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Why this could be the year SMU succeeds in getting Dallas to

Postby AfricanMustang » Wed Oct 09, 2019 11:57 am

SMU football is trying yet again to PonyUp fans from outside the Park Cities — and this might be the season it wins us over.

Undefeated through five games and boasting a spot in the The Associated Press Top 25 football poll — its first appearance there in more than three decades — this team deserves to see a lot more fans in the stands when it takes the field at Ford Stadium on Saturday against Tulsa.

SMU’s winning record is its most effective advertising, but credit the Mustangs branding team for its share of nifty moves as well.

This season’s “Born and Raised” neighborhood billboard campaign spotlights homegrown SMU players and coaches from Oak Cliff, Arlington, Pleasant Grove, Mesquite, DeSoto, Southlake, Cedar Hill and, yes, even Highland Park.

On game day, the team has twice trotted out a new uniform — the jerseys emblazoned with a retro “Dallas” script across the front and helmets with the Mustang icon in the middle of the City of Dallas logo.

These are bold moves for a school mostly located in University Park and whose football team has been an afterthought — if even that — for years. More significantly, the efforts reflect a growing partnership between The Hilltop and Dallas City Hall that’s bigger than college game days.

Nothing captures people’s imaginations like a university’s football success, and second-year coach Sonny Dykes is intent on making the most of this chance. “From the moment I got the job, this was one of the most important things to me — that we did again become Dallas’ team,” Dykes told me this week.

That means marketing his Mustangs throughout Dallas and making sure that everyone “feels welcome in our stadium, has a great experience and wants to come back,” Dykes said.

Under Dykes’ leadership, the athletic department has offered free youth football camps in southern Dallas the past two summers. Every Friday of a home game week, SMU players participate in community service events in Dallas. Just before Thanksgiving, the coach and his wife, Kate, will again host their Turkey Blitz at the Duncanville Fieldhouse, which provides hundreds of families the ingredients for super holiday meals.

“We want SMU to be more available, more accessible to everybody,” Dykes said. “That is part of the reason for our billboard campaign. I want kids to see those billboards and say, ‘You know what? If I want to, I can go to SMU. Whether I’m playing football or not doesn’t really matter; I can see myself as a student at SMU. I can be successful there.’”

The Mustangs have had their share of marketing disasters. I hate to think about how much money was spent a few years back on the “SMU is ...” campaign. Jokesters had a field day with the yard signs: “SMU is ... losing to TCU,” “SMU is ... not Dallas’ team” or “SMU is ... the best team in the Park Cities.”

I’ll also confess that my first reaction to the team’s Dallas uniform was something along the lines of “how dare they co-opt my city?” But the significance — especially its homage to SMU alum Lamar Hunt and his Dallas Texans team — caused me to rethink my original snarky attitude.

A billboard at the corner of I-35E and Illinois Avenue features Demerick Gary, a Kimball grad from Oak Cliff in Dallas. (Brian Elledge / Staff Photographer)

It also doesn’t hurt SMU football’s cause that a lot of elected officials in Dallas now have its back.

Mayor Eric Johnson has talked at every opportunity about the city’s pride in the Mustangs. “I believe that SMU and their athletics should be Dallas’ college athletic program,” he said recently

Twenty-two acres of SMU’s campus, on the east side of North Central Expressway, are in Dallas City Council District 14, something that its new representative, David Blewett, regularly points out.

Blewett, who played defensive end for the Mustangs in the 1980s, told me this week that his alma mater has wanted to play a much bigger role in Dallas for a long time. “SMU has been somewhat timid over the years. They kind of reach out their hand. But for a number of years, there’s not been a hand to reach back.”

That hesitancy is understandable. The smarty-pants crowd takes great pleasure in dubbing anything remotely connected to the Park Cities as part of the Evil Empire intent on taking over Dallas.
But SMU doing well — whether in athletics or academics — reflects well on the city of Dallas.

“SMU is reaching out, Dallas is reaching out. And it’s all happening amid this converging wave of success,” Blewett said.

Council member Tennell Atkins, who also graduated from SMU and played running back there in the 1970s, pointed out that partnerships between the school and the city aren’t new. For instance, SMU located its new golf training center at southern Dallas’ Trinity Forest Golf Club.

“But the spotlight hasn’t shined on the school like it is right now,” Atkins told me. “The timing is good for both of us. Highland Park and University Park may be the hole in Dallas’ donut, but to get to SMU you have to come through Dallas.”

The school’s head Mustang, President Gerald Turner, is excited about this year’s football success, which he points out “is a unique experience for any Mustang less than 35 years old.”

But he doesn’t want would-be supporters to miss the deeper connections. More than half of SMU students come from out of state, Turner said, “and since most of them accept positions in Dallas after graduating, we are a significant source of talent for our city.”

Dallas’ most senior residents remember with pride back to the days long-ago when the SMU Mustangs were Dallas’ football team — before the Cowboys rode into North Texas.

Historian Darwin Payne, whose work includes the SMU history book 100 Years on the Hilltop, told me wonderful stories of the 1940s-era team, led by Heisman Trophy winner Doak Walker, filling the Cotton Bowl on Saturdays.

A decade before those triumphs, Payne recalled, 10 trainloads of SMU supporters traveled to the 1936 Rose Bowl, only to see their undefeated team fall to Stanford, 7-0.

“For years, SMU got the extensive print coverage and huge photo spreads that the Cowboys now receive,” Payne said.

Mustang Mania painted Dallas in red and blue marketing as recently as the 1970s. But not long after that, the Mustangs committed a series of NCAA recruiting violations that led to the “death penalty” closure of the program in 1987.

“Things have never been the same since,” Payne told me. “People lost interest, and the deep love affair with the Cowboys flourished.”

Dykes is not the first SMU coach in the post-death-penalty era to understand that his program’s long-term success needs support from Dallas. But he has the personality — and team talent — to make that happen.

His favorite refrain, sung by most everyone I interviewed this week, is: “We don’t have to be your favorite team; we can be your second-favorite team, your hometown team.”

Dykes said that when his players visited Dallas City Hall last week with the Iron Skillet trophy they won in their defeat of TCU on Sept. 21, the reaction of the regular folks they spoke to in the hallways meant the most. “Just the people who work there, like the police officers, who high-fived them and said, ‘Hey, you guys are off to a great start. I haven’t paid attention to SMU in a long time but now I do.’”

Dallas loves a winner — and SMU has provided just that in the last five weeks. How about if we return the favor and PonyUp when they take the field against Tulsa on Saturday? Tickets are still available.

https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/comm ... -football/
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
― C.G. Jung
AfricanMustang
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