One-Hit Wonders: The Temple Tornado

In the end, only the NCAA could catch Kenneth Davis, and those sons of bitches had help. In 1984 Davis blew up the TCU and SWC rushing records, finished fifth in the Heisman, and was everybody’s All-American. Nine months later, the administration extinguished his college career because Davis did what everyone back then did, he took a little cash on the side in a pay for play scheme. The ultimate one-hit-wonder.

Everyone with a scholarship to offer offered one to Davis as a Temple High star, so when he chose a TCU program amid a severe decade-plus long winning drought, heads turned. At TCU, his laziness exceeded his natural talent. He didn’t want to practice, didn’t do conditioning. Overweight by nearly 30 pounds, Davis left Fort Worth and returned home before his mother told him in no uncertain terms that he’d be heading back to Cowtown and quickly, she had no sympathy for him. In 1982 he rushed for 549 yards for a three-win Horned Frog team.

That winter, Jim Wacker arrived from Southwest Texas State and started to rejuvenate the program.

Davis started caring - at least a little bit. He ran for 682 yards in 1983 on a one-win TCU squad. Then came 1984, and the Temple Tornado touched down. Davis rushed for 145 yards in the opener against Utah State. TCU scored 62 that day, more than ten Frog teams scored total in a season since the program’s inception in 1900. Their 677 yards broke the school record by 128 yards. Davis did his damage on only 13 carries.

A week later against K-State Davis ran for 239 yards, the second-best day in school history. The Frog won their first two games for the first time in a dozen years. SMU slowed him down the next week, handing TCU a loss. After a loss to the Ponies, die-hard TCU fans, those still around, expected the Frogs to fold up tents and cruise to another three-win season. These were different Frogs. They traveled to Arkansas and upended the Razorbacks thanks to a 15 point rally in the final ten minutes.

These Frogs were different, after beating Arkansas, they handled Rice to move to 4-1. Four wins would suffice for a good season in years past, TCU was now playing for bigger stakes. They annihilated North Texas, beat Baylor and eventual conference champion Houston, then beat Texas Tech. The Frogs caught the attention of the national media, rising to 12th in the country heading into a showdown with defending SWC champion, 10th ranked Texas.

The country started to notice Kenneth Davis as well. He ran for his second 200 yard game of the season and averaged 13 yards a carry against the Mean Green. He hit for 173 yards and three scores against Baylor and 131 yards at Houston, his sixth 100 yard game of the season. He ran for 203 yards against Texas Tech becoming the first SWC back to gain 200 or more yards in three games in a single season. Campbell, Dickerson, Leaks, Abercrombie, none matched his numbers in the history of the league.

He broke Jim Swink’s single-season school record with two regular-season games to play. TCU sat at 8-1 overall, 5-1 in the conference with a win over Texas, they’d qualify for their first Cotton Bowl since 1958. The showdown with Texas went off in front of a National Television audience.

The clock struck midnight.

Davis ran for 103 yards, but Texas proved too much in a 44-23 win. The Horned Frogs controlled their destiny when they played Texas A&M a week later, but the Aggies built a 28-7 lead and held on to end any title hopes TCU harbored. Davis ran for 141 yards in the losing effort.

The Bluebonnet Bowl, for TCU, was a nice consolation prize. The date with West Virginia was TCU’s first bowl game in over 20 years. Davis ran for 1,611 yards in 1984, finished second in the nation in rushing, and average a shocking 7.6 yards per rush. The league named Davis the Offensive Player of the Year, he finished fifth in the Heisman voting and earned All-American Honors.

He played one quarter in the Bluebonnet Bowl before a calf injury put him out of commission. He’d set himself a very nice table for 1985 and his senior season. He took out a $1 million insurance policy against any career-ending injuries with Lloyd’s of London, most placed him as a favorite to win the Heisman and go in the first round of the 1986 NFL draft. With the eyes of the nation on him, Davis torched Tulane for 152 yards to open the 1985 season. The debut was his 13th 100 yard game of his collegiate career.

Five days later, Davis’ career was over.

As the team prepped for Kansas State, the NCAA and SWC informed Wacker that some of his players accepted illegal cash benefits from a booster. Wacker, perhaps more honest than intelligent, asked his players to fess up early in the 1985 season, coaches assured the players that they viewed any admission as confidential, but none the less, Wacker suspended Davis and five other players who came forward.

Wacker hadn’t read the operating manual for a SWC football team, especially the chapter on plausible deniability. Texas A&M and SMU co-wrote that chapter. Just a week earlier, Jackie Sherrill denied that his start quarterback Kevin Murray accepted illicit funds from a booster. The Aggie coach was lying, of course, but he knew how to play the game. Wacker went public, and once he did, he could no longer protect his players.

Boosters paid Davis an estimated $38,000 to ply his craft at TCU. The NCAA slapped TCU with probation, Wacker’s revival in Fort Worth ended before it began. His Horned Frog teams mustered just one more winning season during his tenure. The rest of the league went on cheatin’ like always. For Davis, his NCAA career disappeared.

Davis went on to put together a decent nine-year NFL career with the Packers and, most notably the Bills. He played on those famous Bills teams that went to four straight Super Bowls, losing on each occasion.

For one glorious season and one game, Kenneth Davis became the talk of college football. He shattered records and helped turn the SWC upside down. The only opponent that stopped him was the NCAA.

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Posted on August 14, 2019 and filed under Southwest Round-Up, TCU.