Traveling all over the country like I do to attend a different college football game each weekend has led me to many great experience, and every so often I to run into an unexpected gem. This past weekend was my first time visiting Southern Methodist University in Dallas and I fell in love with this campus and all it had to offer. I strolled onto campus and immediately ran onto the “Boulevard” which is tailgate heaven. The University has modeled this area after The Grove at Ole Miss. It’s probably about a mile long, of pure tailgating through what is a residential campus area. Live music, great games and events for the kids, and plenty of good fun adult activities. People were very friendly and engaged, even with the opposing team’s fans. Many Temple fans had made the trip, with a chance to double-dip — the Eagles were also in town to play the Cowboys. Gerald J. Ford Stadium is located on campus and is easy to get to. The stadium itself is also very open and clean.
SMU football began in 1915. In June of 1915, the University hired Ray Morrison to coach the football, baseball and basketball teams. The team was known as the Parsons, as most of the team members were theology students, and SMU began play in the Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The first game played was a 13-2 win over Hendrix College. In October 1917, SMU officially changed its name to the Mustangs and they joined the Southwest Conference in 1918. Other conference members included Rice, Arkansas, Oklahoma A&M, Texas, Baylor and Texas A&M. Having left SMU to report to Fort Oglethorpe when the United States entered World War I, Morrison returned to coach the Mustangs in 1920. He brought with him a former teammate from Vanderbilt named Ewing Freeland. The two combined to create an innovative passing offense that became known as the “Aerial Circus.’ Morrison later became known as, “the father of the forward pass”, due to the team’s use of passing on first and second downs, instead of as a play of last resort. At the time, most teams utilized the forward pass five to six times in one game, while SMU did so between 30 and 40 times. Morrison still ranks as the most successful coach in SMU history, with a career mark of 84-44-2.
Hayden Fry became the eighth head coach in SMU history. When Fry took the job at SMU, it was with the promise that he would be allowed to recruit black athletes. Fry and the school wanted to make certain that the player they recruited was not only a good athlete but also a good student and citizen. Fry found that player in Jerry LeVias. LeVias was a great player, an exceptional student, and mentally tough. He became the first black player signed to a football scholarship in the Southwest Conference. Fry received a lot of abuse for recruiting a black player to SMU in the form of hate mail and threatening phone calls, but he downplayed the treatment because the harassment of LeVias was much, much worse. The 1966 team put SMU football back on the national stage and won SMU’s first conference championship in 18 years. Fry was named SWC Coach of the Year, but Fry would be fired after the 1972 season.
SMU hired Ron Meyer in 1976 after his success as an assistant with the Dallas Cowboys in the 1970’s. Meyer became infamous for his recruiting ability, as he would relentlessly recruit from all over the country. He recruited players like Eric Dickerson and Craig James, who later became known as the “Pony Express.” The 1981 SMU team finished the season at 10-1, winning the National Championship.
THE DEATH PENALTY
In 1987, SMU football became the first football program in collegiate athletic history to receive the “Death Penalty.” The football program was terminated for the 1987 season because the University was making approximately $61,000 in booster payments from 1985 to 1986. It later emerged that a slush fund had been used to pay players as early as the mid-1970’s, and athletic officials had known about it as early as 1981. At the time, I thought we would never see football at SMU again. But in 1989, the football program was reinstated, hiring Forest Gregg from the Green Bay Packers at head coach. As a graduate of SMU and an NFL Hall of Fame inductee, Gregg carried an air of respectability. But the task proved to be too much for Gregg, as all of the good players had transferred out to other schools. Gregg lasted for two years compiling a 3-19 record.
In 2008 SMU made a bold move to hire Athletic Director Steve Orsini. He figured he needed to make a big splash to get SMU football back in the spotlight, so Orsini then immediately hired June Jones from Hawaii. The move was met with skepticism. Jones was known as an offensive genius, but he had, had a checkered past with NCAA allegations himself. Things started out on a rocky note — in his first season at SMU, the team had a 1–11 record. In 2009, Coach Jones’ second season at SMU, the Mustangs had a turnaround season, compiling an improved regular-season record of 7–5. They were invited to their first bowl game since 1984, where they defeated Nevada 45-10. Jones had only marginal success at SMU finishing with a 36-43 record but he did lead SMU to four bowl games, where he went 3-1.
FUN FACTS ABOUT SMU FOOTBALL
* SMU plays all their home games at Gerald J. Ford Stadium.
* The Mustangs have a lifetime Bowl record of 7-8-1.
* SMU claims three National Titles (1935, 1981 and 1982)
* SMU has won 11 Southwest Conference Championships.
* Doak Walker won the Heisman Trophy in 1948.
* The Mustangs have produced 16 All-Americans, which include, Bobby Wilson, Doak Walker, Kyle “The Mighty Mustang” Rote, Don Meredith, Jerry LeVias, and Eric Dickerson.
* The marching band is known as, “The best-dressed band in the land.”
* The mascot is the “Peruna” more to come!
The biggest rival of SMU is TCU. The schools are located just 40 miles apart in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Both schools are in constant battle off the field as well, for the talented recruiting that takes place in the area. These two were intense rivals back in the SWC days. TCU now plays in the Big 12, while SMU is in the American Athletic Conference today, but they still play for the Iron Skillet, a tradition started by TCU and SMU fans back in 1946. Back then, during pre-game festivities, an SMU fan was frying frog legs as a joke. A TCU fan, seeing this desecration of the frog, went over and told him that eating the frog legs was going well beyond the rivalry and that they should let the game decide who would get the skillet and the frog legs. TCU won the game, and the skillet and frog legs went to TCU. The tradition eventually spilled over into the actual game and the Iron Skillet is now passed to the winner. TCU leads the series 51–40–7 through the 2018 season.
SMU and North Texas have created a fun little rivalry called the “Safeway Bowl.” Its name is derived from a challenge from then UNT head coach Matt Simon issued in 1994 after a two-year break in the series, stating “I’d like to play because I think we could beat them, and my players feel the same way. If they’d like to play on a Safeway parking lot … just give us a date and time.” The rivalry between SMU and North Texas is the most one-sided rivalry for the Mustangs.
I’ll be perfectly honest. I thought I knew all about Doak Walker, but I had no idea he attended SMU. Walker won the Heisman Trophy in 1948 and the Maxwell Award in 1947. Walker was named an All-American for three straight years. In his college career, Walker rushed for 1,954 yards, passed for 1,638, scored 288 points and oh, by the way, had a 39.4 punting average. Walker is an icon here, he has his own statue and a plaza dedicated to him. After college went onto the NFL, where he played for the Detroit Lions.
PERUNA THE MASCOT
I’m still laughing about the dirt I dug up on this mascot. While sitting at the game, this gentleman asks me if I have heard about Peruna, the legendary Shetland pony mascot. He goes on to tell me a story about how Peruna is the only mascot to have killed another mascot. Well, I did my research and this is true. First a little research. The name “Peruna” is actually a popular patent medicine (18 percent alcohol). The name “Peruna” is given to each successive live mascot. Peruna made his debut in 1932, and since then a black Shetland pony has been present at every SMU home football game. On Halloween of 1934, Peruna escaped from his on-campus living quarters and was struck and killed by an automobile on Mockingbird Lane. The event devastated the SMU community and sent the entire university into mourning. Since then, the university has moved Peruna’s living quarters to a Dallas-area ranch. Perhaps the most infamous incident involving Peruna is the football game where he killed the mascot of the Fordham Rams. During the game, the Fordham handlers led the Ram too close to the Mustang, and it was killed instantly with a kick to the head.
This mascot has some colorful stories to share. During the fifteen-year reign of Peruna V, he gained a reputation of arrogance…..his lively prancing, rearing and biting were good examples of SMU’s fighting spirit. Toward the end of his reign, he kicked out the side of his stall (which happened to be the baggage car) on his way to Lubbock. In Chicago for the 1953 Notre Dame game, Peruna V was put up at the posh Stevens Hotel, had elevator privileges, and drank from the washbasin while being cared for by Burl Luscombe. Alys and George A. Richards, a former Peruna Handler, recalled a story from 1959 when they were hauling Peruna to a Texas game. As they drove, the radio programming was interrupted to inform the audience that Peruna had been “horse napped” by UT students who would display him at the game the next day. They continued to Austin and arrived at the game with Peruna in tow. The UT student body was surprised to see the real Peruna parade in because the wrong stolen horse was there also….minus its tail and mane. This bad boy was also caught defecating at midfield at TCU, which prompted a huge backlash.
Head Coach Sonny Dykes and his squad have captured the attention of the entire Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex. The Mustangs were ranked for the first time since the infamous death penalty, and No.19 SMU was looking to stay unbeaten against a tough Temple opponent. It turned into a record-setting day, as QB Shane Buechele dissected the Owl secondary. Buechele started early by finding Reggie Roberson in the endzone on a 33-yard scoring strike. Roberson later added a 75-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. Buechele ended the game with six touchdown passes. He also passed for 457 yards, both career highs in the 45-21 victory.
“We thought coming into the game we had some favorable matchups with some of our skill guys, and we had to execute,” SMU Head Coach Sonny Dykes said. “Shane obviously made some really great deep throws, and Reggie made some plays.” The Mustangs enjoyed a 655-to 273 yard edge over the Owls.