Floyd Casey farewell is big game for No. 9 Baylor
Grant Teaff felt a bit nauseous the first time he saw Baylor’s football stadium.
No practice fields, no weight room, no space for staff meetings. The home of the Bears wasn’t much back in 1972.
”I went from horror-stricken to deep embedded love for a place,” said Teaff, the Baylor coach from 1972-92. ”It was one that made me want to throw up when I first saw it, until making me cry when I leave.”
Now two decades after his last game, Teaff is feeling emotional about Floyd Casey Stadium. The No. 9 Bears will close down the stadium Saturday after 64 seasons Saturday in the season finale against No. 23 Texas, when they can clinch at least a share of their first Big 12 title.
The Bears are leaving Floyd Casey and will have a campus home for the first time since 1935, when they open next season inside the $260 million Baylor Stadium being built along the Brazos River and busy Interstate 35. They’re going out on a high note.
Baylor (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) has matched a school record by winning its last nine home games, and won 22 of its last 25 games there, including 2011 when Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy. They have beaten the last five Top 25 opponents to visit Waco, with top-ranked BCS team Kansas State losing last year.
”It’s unlike anything I can imagine,” said Walter Abercrombie, executive director of Baylor’s ”B” Association of former letter winners and a running back for the 1980 Southwest Conference championship team. ”Six years ago, we were trying to pull ourselves out of the belly, the dungeon, the bottom pits of college football. … It’s a return to significance.”
For the final game, there are 10 players from the 1950 team that was the first to play at the stadium scheduled to attend. Players from different decades have been recognized at each home game this year.
The stadium about four miles off campus was built for $1.5 million. It became known as Floyd Casey Stadium in 1989, renamed after the family who contributed most of the $8 million for a renovation project, though there had already been many significant changes under Teaff.
When Teaff arrived at the world’s largest Baptist university after the 1971 season, there wasn’t even space for staff meetings. He took over a concrete-block room underneath the stadium that had housed the athletic department’s ”universal gym” – the only piece of weight training equipment there. Teaff was then told he’d have to raise $50,000 if he wanted a weight room. He had the money about a week later with the help of someone who thought the coach wouldn’t take it since it was donated stock in a beer company.
”I said, in my good Baptist vernacular, `The devil’s had that money long enough.’ … Beer money bought the first weight room, and I make no apologies,” Teaff said.
With no practice fields, he worked with another supporter to replace the stadium’s dirt field with AstroTurf.
The Bears had gone 50 years without a conference title before winning the SWC in 1974, the year of the ”Miracle on the Brazos” when they overcame a 24-7 halftime deficit to beat powerhouse Texas. Several administrators slept in the stadium that night with the scoreboard still lit showing the 34-24 final.
Mike Singletary and Abercrombie were part of the 1980 team that was undefeated in SWC play and had the school’s only 10-win season before Griffin’s Heisman year.
Teaff, now the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, can see the new stadium when he steps out the back door of his office on the edge of campus. Abercrombie, who later played seven NFL seasons, grew up in Waco and always dreamed of playing at the stadium that ”was bigger than life to me.” He worked there as a kid.
There was talk of a new stadium even before Art Briles became Baylor’s coach six years ago, but there was some reluctance. Abercrombie admittedly was initially among those who felt there was nothing wrong with Floyd Casey and wanted to keep playing there.
”But, man, I’ve seen just the excitement that our recruits have expressed, seeing how it’s totally transformed I-35 and campus,” he said. ”I’ve become a big fan of this project.”
The Bears are 28-10 at home under Briles, who knows the final game will be special.
Bryce Petty, the fourth-year junior who waited behind Griffin and record-setting quarterback Nick Florence for his chance to be the starter this year, will get the unique distinction of leading the last team in Floyd Casey and the first team in the new stadium.
”It’s our job to make sure that we end it out right. End that tradition on a good note and start a new tradition with the new stadium with a good note,” Petty said. ”For all the guys that have played there before, it’s our job to salute to them.”