Horse Play

Can a new football stadium put SMU back in the saddle?

The death penalty may be a hot issue this election year, but when the topic comes up on the campus of Southern Methodist University, more often than not it evokes February 25, 1987: the day football died. Thirteen years ago the NCAA sentenced the Dallas school to the death penalty—the only time in college football that a university has been banned from playing—crippling the storied program that produced Doak Walker in the late forties and the famed Pony Express in the early eighties. The decade following the Mustangs’ return to the field in 1989 has been notable only for its lack of notability: They’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name.

On September 2, however, SMU will unveil Gerald J. Ford Stadium, part of a $56.8 million complex built on the site of the old facility, Ownby Stadium. While big-time football may have left SMU, big money obviously never did. The university hopes that the largest athletic investment in its history will serve to unite the student body and restore a sense of identity lost during a decade of fumbling around in a post-sanction concussion. At stake for SMU, though, is much more than proving that its boosters can donate in a legal manner. The question is, Can a shiny new home wipe the slate clean?

Of course, no one really knows. However, the excitement surrounding the season opener against the Kansas Jayhawks is a feeling that Mustang fans have not had for a long time (check out the countdown to the game—measured to the tenth of a second—at That energy is entirely attributable to the stadium, and the 32,000-seat arena is indeed a beaut. Resolutely built in the Collegiate Georgian style of the rest of the campus, its horseshoe-shape and the redbrick arches of the facade conjure the classic associations of college football: breezy fall afternoons, the band playing after a score, Keith Jackson in the booth.

Recruiting was and always will be difficult for a school of 10,000 students, like SMU, as it must compete against bigger, better-known universities, like

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