big 12, its applications, enrollment and the property value of the surrounding neighborhoods all increased, in part, because of that season.

No fewer than 853,034 jigsaw pieces all magically fell into place for TCU to make the Rose Bowl at the conclusion of the 2010 season, but Kaepernick and Nevada is the one piece that made them all fit.

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When TCU headed to Albuquerque on Friday, Nov. 26, 2010, for its final WAC game of the season, against the University of New Mexico, they all knew they needed something more powerful than the college presidents to get them back into a BCS game for the second consecutive year.

After a 5-point win against San Diego State the previous week, the Horned Frogs dropped from No. 3 in the nation to No. 4, behind Boise State.

Either TCU or Boise State was going to land an automatic BCS bid. The previous season they both did, and played each other in the Fiesta Bowl.

Only one could go this time.

“If you remember, that was the era of the BCS when you had Utah, Boise State, Hawaii and TCU all trying to get into one of those games. We all thought we were right there with them,” former Nevada defensive lineman Zack Madonick said. “Our senior class had never beaten Boise, and this was our last shot.”

Nevada was ranked 19th, but had lost 10 straight to Boise State.

The Nevada-Boise State game was on a Friday night, and it was one of those late starts that people in the Midwest or East Coast can’t keep their eyes open long enough to watch.

Boise State was on a 24-game winning streak, and TCU coach Gary Patterson addressed his team before they went to their hotel rooms for the night.

“Turn off the TV off and don’t worry about what’s not in our control,” Patterson told his players.

“I can tell you, every player on that Rose Bowl team remembers watching that game,” former TCU receiver Curtis Clay said.

TCU’s athletic director at the time, Chris Del Conte, didn’t even bother.

“I went to bed,” Del Conte said.

Nevada trailed by 17 points at the half.

“We turned it off because Boise was winning and it looked like they were gonna roll,” TCU receiver Bart Johnson said, who shared a room with Clay.

Nevada had Kaepernick, and scored 24 second-half points.

“Then we get a text to turn it on because Kaepernick was leading a comeback,” Johnson said.

Kaepernick tied the game with 13 seconds remaining on a short touchdown pass.

On Boise State’s first play after Nevada tied it, quarterback Kellen Moore hit receiver Titus Young with a 53-yard pass to setup kicker Kyle Brotzman’s 26-yard field goal attempt with two seconds remaining.

“They bring me out to block the field goal, and we’re yelling and screaming at the kicker. We get him to make eye contact with us, which never happens,” Bender said. “For some reason, they called a timeout. I guess to ice their own kicker.”

The kick was wide right. To open the overtime, Boise had the ball first and Brotzman tried a 29-yard field goal. He missed that one, too.

Nevada ended the game on its opening OT possession with a 34-yard field goal to win, 34-31.

Fans rushed the field in Mackay Stadium in Reno.

“The next 10 minutes after we won it are a blur,” Bender said.

About 1,000 miles away, TCU players and coaches all celebrated in their rooms. And then the halls. And then the hotel atrium.

“We all rushed out of our rooms in our underwear,” Johnson said. “The entire team was going crazy. High-fiving and hugging.”

Del Conte said: “Remember, I’m asleep. People are banging on the door. We had an atrium and people are going nuts. I get a call from Coach P and he said, ‘Boise lost.’ I said, ‘What?!’ ”

Hotel management was none too pleased with the noise and commotion, and let TCU staffers know “their “feelings.”

“It was after midnight,” Patterson said. “I had to tell them to get back into their rooms before we got kicked out.”

It was Boise State’s first loss since 2008 Poinsettia Bowl to … TCU.

“For the way that game ended, it’s the most memorable game of my career,” Madonick said. “If you talk to people in Northern Nevada, that game is something that comes up in almost every discussion when you talk about Nevada football.”

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The next day, TCU defeated New Mexico, 66-17. Two days later, TCU would formally accept an invitation to join the Big East Conference.

“The Big East took out a billboard in New York City that said, ‘Welcome TCU to the Big East,’ ” Del Conte said.

An obscure loophole that season in the BCS said if a Pac-10 team was going to play for the national title, the Rose Bowl would accept a team from outside of the traditional Big 10/Pac-10 matchup. Oregon was going to play Auburn in the BCS title game.

On Dec. 5, TCU accepted an invitation to play Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Boise State would play Utah in the Maaco Bowl in Las Vegas.

When TCU played Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day 2011, the members of the Nevada football team who made that game happen all watched. They watched in support of TCU. They watched in envy.

“I wanted a piece of (Wisconsin defensive end) J.J. Watt. I’m sure everyone else did,” Bender said. “When I was watching that game, and I’m thinking had we beat Hawaii earlier in the season, we should have been in the Rose Bowl.”

Madonick said: “Whether it was us, TCU, or Boise State, Utah or Hawaii, we were all the under-recruited kids with chips on our shoulders. Even though I was envious of (TCU quarterback) Andy Dalton, and that team, I was so happy for what they were able to accomplish.”

TCU would defeat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, 21-19, and finished the season second in the nation.

On Oct. 10, 2011, TCU, which never played one game as a member of the Big East, formally accepted an invitation to join the Big 12.

Other events made the ascension possible, most notably the breakup of the Big 12 that saw Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri all leave for other conferences.

But TCU’s success for more than a decade, which included the Rose Bowl, made its move to the Big 12 happen.

And they don’t go to the Rose Bowl without Nevada, and Colin Kaepernick.

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