Is TCU in the Big 12 without LaDainian Tomlinson?

Former TCU tailback LaDainian Tomlinson makes remarks after being introduced at a news conference as an inductee into the National Football Foundation College Football Hall Of Fame on Thursday, May 22, 2014, in Irving, Texas.

Tony Gutierrez/AP

TCU won one game in 1998, the first year LaDainian Tomlinson suited up for the Frogs. In the final game of the season, they upset cross-town rival SMU.

"We celebrated like we won the Super Bowl," Tomlinson said Thursday. 

The former Frog was one of 12 players and two coaches inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on Thursday. 

Three years later, Tomlinson had amassed more than 4,000 rushing yards as a junior and senior — highlighted by a record-breaking 406-yard day in 1999 against UTEP–and helped turn the Frogs into a 10-win team for the first time since Dutch Meyer coached the Frogs to 11-0 in 1938 and got a burger joint on campus named for him.

Gary Patterson took over for the final game of Tomlinson’s career and ripped off seven 11-win seasons from 2003 to 2011. 

Thursday was one of the proudest days of Tomlinson’s life. Though he admitted the impact of being a Hall of Famer hadn’t sunk in yet, he was quick to mention how easily the tears came when National Football Foundation CEO Steve Hatchell called to tell him the news nearly two weeks ago. 

Baylor, UTEP, North Texas and TCU were the only schools who offered Tomlinson a scholarship. Even Bill Snyder and Kansas State recruited him and chose not to offer him one. 

"They believed in me," he said of the Frogs. "Nobody knew me." 

That belief jumpstarted a decaying program and began the first of four conference moves from 2001 to 2012 that ended in the Big 12, the conference that Tomlinson and his teammates dreamed of competing in back when they arrived on campus in 1997, a year after the Southwest Conference disbanded and banished TCU to college football’s outer realm. 

"We wanted to be in the Big 12 when I was there," he said. 

Tomlinson asked his mother, who worked two jobs to support the family, for a set of weights when he was six years old. He saw how big the players were on TV, and knew early in life he needed to look like them if he was going to use football as a means to support himself. He also saw how hard his mom had to work just to pay bills and feed her family.

"I knew I had to work my tail off," Tomlinson said. "She had a lot to do with shaping me." 

"He’s been a great ambassador for our University," Patterson said in a release. "He represents what’s great about the game of football."

The Frogs quite literally won their way into the Big 12 after Patterson took over, but Tomlinson — and his All-Pro NFL career that will soon land him in another Hall of Fame — proved what was possible at TCU. 

"It’s something we still talk about, some of my teammates who played with me, because we set out to do that," Tomlinson said. "It was something we really wanted. We wanted to turn around this program, and at the end of our four years, we looked back and we were amazed at what we’ve come from and we were excited about where the program was going." 

It was going to heights never before seen in Fort Worth, and Tomlinson was the biggest spark for what grew into a program that set fire to Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference, winning five conference titles in nine years after Tomlinson left as a WAC champion in Dennis Franchione’s final season. 

Today, Tomlinson’s still a TCU season holder who returned to campus in 2005 and received his degree. He made it to "three or four games" last season while working as an TV analyst for NFL Network. 

Thursday was a proud day for Tomlinson and TCU. He became the 11th Frog to earn admittance into the hall. On a day when college football looks to its past, seeing Tomlinson’s tangible impact on TCU’s present and future is unavoidable.