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Friday, February 26, 2021

Mauch on Sport: Don’t tell these fans it’s not a rivalry

Ask most folks in Fort Worth and Dallas and they’ll tell you the biggest rivalry in these parts is the TCU Horned Frogs vs. the SMU Mustangs. Nationally, Frogs-Ponies may not have the glitz of Longhorns-Sooners, Alabama-Auburn, or Michigan-Ohio State, but this ain’t the nation, this is the Metroplex, and around here it’s one heck of a rivalry.

Sure, it might have lost some of its luster since due to the teams not playing in the same conference for more than two decades. And, with TCU competing in the Big 12, a Power Five Conference and SMU relegated to the American Athletic Conference, the odds of them facing off in the College Football Playoffs is about as likely as Ozzy Osbourne recording a country album.

And maybe it lacks some of the bitterness of those aforementioned rivals, but is that a bad thing? You’re not likely to hear anyone say, “My two favorite teams are TCU and whoever is playing SMU.”

“It’s always been a friendly rivalry, and that’s one of the great things about it,” said Sandy Hargrove, a 1981 SMU graduate. “My whole family bleeds purple, but I’m a Mustang, baby!

“I would put this rivalry right up there with the best of them. I remember the old Southwest Conference, and TCU-SMU was always a highlight.”

I didn’t grow up in the Metroplex, but I got here as quick as I could, and it wasn’t long after my arrival in 1996 that I decided this was home for good. I’m not going to say it’s because of this rivalry, but one of the first things I do remember is the euphoria Frog fans felt when despite going 1-10, TCU defeated SMU 21-18 in 1997 to keep the Mustangs out of a bowl game.

“We were on the field as students, and we tore the goal posts down. We chanted, ‘1 and 10, do it again,’ ” said 1999 graduate David Greer.

I didn’t ask for clarification but I’m going to assume the “do it again” was beating SMU, not repeating a one-win season.

SMU’s 41-38 win Saturday at Amon G. Carter Stadium came in the 99th meeting of the series. With the exception of the 1987 and 1988 seasons (when SMU suspended its program) and 2006, the teams have played every season since 1925. TCU leads the series 51-41-7, with 17 wins in the past 20 meetings.

But we all know what they say about rivalries. You can take the record book – or I guess today it would be your mobile downloading device – and throw it out the window. Every year, every fan believes it is their team’s time to win. For SMU, that was true this year after dropping seven straight to the Frogs.

As dominant as TCU has been in the series the past two decades, SMU was once just as dominant, winning 15 straight from 1972-86.

The Horned Frogs’ largest victory in the series was 56-0 in Dallas in 2014 (they also won 62-7 in Dallas in 2000). SMU’s biggest victory was 40-0 way back in 1923.

“It’s a great rivalry,” said Paul Walker, a 1984 TCU graduate. “One of my favorite parts of the history is going over and painting statues. I also remember when the (SMU) band created that logo on our field with rye.”

Walker was referring to when the SMU marching band used rye grass seeds to create an “M” shape – their trademark formation – on the Amon Carter Stadium field in 1999. Also, fans painted TCU cars with shoe polish reading, “I ‘heart’ SMU” in 2005.

Then, in 2007, SMU fans snuck onto the field at Amon Carter Stadium and used weed killer to write “PONY” with a spray-painted up arrow.

TCU fans put purple dye in the water in a fountain on SMU’s campus, along with covering the doors of a band practice facility with stickers promoting the TCU band.

“I think for the community outside the universities, it’s something to bring the two cities together,” said Marvin Hester, who didn’t attend either school, but is a fan and annual attendee of the rivalry nonetheless.

Likewise, Holly Schaal attended neither school, but calls herself an “honorary Frog” because her husband went to TCU, and agrees the rivalry is great for both cities.

“It’s fun – Fort Worth and Dallas competing for bragging rights. It continues the friendly nastiness between the two cities,” she said.

The rivalry has certainly brought families together. Ironically, many families are split in their loyalty, with some members who went to TCU and some to SMU.

“I’ve been a part of this rivalry since I was born. My dad went to SMU,” said Grover Cribbs, who graduated from TCU in 1982. “My favorite memory, by the way, is when (Dale) Hansen came on TV and said ‘We got ’em.’ Of course, we got it, too, a little bit later.”

Cribbs was referring to the SMU Pony Excess scandal that resulted in the aforementioned two-years of not having a team, one because they became the only team ever to receive the NCAA “death penalty” and the other self-imposed. TCU was later put on probation for its own NCAA violations a few years later.

“I go to all the games in Dallas,” said Lynn Humphries, who graduated in 1972. “I played baseball at SMU. Remember when they had baseball?” (SMU dropped baseball in 1980) “This is about my third game here (in Fort Worth).”

Humphries said he came to this year’s game to tailgate with his son and daughter-in-law, and because both teams were off to good starts. In fact, SMU came in at 3-0 for the first time since 1984.

“I know with them being in a Power Five conference, they play tougher teams, but we have a pretty good team ourselves. I’m hoping for a good year,” Humphries said.

It’s been a long time since the Mustangs have had a year that put them in the realm of national prominence. Not so long for TCU, of course. That is a major difference in this rivalry, and one that has actually prompted a few folks in Fort Worth to suggest doing away with the annual contest against SMU.

I’m not alone in saying that is not a good idea. Rivalries make the sports world go around. Sure, Texas and Texas A&M are doing just fine not playing each other, as are Oklahoma and Nebraska (well, not so sure about the Cornhuskers), but would college football be better if they played annually? You bet your Iron Skillet, Old Corn Jug, or whatever other trophy goes back and forth between rivalries it would be.

“A lot of young people don’t remember how great the rivalry has been throughout its history,” Cribbs said. “Let’s keep it going, especially if SMU is going to keep getting better.”

Humphries agreed: “They’re 30 miles apart, it’s a great event once a year. SMU’s getting better. Keep it going. Don’t stop it now.”

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