The Southwest Conference may have dissolved in 1996 but past members of the old conference still meet with regularity today. Of course, many of the SWC schools went on to become founders of the Big 12 Conference which forces the continuation of some of football’s best rivalries. However, there were many schools that were left out of the Big 12 and others that moved on to different conferences. Fortunately for you SWC lovers out there, this weekend is showcasing two prime SWC throwback matchups.
The Battle for the Iron Skillet
Southern Methodist University and Texas Christian University will be meeting for the 95th time this weekend (the most played series in SMU history and the second most played in TCU history). After WWII, the two schools created a travelling trophy that became known as the Iron Skillet. Unfortunately, over time the tradition eroded and the trophy was lost. 1993 saw the rebirth of the Iron Skillet tradition following a 21-15 SMU victory in Fort Worth.
While these two schools, separated by a mere 44 miles, maintain an intense rivalry today, perhaps no matchup is more memorable than the 1935 TCU-SMU showdown. In fact, if you ask alumni of these schools, they will likely tell you this game should be remembered as the, “Game of the Century,” a distinction that usually goes to the 1969 UT-Arkansas game (or a handful of others depending on your age and alma mater).
In 1935, SMU was 10-0 while TCU was 11-0, led by none other than Sammy Baugh. As the second to last game of the season, the matchup would decide who would win the SWC title, a bid to the Rose Bowl and, likely, be named National Champion.
If the pressure wasn’t high enough, the national media decided to make it a little higher. The National Broadcasting System came to the game, transmitting it across the nation, the first time any game from the southwest was put on a national broadcast (video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TN9N3ZkJiks). Along with the broadcast, dozens of sportswriters made the trip to Fort Worth, including legend Grantland Rice.
It wasn’t just the press who were interested in this game. Fans came from far and wide to watch the much anticipated spectacle. At the time, Among G. Carter only held 22,000 people but an estimated 37,000 attended the 1935 matchup. The masses pushed through gatekeepers and climbed fences, as everyone found a seat – official or not.
SMU was without All-SWC back Harry Shuford during the game, which led to Bob Finley making the play calls. Finley did an excellent job leading the Mustangs to a 14-0 lead. Of course, the Horned Frogs would not be beaten so easily. TCU clawed back, knotting the score 14-14 in the fourth quarter.
Frustrated by a stagnated offense, SMU head coach Matty Bell sent in Jack Rabbit Smith to take over play calling duties (Bell chose to keep Finley in at quarterback). During this time period, no one had invented a way of sending play calls in from the sideline, so coaches rarely knew what play was coming next. In 1935, Bell probably got the shock of his life.
With about half of the fourth quarter left to play, SMU faced a fourth and three at the TCU 39-yard line. On the sideline, Bell was certain his team would punt the ball and try to land it out-of-bounds deep in enemy territory. Instead, new play-caller Smith elected to fake a punt. Finley, who was also the team’s punter, lined up for the snap, hiked the ball and threw a pass to Bobby Wilson. Wilson caught the ball between two TCU defenders before diving into the end zone, taking SMU up 20-14 which would be the final score.
In those days, the final rankings would come out prior to the bowl season. The two major polls were the Dickinson Rankings and the United Press Sports Writers’ Poll (if you’ve never read about Dickinson’s ranking you should). Dickinson named SMU the number one team in the country while placing TCU at number eight. The United Press placed SMU second and TCU fourth.
With a SWC title and a national championship in hand, SMU would receive an invitation to the Rose Bowl to play Stanford while TCU would go to the Sugar Bowl to play a quasi-home game against LSU. In a time period when there were only four bowl games, the SWC sending two teams was a huge accomplishment. That year the only other conference to send two teams was the SEC who sent LSU and Ole Miss.
In a role reversal, SMU would fall in the Rose Bowl 7-0 while TCU would win, defeating the Tigers 3-2.
Over the course of the Iron Skillet rivalry, TCU holds the all-time edge 47-40-7 including last year’s 56-0 victory over SMU (the most lopsided result in the series history). In last season’s game, TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin threw for four touchdowns and ran for two more.
This year every fan will be hoping for a competitive battle in the spirit of the 1935 contest, despite the drastically different circumstances. Perhaps SMU head coach Chad Morris and quarterback Matt Davis can create some magic of their own to balance the proven commodity of Gary Patterson and Boykin.
The Distance Travelled
While the first SWC revival this weekend showcases teams less than an hour apart, the second SWC throwback will be showcasing the teams the furthest apart – Texas Tech and Arkansas. The two schools spent 32 years in the SWC together (1960-1992). Separated by nearly 800 miles, Arkansas and Texas Tech have played 36 times, with the first meeting coming on November 23, 1957.
While the all-time series drastically favors the Razorbacks 29-7, the game does have several compelling storylines. The Red Raiders will be making their first road trip to face an SEC opponent since 2003 when they travelled to Oxford and beat Ole Miss 49-45. The last time Tech travelled to face Arkansas? October 13, 1990. The game was a 47-44 victory for Tech in front of a crowd of 50,114 at Razorback Stadium
Of course last year, Arkansas beat Tech 49-28. In fact, Arkansas enjoyed a solid year against past SWC foes, beating Texas 31-7 and only losing to Texas A&M 35-28 in a tightly contested overtime game. However, Tech has won two of the last three meetings with Arkansas and in an unusual situation this early in the year, the two teams have faced a common opponent – UTEP. In week one, Arkansas defeated UTEP by 35 points, 48-13. In week two, Texas Tech dismantled the Miners by 49 points, 69-20.
After losing what will undoubtedly be one of the biggest upsets of the season last weekend, Arkansas promises to come out of the gates swinging this weekend. However, Tech has seen that the Razorbacks are vulnerable and now has the tools to top them. This promises to be an exciting game for the SWC fan in all of us.
This article was written and researched by Ryan Sprayberry, Collections and Exhibits Manager at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame