Some of the more notable moments in Metroplex sports history happened three decades ago. For better or worse, 1988 was an unforgettable year in athletics locally – and nationwide – for many reasons.
Football legend Tom Landry was coaching his final game for the Dallas Cowboys, though not by his choosing. Dallas Mavericks basketball fans were prepping for what they thought was a stretch of title-contending seasons, though it was not to be.
On the college scene, the Southern Methodist University Mustangs football team made history in a way no team ever wants to duplicate. North Texas State University officially became the University of North Texas and said goodbye to baseball. Volleyball was the big sport on campus at the University of Texas at Arlington, and Texas Christian University was hardly the sports powerhouse it is now.
Some area high schools made nationals for vastly different reasons. While the Duncanville Pantherettes basketball team was in the midst of one of the longest winning streaks in history, the Dallas Carter Chaparrals, arguably one of the greatest football teams in Texas history, were forced to forfeit a state championship and several players paid even steeper prices for wrongdoings.
Hockey was not a factor in sports that year. The Dallas Stars were still the Minnesota North Stars, and although hockey had been popular at the minor league level over the years in the Metroplex, neither Dallas or Fort Worth had a team that year.
Tom Landry, the only head coach the team had known since it began play in 1960, ended his final season with a 3-13 record. It was the most losses in a season ever for the Cowboys.
All was not well in the business office of America’s Team either. Owner Bum Bright had become disenchanted, and his savings and loans were taken over by the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp. during the S&L crisis at the time. He was forced to sell the team to little-known Arkansas millionaire Jerry Jones on Feb. 25, 1989.
Immediately after taking over, Jones flew to Texas, met with Landry and announced he was firing the legendary coach.
Also playing his final season in 1988 was the “Manster,” linebacker Randy White.
But the future was on the horizon. Landry’s last season was also the first for wide receiver Michael Irvin, later to enter the Cowboys Hall of Fame.
A trivia question from that season. Who quarterbacked the Dallas Cowboys? Steve Pelleur for 14 games and Kevin Sweeny for two.
And in 1988, the Cowboys still called their stadium in Irving home.
Less than a decade after being born in 1980, the Dallas Mavericks had emerged as one of the best teams in the NBA. The basketball team had reached the playoffs previously, but this season was different. This was the season they would push the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, who had already won four titles in the decade, to the brink.
The Mavericks were coached by Don McLeod and ended the regular season with a 53-29 record, second in the Midwest Conference. They were led by future All-Stars Mark Aquirre and James Donaldson, along with standout Roy Tarpley.
In the postseason they disposed of the Houston Rockets 3-1 in a best-of-five series, followed by a 4-2 victory against the Denver Nuggets in a best-of-seven second round. Then came their first Western Conference Finals appearance.
The Lakers prevailed by virtue of home court advantage. They won their four games at the L.A. Forum, while the Mavs were 3-0 at Reunion Arena.
The Lakers would go on to become the first back-to-back NBA champions in two decades. The Mavericks, meanwhile, would suffer a decade of misery in the 1990s before next reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2003, the NBA Finals in 2006, and finally tasting glory with an NBA championship in 2011.
While the other two local professional sports teams gave fans much to talk about, the same could not be said about the Texas Rangers. They were a year away from signing Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan and from being bought by future Texas governor and U.S. President George W. Bush. The team finished 70-91 under Manager Bobby Valentine, sixth in the American League West.
TEXAS CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY
The Horned Frogs football team finished 4-7 with Coach Jim Wacker in the final year of a three-season penalty for players being paid. The team was 4-3 overall and 2-1 in the Southwest Conference after winning, 24-14, at home over Baylor on Oct. 22. But that was followed by four straight losses to Houston, Texas Tech, University of Texas and Texas A&M.
Coached by Moe Iba, the TCU men’s basketball team posted a 9-19 record and a first-round loss in the Southwest Conference Tournament. The Lady Frogs were 12-15.
The TCU baseball team was 24-35. The women’s soccer team was 11-5-1.
The Horned Frogs’ 4×400-meter relay team, anchored by Tony Allen, finished third at the NCAA championships. Also, sprinter Raymond Stewart won a silver medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics as a member of the USA’s 4×100-meter relay and was a finalist in the 100-meter dash.
SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY
The Mustangs football team made history during this time, for being the only program to date to be handed the NCAA’s “death penalty.” Though the penalty was actually handed down a year earlier, the school opted to add a second season in 1988 after having all of their home games taken away.
The violations began in the 1970s through maintenance of a slush fund to pay players. Though SMU had some great football seasons, posting a record of 51-7-1 from 1980-84 under coaches Ron Meyer and Bobby Collins, they ignored numerous warnings and penalties from the NCAA, leading to the ultimate penalty.
The SMU men’s basketball team, coached by Dave Bliss, posted a 28-7 record and defeated Notre Dame, 83-75, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. They were eliminated by Duke, 94-79, in the second round.
It was Bliss’s final season to coach the squad, which would have four straight losing seasons afterward. Bliss would later have his own infamy as part of a scandal at Baylor that would itself go down as one of the biggest in NCAA history.
UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT ARLINGTON
Volleyball took center stage for the Mavericks sports program as one of the top teams in the nation. Coach Lisa Love’s team finished 31-4 and advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight in her final season, winning a seventh straight Southland Conference championship.
The next season, Cathy George would guide UT-Arlington to the Final Four, adding two more titles to run its conference title streak to nine. Love was 40-0 in conference play during her seven seasons.
The Mavericks baseball team posted a 33-22 record and was third in the conference. The men’s basketball team finished 7-22 and the women were 5-22.
UNIVERSITY OF NORTH TEXAS
This was the first season the school became known as the University of North Texas, switching from North Texas State University.
The football team, coached by Corky Nelson, was still competing in NCAA 1-AA. It shocked Texas Tech, 29-24, and came close to pulling off an even bigger upset against the University of Texas before falling, 27-24. The season ended with a 7-0 loss to Marshall in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Eagles basketball team made the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance but lost, 83-65, to North Carolina in the opening round. The Lady Eagles finished 15-13.
The school fielded a baseball team for the final time in 1988 and finished 14-38.
TEXAS WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY
The Lady Rams volleyball team was among the best in the nation in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. It reached the national tournament for the third of what would be five straight seasons. Its 43-11 record is the second-most victories in school history, eclipsed only by the 45-22 team of 1982.
Lanny Wadkins captured the championship of the Colonial National Invitational. He posted a four-round total of 10-under-par 270. Down the road at the Byron Nelson tournament, Bruce Lietzke won in similar fashion. He shot a 9-under-par 271 through four rounds.
The biggest high school news of the season, not only locally, but in the state and nation, involved the Dallas Carter Chaparrals. With 21 players who signed to play college football, including NFL standout Jessie Armstead, the team was considered one of the best ever to put on a uniform in Texas history.
Led by a dominating defense, the Chaps finished 14-0-1 and won the Class 5A state championship, then the highest classification in the state.
But the celebration was short-lived. A controversy began even before the first playoff game, centered around a player’s algebra grade.
The team used several court decisions to continue playing, but in the end it had to forfeit the state championship to Converse Judson, whom it had defeated in the championship game.
The Chaps were later the subject of a movie, Carter High, and a recent ESPN 30-for-30 special that highlighted their problems, including a string of robberies that sent five players to prison.