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By Krista Pirtle
During the 2011-2012 season, it is possible that Pat Neff has gone through twice as many green bulbs as it did through 2008-2010.
The senior class has seen it all: the rise of Robert Griffin III, the athleticism of Baylor men’s basketball and the championship aspirations of Lady Bear basketball.
Back in the fall of 2008, head coach Art Briles came in with hope to turn the football program around.
His biggest step was replacing junior quarterback Blake Szymanski with true freshman Robert Griffin III.
“Freshman year we had hope because Briles and Griffin just got here, but there wasn’t any support for the teams,” Columbia, Mo., senior Jane Erdel said. “Nobody cared. It just wasn’t an integral part of campus, and with that we lacked team spirit.”
Being hopeful for the future and celebrating it in the here and now are two very different things.
Most of the students could be found outside the stadium tailgating and hanging out with their friends instead of inside supporting their team on the turf.
Basketball wasn’t much different.
“As freshmen, my roommates and I could sit in season ticket seats and not even be kicked out,” Victoria senior Ellie Keeling said. “The Lady Bear games were even worse. It was like having the whole Ferrell Center to yourself at times.”
The Lady Bears advanced to the Sweet Sixteen before falling to runner-up Louisville.
The men’s team failed to make the NCAA tournament and lost in the championship round of the N.I.T. by six points to Penn State.
Floyds Knobs, Ind., senior Trevor Allison did not attend Baylor until his junior year, but he kept up with the athletic program because his mom went to Baylor in the ‘80s.
“The success of Baylor basketball and the potential to watch a great athlete like Robert Griffin III was part of my decision to come to Baylor,” Allison said. “But I had no idea the success that was in store.”
Here’s a quick recap of Baylor athletics bridging the gap from then to now.
• 2009-2010: Football finished 4-8 after Griffin tore his ACL the third game of the season.
• Men’s basketball advanced to the Elite Eight and fell to the eventual national champions of Duke.
• Women’s basketball advanced to the Final Four and fell to the eventual national champions Connecticut.
• 2010-2011: Football became bowl eligible for the first time in over a decade but lost in the Texas Bowl to Illinois.
• Men’s basketball failed to make postseason play.
• Women’s basketball fell to eventual national champions Texas A&M in the Elite Eight.
Now, here we are in the “Year of the Bear.”
Momentum is a word that has been used to describe the extravagant losing streaks of Baylor in the past but now it describes the team’s longest win streaks in football (6), men’s basketball (18), women’s basketball (40) and baseball (24).
Baylor also has two national championship teams, women’s basketball and the hunter seat division in equestrian, and the first ever Heisman trophy winner.
“The coolest part of all of it is Griffin winning the Heisman,” Allison said. “It’s the greatest individual trophy in sports, and a player at a school I was attending won it. That’s just really cool.”
The Heisman seemed to set the foundation for the success of the rest of the program. The hope that was felt four years ago has finally began to materialize as records continue to be broken and victories continue to pile up.
“The surge of pride that students have in the school in infection and is helping all the programs achieve so much this year,” Keeling said. “It’s been a blessing to have been a senior this year.”
After the seniors walk the stage two weeks from now, they may receive a phone call in the near future asking for money … for green light bulbs.