September 24, 2014
A student reporter at TCU 360 called me this week and wanted to know, “What was it like playing against SMU?”
It made me think, and two things came to mind about SMU — the rivalry and playing against the “Pony Express” in the early 80’s:
I played against SMU four times from 1981-1984. The Ponies were in high-gear when I arrived at TCU. They had hired a hot shot coach named Ron Meyer from UNLV in 1976 and he was about to put his “Mustang” into high gear.
1980 was when SMU started to make a move, they had running backs Eric Dickerson and Craig James (and called them the Pony Express), an offensive line full of future NFL stars and a defense that in one year saw nine of the 11 starters go in the NFL Draft.
Nose Tackle Michael Carter was a dominant player and an Olympic shot-putter. In the back half, SMU had an All-American safety named Russell Carter (no relation to Michael). A Carter would punish you up front and in the secondary.
When they inserted freshman QB Lance McIlhenny as the starter in mid-October 1980, the Mustangs beat Texas in Austin and the run was on. SMU claimed part of National Championships in 1981, which was the best team I played against, by the National Championship Foundation, and again in 1982, by the Helms Athletic Foundation. They beat Dan Marino and Pitt, 7-3, in the 1983 Cotton Bowl to complete the program’s return to prominence.
TCU-SMU in those days was the real deal. Although the programs were at different places, TCU had talent and the late September date was always on your mind as the season neared. Things got heated. I recall in 1982 when our nose tackle Garland Short called out Craig James in an interview with local TV!
Those four games I played in were intense, hard-hitting, fun. And painful to lose. I’d love to play in any one of them again today. For some reason, the games played at the old Texas Stadium in Irving were especially good. In 1984, when the Frogs and SMU were both good, 60,000 crammed into Texas Stadium to watch — and weren’t cheated.
Here’s the scores of the four I had the privilege to play in:
Sept. 26, 1981
Amon G. Carter Stadium
SMU, 20 -9
Sept. 25, 1982
Sept. 24, 1983
Amon G. Carter Stadium
Sept. 29, 1984
We didn’t play for the Iron Skillet back then. It was lost and hadn’t been found yet.
But the memories and the impact over time on me and anyone who played in TCU-SMU are real. That’s what makes a rivalry.
Ask Dan Jenkins about the 1935 heart-breaker or about Lindy Berry vs. Doak Walker in 1948 or Don Meredith vs Bob Lilly in the 1950s. Those are great memories and that’s what rivalries are built on.
Let’s see what great memories the Frogs make on Saturday.
Kick ‘Em High!
John Denton has been the color analyst for the TCU Sports Network from IMG since 1988. A former standout for the Horned Frog football team, Denton went from walk-on to a four-year lettermen as a kicker and punter for the Purple and White from 1981-84 and completed his career at the 1984 Bluebonnet Bowl. Shown here with his former coach, the late Jim Wacker, Denton currently serves as the Director of Major Gifts for TCU Athletics.
Your comments are welcome
TCU should have beat SMU in 1983 and 1984.
Frogs had both of them won.
We won 17 straight from the 70’s into the 80’s….very one sided for almost two decades. It’s good to see tcu competitive again, helps the rivalry.
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