November, 13 2023
Sometimes the most mundane and routine of plays provide the greatest moments. That was the case for TCU in the 1957 Cotton Bowl.
The Horned Frogs matched up with Syracuse, a team coached by Hall of Famer Ben Schwartzwalder and featuring the legendary Jim Brown. Brown came into the game averaging 6.2 yards per carry, and he looked to finish his collegiate career a winner.
Brown did his part, rushing for 132 yards and scoring two touchdowns in the first half. Those touchdowns helped Syracuse come back from an early 14-0 deficit. Brown was also Syracuse’s placekicker, and his successful PATs knotted the score at halftime.
TCU had raced out to the lead behind the sharp passing of Chuck Curtis. The quarterback from Gainseville, Texas completed 80 percent of his passes (12/15) for 174 and two first half touchdowns as the Southwest Conference champion Horned Frogs unleashed an offense hearkening back to the days of Sammy Baugh and Davey O’Brien.
The second half played out similarly to the first, as Curtis led TCU on two more touchdown drives to take a 28-14 lead into the fourth quarter. Again, Jim Brown responded. His one-yard touchdown run cut the deficit to 28-20 with just over five minutes to play. Brown then lined up for this third extra point, and that is when something routine became great…for TCU.
The partisan crowd in the Cotton Bowl, a stadium located just 40 miles from TCU’s Amon Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, thundered with shouting fans who hoped to distract the normally implacable Brown. The sound did confuse one Syracuse player, end Nick Baccile. Unsure of the count, Baccile turned back to the holder for last minute instructions just as the ball was snapped. That allowed TCU end Narcico Mendoza, known to his teammates as Chico, to smother the kick and keep the Syracuse deficit at eight.
Mendoza was the only Mexican American player on the TCU roster and according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the crowd chanted “Chico! Chico! Chico!” as the Horned Frogs left the field.
Syracuse got the ball back quickly and scored again with just one minute to play on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Charles Zimmerman to Jim Ridlon. Modern fans would expect a two-point attempt by Syracuse, but the two-point conversion rule was still a little over a year away from being implemented. Instead, Jim Brown calmly kicked the point after to make the score 28-27.
Schwartzwalder opted to not attempt an onside kick, electing to kick deep and try to get the ball back. TCU was able to grind out the remaining time, however, and left the field Cotton Bowl champions, their first post-season victory since their 1939 Sugar Bowl victory that earned them a national title.
While Jim Brown was named outstanding back for the game, the true hero was Mendoza, the man who altered the course of the game on a routine play. “I just closed my eyes, dived…and hoped,” a giddy Mendoza said in the locker room after the game. “I don’t remember where the ball hit me.”
TCU head coach Abe Martin recounted all the heroes of the game for TCU: quarterback Chuck Curtis’ epic day, defensive tackle Norman Hamilton and his never-say-die attitude in his matchup with Jim Brown, and his kicker Harold Pollard’s four-for-four day on PATs. Despite all these heroics, the coach admitted the game came down to one play: “That was Chico’s block of the extra point.” A great effort made on the most mundane of plays.
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