Sunday, December 6, 2009

Don't Know Much About...SMU

Bowls were finally announced yesterday.

First observation: as much as Packfan7 and others like to rag on Fresno State fans, they should be commended for taking this one for the team. Getting shipped off to the same bowl game two years in a row against a mediocre opponent is the equivalent of diving on a live grenade. Twice. Hopefully for the WAC's sake they can take care of business against a pretty average-looking Wyoming team.

Second observation: the folks at the Fiesta Bowl and the BCS have some balls. Big, shiny, chrome-plated balls that light up and play a tune that sings "You suck because you don't have musical balls." In the next few days, you're going to hear a lot about the outrage and controversy surrounding the Fiesta Bowl match-up, and a lot of it will be totally justified. But for one second, take a step back and marvel at the huevos it took for a room full of highly paid people in expensive suits to gather around a table and come to a decision like that one.

" can we minimize the risk of a BCS team wetting the bed on national TV against riff-raff like TCU and Boise State? And make it impossible for those same teams to earn any national respect? And preserve our cushy fake jobs? WAIT! Let's make them play each other! Goddamn we're smart! Someone give me a raise and fetch me another puppy to kick."

But enough of all of that. Nevada finally has a bowl destination and another opponent to train its sights on. Now the question is: how much do you know about the SMU Mustangs? Let's swipe the Wayback Machine from Mr. Peabody and see...

From the end of World War I to the Clinton administration -- 78 years, to be exact -- the Mustangs were a member of the old Southwest Conference. The now-defunct conference boasted a membership that (at one time or another) included Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Baylor, Rice, Texas, Texas A&M, TCU, Texas Tech and Houston before it was dissolved in 1996. Its former members eventually landed in the Big Eight (now the Big 12), the SEC, the WAC, the Mountain West and Conference USA.

During their time in the Southwest Conference, the Mustangs won three national championships and ten conference titles while appearing in eleven bowl games. Their players frequently received All-American recognition, and to this day the school's lone Heisman Trophy winner Doak Walker (pictured below) is the namesake of the award given annually to the nation's best running back.

By the 1980s, SMU was experiencing its golden years. But its boosters and supporters often found themselves breaking numerous NCAA rules in order to ensure the program could keep pace with rival programs two or three times larger than theirs. In the span of a decade from the 70s into the 80s, it was placed on probation five times. A "slush fund" of booster money was used to pay prospective and current players. The NCAA meted out bans on bowl games and TV appearances, too.

But in 1987 the NCAA felt it had no choice left but to bring the hammer down. The Mustangs' entire 1987 season was cancelled, as was half of the 1988 season. The program lost a total of 55 scholarships over the next four years, and was prohibited from appearing in bowl games for two years.

Needless to say, the impact was devastating. Even after the punishments were served, the program never again reached the dizzying heights it was accustomed to. Since the infamous "death penalty" was dealt and football officially came back in 1989, the Mustangs have gone 66-169-3, with only two winning seasons in that span and no bowl games. Until this year.

Knowing all of this, I'm amazed their return to postseason play isn't getting more national attention. Phrases like "life after death" and "rising from the ashes" sound cliched and melodramatic, but considering what this program has been through the last twenty years, they actually fit in this case.

In a future entry, Pistol Whipping the WAC will take a look at what the Pack can expect from this Mustang team in Honolulu.

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