A Historic Look into Mustang Football's Game-changing Season

We should all be paying attention to Mustang Football right about now. This  mythic season is something that myself and many other SMU football fans only had wildest dreams about. For every game I’ve sat through this season the thought is always there in the back of my mind: Is this the turnover that loses us the game? Will this tackle take down our quarterback for good? When is it all going to end?  My worries have yet to come to fruition as the Ponies charge on into their 6-0 (six wins, zero losses) streak. So for those of you who may not know why this season is so historic or how it came to be, gather around the water cooler as I tell you the story of the Pony Express. 

Image via Vladmir Cherry 

The Glory Days

In 1983, hair was big, houses were bigger, and football was biggest. Oil and gas flowed freely, lining the pockets of the wealthiest in Texas. Dallas was Dallas—home of the Cowboys, two-time Super Bowl champions and the famed TV show “Dallas” – when everyone was asking “Who shot JR?” You know the stereotype of SMU: filthy rich, socially and politically connected, walking around like we own the place? That all came from this time. Football was important because it wasn’t about winning, it was about bragging rights. The following Monday after the college game, a yuppy investment banker could go into work and brag to his colleagues that his football team was better than theirs. During this time, the coach was Bobby Collins with his star players Erick Dickerson and Craig James. They ranked extremely well in the Top 25 and led their divisional conference. However, the Pony Express would soon be horrendously derailed.

The Death Penalty

“Everyone was doing it.” Every football school was using illegal bribing techniques to get good players to come to their schools and many were caught and punished for it. Out of the nineteen football schools in Texas, SMU had it’s fair share of recruitment schemes and penalties until it all came crashing down. 

How bad were these bribes, you ask? Think about expensive cars, resources for your family who might not be well-off, and a weekly salary that’s comparable to an actual sports career. This was all accomplished with a booster club that created a slush fund; think of those yuppy investment bankers who want nothing more than to see their team do well. You know Clements Hall? It’s named after Bill Clements, who was the Board of Governors for SMU and the mayor of Dallas from 1982-1986. He was a lead actor in the slush fund/booster club operation which got out to the public and ended his campaign for reelection. 

SMU had already been on three years of probation for illegal recruiting, but the hammer came down in 1986. For any school that was a “repeat violator” of breaking recruitment rules, the Death Penalty would be imposed. For two years, SMU football did not exist: no team, no scholarships, no games, no endorsements and no type of recruitment whatsoever. 

Image via Vladmir Cherry

Building the Power House

35 years later and here we are at a 6-0 undefeated season as of October 5th. How did we get here after 35 years of essentially nonexistent football? Let’s start with the most public and recognizable changes: the swap from Chad Morris to Sonny Dykes and Ben Hicks' transfer. As you might have heard, Chad Morris went to Arkansas (where he hasn’t really done anything worthy of note). Second, "Pick Six" Hicks went with Chad Morris to Arkansas and well, the last time I checked, we haven’t lost a game to an interception so… Finally, the most important part of the team is the players, most of whom are transfers from top football schools. 

The Dallas Rebrand

If you're a football fan who's been going to the games, you might have noticed that the new jerseys and campaign signs are causing quite a positive stir. The football team has taken to heart that in the golden age of Mustang Football, SMU was Dallas’s college football team. Digging deeper, the team's players come from all over Texas, including our wide receiver, James Proche from DeSoto and our quarterback Shane Buchele from Arlington. SMU wants the Dallas community to spend their Saturday night at Ford Stadium, and I think it's finally going to happen. 

A Football School Once More

I feel so lucky to be a senior when the SMU Mustangs are taking off once again. I wanted football to be a big part of my college experience but after three years of nothing, I never in my wild dreams expected something like this. Now? I watch every game, home or away, and scream at every second of play. I went to TCU with friends to watch us take down our rival on their terf, cheering along with all the other SMU fans. I went and stayed  at the Tulsa game, watching us make one of the greatest comebacks in all of SMU footballs history. We had a 1.7% chance of winning the game as predicted by ESPN. I screamed along with my parents as we watched James Proche make such a difficult catch it was orginally ruled as out of bounds because the referee didn't believe his foot was in the endzone. Wathcing the replay along with the rest of the stadium and hearing the roar errupt as we saw what is clearly designated a touchdown. Rushing the field along with every other student who stayed in the madness that was triple overtime to bask in our team's glory of 6-0.

Despite all this, my favorite memory was watching the Mustang football team, after the final touchdown was confirmed, sprinted across the field. Not to the team or their coaches--but to the grass. They sprinted to where all the students were chanting their names. They leaped the fence into the fans so joyfully awaiting them so they can be with their SMU family who was with them the whole game. For a school that can be so divided and cut-throat amongst its students, I’m starting to see that little bit of school spirit weave its way together. Coming together as a community is the power that sports can bring to a place like SMU. 

If you’ve never been to a game, now’s the time to whip out your red and blue, because we’re all watching history in the making. 

Image via Flickr