While we've got some time here in the offseason, let's go over our history. Those who don't know their history are bound to think that the world started and stopped with Nick Saban. Perish the thought. If we're going to pull together to start a new, beautiful Southwest Conference, we may as well know who the hell we're inviting. This week let's get to know the Ponies from SMU. The NCAA tried to kill them off and yet here they are.
That one time Rice Beat SMU 146-3
SMU traveled to Rice for a game in November 1916. The game was the first meeting between the two preeminent private schools in the state. Many of SMU's star players were held out of the game due to academic issues. The result was a 143 margin for the boys from the Rice Institute.
The Houston Press summed up events like so: "SMU unable to gain was forced to kick. Generally, after one or two plays one of the fleet backs [from Rice] would get away and for a touchdown.
SMU great Doak Walker made his collegiate debut just two days after his discharge from the Merchant Marines, following the close of World War II.
Walker joined the Army in 1946, playing briefly for Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio before returning to SMU in 1947.
National Titles: 3
1935* Dickinson, Houlgate System, and Sagarin Ratings
1981* National Championship Foundation
1983* Helms Athletic Foundation
Conference Titles: 11
SWC - 1923, 1926, 1931, 1935, 1940, 1947, 1948, 1966, 1981, 1982, 1984
Doak Walker B 1947 , 1948 , 1949
Russell Carter DB 1983
Eric Dickerson RB 1982
Reggie Dupard RB 1985
Dick Hightower L 1951
Louie Kelcher DL 1974
John Lagrone DL 1966
Jerry Levias E 1968
Robert Popelka DB 1972
Kyle Rote B 1950
John Simmons DB 1980
Emanuel Tolbert WR 1978
JC Wetsel L 1935
Bobby Wilson B 1935
The schedule makers did SMU a favor in its return to NCAA football after a two-year hiatus due to NCAA sanctions; they schedule the Mustangs to play Rice. The odds weren't great, even against Rice. Playing their first game since November 1986, the Mustangs had just 41 scholarship players to Rice's 95 and only three returning letterman to Rice's 35. Rice finished 0-11 in 1988 and was more than happy to welcome the Mustangs back to college football. The game marked the first time Rice was favored against an opponent since 1979.
SMU issued 250 media credentials, overwhelming an Ownby Stadium press box that seated 45.
23,277 eager fans filed into Ownby Stadium, and SMU took the field with just seven players that had seen live college action. The result was predictable; Rice won 35-6. Still, the Mustangs led 3-0 after a Matt Lomenick 23-yard field goal three minutes into the contest. From then on it was Rice playing the unfamiliar role of bully, amassing 506 yards.
SMU opened its brand new $56 million on-campus stadium by welcoming Kansas to Dallas for the first game of the 2000 season. The game was the first on-campus game for SMU in six seasons and their first sell out since 1990. They enjoyed an SMU win, 31-17 over the Jayhawks. The Mustangs won their first game over a Big 12 team since 1986. They were 0-30-2 vs. Big 12 teams in that span.
Josh McCown threw for 164 yards and accounted for three total scores. SMU scored three touchdowns and a field goal in their first four possessions to get out of the gates quickly and then hold on.
As the saying goes, "if you ain't cheatin' you ain't trying." SMU is the poster program for the sentiment. SMU may have had the best team money could buy in the early 80s, but they were building on the SWC model, and if you believe the rest of the league was clear of any NCAA infractions, you're deluded. Everyone was bending the rules, SMU obliterated them. Still, it made for great football.
From 1981 to 1984 SMU won ten or more games four times, won or tied for the SWC crown three times, and finished 2nd in the final AP Poll in 1982. SMU was jobbed out of a National Title by a genuine East Coast bias that voted Penn State the National Champs in spite of their one loss to compared to SMU's one tie. The 1981 team finished 5th in the final AP Poll even though the Mustangs didn't get to go to a bowl due to NCAA entanglements. The 1984 team finished 8th, and the 1983 team finished 12th.
As the only team that's been assessed the Death Penalty, we now know what the Death Penalty does to a program. The sanctions destroyed SMU's football fortunes for the better part of a decade. From 1989 to 1995 the Mustangs averaged 1.8 wins a year, assembling a record of 13-61. Forrest Gregg's resurrection of the program was the feel-good story of the late 80s, but the obstacles to climb over to respectability were far too high for the young Ponies to conquer.
After two Gregg seasons, SMU turned to Tom Rossley, an assistant with the Atlanta Falcons, to take over while Gregg focused on his job as athletic director. Rossley looked to have things moving in the right direction with a 5-6 season in 1992, but over the next three years, his teams would win just four games.
Linemen don't get much more dominant that Louie Kelcher. The consensus All-American totaled 22 sacks as a senior on the Hilltop. A giant at 6-5, 275 pounds, Kelcher walked around in size 17 EEE shoes and had a size 16.5 ring finger.
Kelcher came to SMU from now-defunct Beaumont French high school. He made All-SWC twice, including defensive player of the year in 1974. During the '74 season, Kelcher averaged 15 stops a game, from his defensive tackle position, including 24 against Texas A&M. The consensus among SWC coaches and linemen was that Kelcher was the toughest interior lineman in the league, capable of moving sideline to sideline and shutting down 2/3 of the wishbone.
San Diego draft Kelcher in the second round of the 1975 draft and made the Pro Bowl three times in nine seasons. He also won a Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers in 1985. He is enshrined in the Chargers Hall of Fame.
What's the biggest give-up/beating segment on your local sports radio show? The Mount Rushmore Discussion. It's the worst. Here's a question for Dickey and the Weasel as they debate the four greatest left-handed starters for the Brewers, who's on the Mount Rushmore or Mount Rushmores? You have to put Mount Rushmore right? Or are there other Mount Rushmores more deserving? Debate that before taking "if you could start your franchise with any player besides Lebron James" calls.
Anyway, here are the seminal figures in SMU history.
Eric Dickerson: The Icon
Dickerson might be the most important player to attend SMU. At the time no one thought a player of Dickerson's caliber would eschew Texas and A&M to attend school on the Hilltop but Dickerson did. And yes you can bitch and moan about whatever incentivized Dickerson to head north, but lots of schools were incentivizing. The Sealy grad broke Earl Campbell's mark for carries and yards and finished third in the 1982 Heisman balloting behind Hershel Walker and John Elway. In 1999, Dickerson made the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Jerry Levias: The Barrier Breaker
A point of pride for many fans in the 1960s was that the SWC achieved dominance without the need of African American athletes. While coaches wanted to recruit the best athletes in the state, no one dared to do it until Hayden Fry traveled to Beaumont to talk to Jerry Levias. Levias had hundreds of scholarship offers but chose SMU, becoming the first African American player to play in the league in 1966. An electric player on the field, Levias led SMU to their first Cotton Bowl since the 1940s. Off the field, LeVias called his years at SMU "living hell" due to the abuse he received from opposition players and, to some extent, his contemporaries. Levias was a three-time All-SWC selection and a consensus All-American.
Kyle Rote: The Face
From San Antonio Jefferson, Kyle Rote went to SMU after a stellar three-sport high school career. Most thought his future was in baseball, but Rote chose football and the Ponies. Rote was the most recognizable face in college football. In a historic game in 1949, in a near upset by SMU over Notre Dame, Rote ran for 115 yards, threw for 146 yards and scored all three SMU touchdowns in a 27–20 loss. The Texas Sportswriters Association voted Rote's performance as "The Outstanding Individual Performance by a Texas Athlete in the First Half of the 20th Century." Rote was runner-up for the Heisman in 1950, and the New York Football Giants drafted him first overall in 1951.
Doak Walker: The Natural
Walker didn't travel far to get SMU, but the journey was different than most. A Highland Park grad, Walker, joined the Merchant Marines out of high school and played his first game at SMU two days after his discharge. After playing for SMU in 1945, Walker enlisted in the Army and spent 1946 away from the program. By 1947 he re-entered SMU and became a phenomenon. Walker played everywhere for the Ponies, a halfback, a defensive back, handled kickoffs, returns, and averaged 42 yards a kick as a punter. Walker was a three-time All-American and won the Heisman in 1948. Authorities expanded the Cotton Bowl due to his popularity. He went onto a Hall of Fame career with the Detroit Lions.