Way back when I was in college, soon after the cooling of the earth’s crust, the always confident folks at the University of Texas (rivals in the region would use a different adjective) fired an interesting salvo at a key rival.
The marketers for the Tea Sippers created a burnt orange and white car window decal that simply said “The University.”
The message was clearly targeted at the humble Aggies over at Texas A&M University in their semi-military fortress. There was, you see, only one university of Texas and it was in Austin, not in College Station.
And in Waco?
While that hubbub lingered, someone at my alma mater had an interesting idea. They created a green-and-gold decal for the much smaller university on I-35 that said “Thee University.”
In other words, Baylor University answered to an authority even higher than the folks who ran higher education in the Lone Star State. That “thee” move was clever, since there was no way for Baylor people to deny that the school’s image was completely dominated by the fact that it was the world’s largest Baptist school. There was a reason that people liked to call Baylor — as a tribute, or with a touch of venom — “Jerusalem on the Brazos.”
After all, it’s hard to play truly Texas-worthy football when you’re a rather bookish Baptist school, the kind of place where just as many players, or more, frequent Bible studies as often as they do the local watering holes (ask for a Big O). Right?
Maybe not. Right now, the Baylor Bears are on a bit of a multi-year roll, riding the waves still rippling from that remarkable Heisman Trophy run (and pass) by Robert Griffin III, a church-going do-gooder who was as skilled in the classroom as on the gridiron.
So, how does anyone try to tell the Baylor story without mentioning the whole “Jerusalem on the Brazos” angle?
Ask the folks at ESPN.
To my shock, the world’s most powerful multi-media sports empire recently ran a lengthy piece on Baylor, Griffin and head football coach Art Briles without mentioning the word “Baptist” or the word “church.” How about “Christian”? How about “faith”? That would be “no” and “no.”
But what about the history and identity of the program?