INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Quarterback Max Duggan approached tight end Jared Wiley as TCU players removed their nameplates from the locker stalls to keep as a memento.
“I love you, man,” Duggan said as they shared a quick embrace.
This was the end. This was the last day of summer camp. The last day of college.
Save for the gory finale, it was all organically perfect, memorable, and so much fun.
Inside the locker room there were no hung heads. No one staring at the floors or off into the future. No one bemoaning a play or two or five. No “What ifs” uttered.
Of course, about 45 minutes after the college football national title game, not every player was in the same mental space at the same time.
“This is probably the worst day, I guess, ever,” TCU offensive lineman Steve Avila said. “I wanted to bring one back for the city. One for my teammates. That’s all that matters to me. This loss ... this sucks. We didn’t get it done.”
Meanwhile, outside SoFi Stadium, the weather was appropriate for TCU’s mood, and its entire day. The rain kept falling just as it had all day long. It rains in L.A. almost as frequently as it snows in Fort Worth.
TCU got whipped by not the better team but by the best team in the national title game, and all of the players knew it.
No. 1 Georgia defeated No. 3 TCU, 65-7, on Monday night.
There is nothing to dissect. No reason to “watch the film.” No cries of bad officiating.
One team lined up and toyed with the other. It happens, even in the national title game. Ask Florida. Ask Oklahoma. Ask Ohio State. Ask Notre Dame. Ask Oregon. Ask Ohio State again.
But “Worst Bowl Loss Ever”? Now that one will leave a mark.
Do you know how many bowl games have been played? Like, 3 million. Just this year.
TCU people fear that little factoid will take a long time to get over, and every time someone says it, one needs to remind themselves that TCU was in the national title game.
Focus. That is the celebration, for this was an entire season unlike any other in the history of the university.
TCU’s stage fright
Maybe the stage finally got to TCU.
“Maybe it was maybe the magnitude of the moment. The majority of these guys had never played in a bowl game before the Fiesta Bowl, let alone the national championship,” TCU running back Emari Demercado said after the game. “Maybe not understanding the magnitude. It’s confusing because before we always got (back into) a game.
“It was just surprising that we weren’t not able to do what we normally do.”
After TCU cut the deficit to 10-7 in the first quarter, it looked as if the team could at least score points.
Georgia wasn’t messing around, and Duggan’s touchdown run was it.
Duggan had a bad game. He threw a pair of interceptions in the first half. He missed a few other passes in the first half that, to beat Georgia, he had to complete.
He owned it.
Wiley said he thought the moment affected his team, “to an extent,” and in the first half his teammates tried to do too much.
“I do think a lot of it did have to do with the stage,” Avila said. “I hate that was probably the reason, but we have to look back at the film to see what happened.”
For those TCU fans and players brave, stupid or drunk enough to watch any part of that game against Georgia again, they’ll see the other reason.
They will see the reason.
There is no shame in losing to Georgia in the national title game. Even by a historic margin.
Because, you’re in the national title game.
TCU’s ‘perfect’ season
The final record says TCU lost two games, but no team won the 2022 college football season like TCU.
That includes Georgia. By winning a second straight national title, Georgia did exactly what it was expected to do.
What Georgia did finishing 15-0 in this era is Hall of Fame worthy. The Bulldogs are 37-3 in the last three years.
And TCU was still college football’s best story throughout the season.
Between the arrival of Sonny Dykes, Duggan’s story, and the team’s undefeated run in the regular season, TCU generated constant waves of positive publicity that no other team produced.
It was all so much fun, because the whole thing was unscripted.
Blowing out Oklahoma. Coming from behind to beat Oklahoma State in double overtime. The win at Texas. The walk-off, fire-drill field goal to win at Baylor.
The announcement that TCU was one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff, a first for any team from Texas.
Duggan finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting and winning the Davey O’ Brien award.
Every second of the win over No. 2 Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl. It was the first playoff win by a Big 12 team.
Here is a list of the teams to ever win a College Football Playoff game: Clemson, LSU, Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Oregon, TCU.
Not on the list: Oklahoma, Michigan, USC, Penn State, Texas, Texas A&M, Florida, Auburn ...
“I look back at the season, and all we overcome so much; even last season,” Avila said. “It makes me proud that we were even here. I am confident they can bounce back from this.”
TCU made nothing but history in 2022, up to and including a final game that left fans sad, embarrassed, and the head coach feeling some guilt.
“I know tickets were expensive. I know flights were expensive. Our fans have answered the call every time we asked,” Dykes said after the game. “We feel like we let them down with our performance tonight.”
Considering how the entire season played out, chances are he will be forgiven.
TCU was spanked by Georgia in the national title game, and that final score will leave a mark.
TCU made the national title game, and that’s a feat worth celebrating.
“Even now, I know this moment sucks, but I will never forget this year,” Demercado said. “This is something special for all of us to be around. Lifelong friendships from this.
“Things in life are fleeting, and this moment will pass but it was something special to be a part of.”
Focus on that, and it was all perfect.