Frogs are known to have beguiling powers. Kiss one and it may become a prince. Lick one and you might find yourself on a psychedelic trip. If you’re hurt, invoke one’s colita and you’ll be healed by tomorrow at the latest.
Make an all-powerful, sentient one your unofficial mascot and you might find yourself in the College Football Playoff championship game — or at least that’s the case for the Texas Christian Horned Frogs.
During the last few years, the Fort Worth-based team has embraced the Hypnotoad — a recurring bit character from the animated sci-fi series “Futurama” (the twice-canceled program is currently being revived by Hulu) — because of the amphibious commonality between the character and a horned frog. In the show, Hypnotoad is a toad that has hypnotic powers capable of putting anyone and everyone in his trance. Those entranced by the being are overwhelmed by his large eyes with oscillating pupils and the aggressive whirring he releases before they loudly proclaim, “All glory to the Hypnotoad.”
Fans and those associated with TCU have thrown him on merchandise, meme and video compilations — you name it, they’ve Hypnotoad-ified it.
“Copyright infringement is the sincerest form of flattery. I know everybody at ‘Futurama’ is really pleased to have the Hypnotoad become a symbol of whatever he’s a symbol of … Hypnotoad and rabid football fans make a perfect symbiotic partnership,” Matt Groening, creator of “Futurama” and “The Simpsons,” told The Los Angeles Times of the character’s newfound life among TCU fans.
“I’ve seen the giant videoboards at games and have to say they’re very impressive, I think it’s a great secret weapon for TCU. If I were Georgia, I’d give up.”
The origin of the Hypnotoad’s bond with TCU goes back a few years.
In 2015, then-assistant athletic director Drew Martin had just returned from a Horned Frogs game against Minnesota and noticed the Golden Gophers played the popular dramatic chipmunk YouTube video on their videoboard to distract opposing kickers when they tried a field goal. Martin loved the idea so much that he told his staff TCU needed a similar video to play at their games.
Being a fan of “Futurama,” TCU video coordinator Clayton Regian suggested the Hypnotoad as he felt like the creature had a natural connection to the Horned Frogs. So, beginning in 2016, Hypnotoad was displayed on the videoboard when opposing kickers attempted field goals.
The mind-controlling amphibian now appears in videos created by the TCU production team where his image is accompanied by a bunch of random clips from movies and TV shows and he is always at the center of attention causing the chaos.
“We just kept getting crazier and crazier with it to where, like the these past couple of years pretty much anytime Hypnotoad gets on the screen, it gets a great response from the crowd,” Regian said. “Hypnotoad has a way of just getting through to everyone, regardless of age or demographic.”
Regian loves the fan reaction that Hypnotoad has gotten, but he’s found the TCU player reaction most amusing.
“[Players] always get the random Hypnotoad question and then they’ll just start laughing because they understand how ridiculous it all is,” he said.
“Hypnotoad and rabid football fans make make a perfect symbiotic partnership. I’ve seen the giant video boards at games and have to say they’re very impressive, I think it’s a great secret weapon for TCU. If I were Georgia, I’d give up.”
Matt Groening, creator of “Futurama” and “The Simpsons”
TCU receiver Quentin Johnston didn’t take note of the meme overload videos until a few games into the season, but when he did, he couldn’t help but take in the toad’s powers.
“I started getting a little tranced,” the junior said of his encounter, “[I had to] look away from this thing.”
Even though his influence can occasionally overtake a player, other Horned Frogs assured that Hypnotoad’s presence was a blessing.
“You ain’t even got to see it, you just know, you hear the whole crowd going crazy,” senior cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson said of the frog’s presence. “Just to have the Hypnotoad — I’m very thankful.”
Offensive lineman Steve Avila said that it’s always exciting to catch the Hypnotoad on TV or on fan merchandise, adding that his pervasiveness is “definitely something to be proud of.”
While TCU players can’t help but get inspiration and look to reach new heights at merely the thought of the Hypnotoad, the figure’s use in the football world got Groening reflecting on the nadir that was his high school football career.
“I still have nightmares about it because I was untalented,” he said. “I was always on the line, I was either a guard or a tackle. I couldn’t run. I couldn’t catch. I couldn’t throw … but I could get in the way.”
Similar to TCU, Groening tried to employ intimidation tactics during his playing career, but never quite got the response he wanted from his opponents.
“To intimidate the other team, I put a piece of masking tape on my helmet that said ‘Mad Dog.’ They just laughed,” he said.
“Futurama” writer Eric Kaplan said he came up with the Hypnotoad for the show’s 2001 episode, “The Day the Earth Stood Stupid” because at the time he had become interested in mind control and hypnosis.
“I was intrigued by the notion of a being that could control what people believed and thought,” he said. “We were doing an episode where there was a futuristic pet show and I thought it’d be funny if the reason why one animal won was because it had the ability to hypnotize judges.”
Kaplan finds the connection between fans and Hypnotoad a natural communion. According to him, part of the allure of fandom is joining a group consciousness and the hypnotic powers of Hypnotoad fit into that.
He still finds himself awed by the real-life power the frog holds.
“I created Hypnotoad and he hypnotizes people, and he’s really hypnotizing people in real life. So it’s almost like the boundary between the world of imagination and the world of reality has become porous and permeable,” Kaplan said.
“Futurama” showrunner and executive producer David X. Cohen believes there’s only one obvious reason why TCU fans have become enamored with Hypnotoad.
“I’d say the most likely explanation for the phenomenon is that Hypnotoad was directly responsible for the team’s outperformance this year, and TCU fans rightfully recognized that,” Cohen said. “Credit where credit is due. Hypnotoad is the 12th man on the team, or 12th amphibian. A leader on and off the field, and also in several other dimensions.”
“You ain’t even got to see it, you just know, you hear the whole crowd going crazy. Just to have the Hypnotoad — I’m very thankful.”
Senior TCU cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson
Cohen loves that people are still fired up about Hypnotoad and that the goofy creature is intensifying the fan experience every week, but expressed shock and gratitude about the frog’s enduring power, given that he was written as a one-off character.
“I am always very excited if something I had a hand in takes on its own life,” he said. “It doesn’t happen often, and honestly, it is a joy when other people get excited about something we liked behind the scenes but expected to fly under the radar.”
One message all the “Futurama” creatives had in common was “Go TCU” and “All glory to the Hypnotoad.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
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