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The Athletic article about the 1989 team v. Houston

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The Athletic article about the 1989 team v. Houston

Postby South Bay Mustang » Tue Oct 22, 2019 7:50 am

The Athletic has a nice article this morning talking about the 1989 team and all they went through, including the game versus Houston. Since the Athletic has a paywall, I've pasted the article here (although you should consider subscribing if you aren't already):

‘Everyone was in it together’: 30 years after allowing 1,021 yards to Houston, the 1989 SMU team is still revered

By Chris Vannini

When Mike Romo tore his ACL, he figured his football playing days were over.

This was 1987, when sports medicine wasn’t what it is today, and he was just a high school quarterback in San Antonio. Nobody thought he could get back to playing at a high level. Certainly not the college coaches recruiting him.

The interest he received from some of the top teams in the Southwest Conference dried up. His dreams appeared to be dashed. So he thought about attending the University of Texas as a regular student.

Nobody needed him. Until a school up north started looking for anyone.

In January 1988, Romo got a phone call from Forrest Gregg. The Forrest Gregg, one of the greatest NFL players of all-time, the person Vince Lombardi once called the finest player he’d ever coached. The 54-year-old Texan was the former Green Bay Packers head coach who’d resigned to take the SMU head coaching job. This was not a phone call you turn down.

Gregg wanted Romo to come to Dallas and see what plans he had for SMU, despite the injury. “Plans” might be oversimplifying it. This was SMU in the middle of the NCAA’s death penalty. There was no team in 1987, per NCAA orders. There would be no games in 1988, per an SMU administrative decision. Most players had transferred to other schools with no penalty or just stopped playing football. This wasn’t a rebuild. Gregg had to build from scratch.

So he called Romo. He had to call Romo, because SMU wasn’t allowed to recruit off-campus or pay for prospects to make official visits until fall 1988. He needed Romo to come to Dallas to see him. It was the only way he could get players.

For Romo, here was a chance to play football again, in the most difficult position imaginable. So he went to Dallas.

“After sitting down with him, I bought into what they wanted to achieve,” Romo says.

With no games in 1988, Romo would have time for his knee to heal. So on Feb. 10, 1988, Romo drove up again and became the first player to sign with SMU after the death penalty ruling. Romo was one of just 15 players Gregg was allowed to sign in that class — players who knew they wouldn’t play any games that year. It didn’t matter. It was a chance few else would give them.
Restarting a program from scratch had its inherent challenges.

Thirty years ago this week, the 1989 SMU team was on the receiving end of the biggest offensive pounding in FBS history. On Oct. 21, 1989, Houston put up 1,021 total yards in a 95-21 win over the Mustangs, the only time anyone in the FBS has racked up 1,000 yards in a game. It may never happen again. In part because we likely won’t see a team hit with the death penalty again, and also because of how Houston kept attacking.

But 30 years later, that game isn’t what defined those teams. Instead, it was everything that led to it and what happened afterward that the people involved remember most.

At SMU, the 1989 team is among the most celebrated in school history. Not for the results — the Mustangs finished 2-9 — but for the fight it showed in the face of insurmountable odds.
“Everyone had a different reason why they chose to play, but at the end of the day, everyone was in it together,” Romo says.

At Houston, the season ended with a Heisman Trophy for Andre Ware and nine wins. But it began with its own problems.

It’s almost comical to look back on the NCAA penalties against Southwest Conference schools in the 1980s. It was far from just SMU and its death penalty.

From 1985-88, seven schools in the SWC were placed on probation in football or basketball. There were only nine schools in the conference.

In December 1988, it was Houston football’s turn. The NCAA hit the program with three years of probation, a two-year postseason ban, a television ban for 1989 and major scholarship reductions. It was the result of an investigation into 250 violations from 1978-86, including blatant payments to players.

Under Jack Pardee, who was hired in 1987 amid a cleanup, Houston had its best season in a decade in 1988. The Cougars won nine games and finished third in scoring, led by Ware, and then penalties came down. Despite the violations coming under a previous staff with players no longer in the program, this set of Cougars would face the brunt, just like what had happened at SMU.

As part of the penalties, players were told they could transfer without penalty. But unlike SMU, these players had a team to come back to.

“Not one person left, and we all kind of realized that we had something special that was being built,” Ware says. “We all wanted to be a part of that. So no one flinched, no one left. And I think we all benefited in the long run.”

The 1989 Cougars began right where the 1988 team left off. They scored more than 60 points in three of their first four games. It was evident Ware was going to put up more ridiculous numbers in coordinator John Jenkins’ run-and-shoot offense. Jenkins remembers the team’s punter coming to him after two games, concerned that he wouldn’t earn a varsity letter because he’d punted only once.
“We’re not going to go to a bowl game. Guess what, guys? I said we’re going to make every game a bowl game,” Jenkins says. “We’re going to give every team we play the death penalty. How ’bout that?”

“We were pretty tired on defense,” jokes former defensive tackle Craig Veasey. “I remember some games we had over 100 snaps on defense because the offensive would go out in three plays and score. It was like we never got off the field.”

When SMU week arrived in mid-October, coaches told the team the starters would play only one quarter or half. Jenkins says he asked the NCAA that week if he could let equipment managers play. Pardee knew the matchup difference. He knew what was going to happen.
“He knew they were young,” Ware says.

That’s putting it mildly.

Nobody thought SMU would win a game in 1989. Why would they? SMU had only 41 scholarship players, compared to 95 for most everyone else (except those under penalty, too). Gregg was allowed only five full-time assistants, instead of nine, and more than half of the Mustangs’ 22 starters were freshmen. The team had 73 freshmen out of 89 total players. Stricter academic standards further limited the pool of talent.

“First of all, these boys have no game experience,” says Dale Lindsey, then the SMU defensive coordinator and now the head coach at the University of San Diego. “Last time they played a game was two years ago in high school. And we’re not playing Little Sisters of the Poor.”

Only three lettermen remained from the 1986 team. Wide receiver Mitchell Glieber stayed at SMU after the death penalty because he didn’t have pro football aspirations and enjoyed school. Wide receiver Michael Bowen, who started on special teams in 1986, transferred to Georgia after the death penalty but returned to SMU for 1989. He wanted to save it.

“I always loved SMU. That was my team,” Bowen says. “That’s the team I always dreamed of playing for. When the rug was ripped out under me, I liked Georgia and I liked playing for Vince Dooley, but my heart was with SMU. My heart was in Dallas.”

So Bowen returned to a team made up of mostly freshmen — all but 16. Bowen, Glieber and the older players became the leaders by default.

“A lot of walk-ons, guys out there playing that I seriously questioned whether they even started on their high school football team,” Glieber says. “But they practiced hard, they worked hard in the weight room, they made a ton of progress from when they first got there. And when we actually began playing games in ’89, you could see the progress being made.”

That progress met reality in an opening 35-6 loss to Rice — a team that had lost 18 consecutive games. It signaled that the season could get rough.

Two weeks later, SMU hosted UConn, then a Division I-AA team, and found itself trailing 30-14 with less than eight minutes to play. But a furious comeback included Romo throwing a game-winning touchdown pass to Bowen on the final play. The extra point gave SMU the 31-30 win, dubbed “The Miracle on Mockingbird,” named after the street where the stadium sits.

For the community, years of frustration were let out in that celebration of the program’s first win in three years.

“It was a great victory,” Lindsey says. “Everybody went crazy. I don’t think anybody in their right mind expected us to win a game that year.”

The celebration was short-lived, however. Southwest Conference play swung into full-gear in the following weeks: a 45-13 loss to Texas, a 28-10 loss to TCU, a 49-3 loss to Baylor.

Then came Houston, which was favored on the betting lines by nearly 60 points.

It was quickly clear this matchup — which was not televised, thanks to both programs’ live TV bans — would be lopsided.

The Cougars kicked a field goal on their first drive. Two touchdown runs gave them a 17-6 lead midway through the first quarter. And then Ware started to heat up.

He threw a 62-yard touchdown late in the first quarter and a seven-yard TD early in the second. SMU’s defensive backs were no match for Houston’s speed, and Ware told them that.

“I remember telling Marcello Simmons, a defensive back for SMU, to go to the sideline and tell the coaches to put them in zone,” Ware says. “Then at least we would have to work the ball down the field rather than them trying to play press man and giving us opportunities to go over the top or big plays after the catch. They tried to play it that way and wound up paying a heavy price for it.”

SMU cut the lead to 31-14, but Ware responded with four more touchdown passes in the half, including an 87-yarder to Brian Williams. At halftime, Houston led 59-14.

“I remember sitting on the sideline next to one of my buddies on the team, and we were kind of on a knee,” Glieber says. “The defense was on the field, and they threw another bomb, and the guys running for the touchdown, we looked at each other and, like, almost broke out laughing because it was kind of ridiculous. I mean, there wasn’t much you could do at that point.”

At halftime, Ware had already broken several FBS records, including most touchdown passes in a quarter with five (later broken by teammate David Klingler), most passing yards in a quarter with 340 (later broken by UNLV’s Jason Davis) and most passing yards in a half with 517 (still stands, previous record was 372).

“We had freshman defensive backs, and they did not have people behind them,” Bowen says. “They played the entire game. We did not have a second team. We had starters and then that was it. They were playing the whole game. They had no chance.”

Houston, for its part, did pull the starters and throw in all the backups. But when backup quarterback David Klingler took over, Houston still threw the ball around.

“This was a great opportunity for him to show what he could do,” Jenkins says.

Klingler threw a 46-yard touchdown pass on the first possession of the second half. He also had a 53-yarder and a 74-yarder. Klingler threw 20 passes in the second half, and one account said 12 were deep passes. That’s when the animosity started.

“I don’t see any point in going for the home run again and again like they did in the second half,” Gregg said after the game, according to The New York Times. “I don’t think it’s necessary and I don’t appreciate it. They had their second and third defense in there in the second and third quarters, but I didn’t see any reason why they had to keep sending in fresh receivers to blow by our kids, who were obviously tired.”

The lead ballooned to 81-21 by the end of the third quarter. In the fourth, Klingler threw a 74-yard touchdown pass and a 16-yarder.

On Houston’s final drive, the Cougars passed the 1,000-yard mark. At SMU’s 17-yard line, they let the clock run out instead of going for 100 points. The last college team to score 100 was Houston’s 1968 squad against Tulsa, a mark that still has yet to be matched. The final score on this day in 1989: 95-21.
The final stats were mind-blowing: 1,021 total yards (shattering the previous record of 883 set by Nebraska against New Mexico State in 1982), 771 passing yards (previous record was 698 by Tulsa vs. Idaho State in 1967), 10 passing touchdowns (tying a record, which the team broke the next year). According to the Los Angeles Times, only one of Houston’s 14 scoring drives lasted three minutes. Four lasted fewer than 50 seconds.

The total of 1,021 yards still stands as the single-game record at all levels of NCAA football. Nobody else has reached 1,000 yards.

The craziest number involved the most exhausted person in the stadium: Jason Lee, who was the Houston mascot and continued a new tradition of doing push-ups equaling UH’s point total after each score. Ninety-five points meant 682 pushups. No one was more excited when Houston opted against crossing the 100-point mark.

“I was in pretty good shape, but the cheerleaders helped me once we got in the 80s and 90s,” Lee says. “I’m sure by the end I was doing some head-bop push-ups.”
Everyone knew SMU would face troubles as the football program returned from the death penalty. No one expected this.

“It’s like, how much is enough?” Lindsey says, looking back. “How much does your ego need for you to be satisfied?”

Also notable was the run-pass balance: just 25 rushes compared to 61 passes. Though the Cougars did average 10 yards per rush.

“We don’t like people coming in and pumping the brakes, but run the ball some or do something,” Bowen says. “To do that, they were running up the score to try to break records, and if that’s what you want your team culture to be, that’s what it was then. So be it. But we were angry.”

Those on Houston’s side maintain they were simply running the offense, particularly against the way SMU was playing man defense, and if backups and third-stringers are going to come in, shouldn’t they get a chance to actually play?

For his part, Pardee didn’t want the Cougars to reach 1,000 yards or 100 points. Current Houston athletic director Chris Pezman, a special teams player on that team, says Pardee was upset at Jenkins for continuing to throw the ball. Pardee and Gregg were longtime friends, dating back to their NFL days, but the result put a serious strain on that.

“I’ve been dreading this game all year,” Pardee said afterward, according to the LA Times. “It was a no-win situation for us. We can’t have our players go out and do less than their best.”

But the damage was done. The records were set. The crater was left in front of 20,009 fans at the Astrodome.

The SMU yearbook later noted of the game, “Media across the nation sympathized with SMU for having to play through such a nightmare.”

The next week, Houston lost at No. 13 Arkansas, but the Cougars won their final four games to finish 9-2 and No. 14 in the country. Ware won the Heisman Trophy after the 64-0 finale at Rice, making him the first black quarterback to win the award. He set 26 NCAA records that season, finishing with 4,699 passing yards and 46 passing touchdowns, numbers almost unheard of at the time.

The No. 14final ranking was Houston’s highest since 1979. It was a positive feeling to end the season, despite the lack of a bowl trip, one year after harsh NCAA penalties for violations that didn’t involve this team.

“It was just a special group,” Ware says. “There were plenty of us that could have gone to other schools, and other schools contacted in a roundabout way kind of gauged your interest. But the guys stayed together and worked together. In today’s college football world, I don’t think that would have ever happened. It was a close-knit group realized there was going to be there was something special. We had no idea what it was, but we knew we were on the verge of something special.”

Jenkins describes the group as a close fraternity that will never die. As athletic director, Pezman has a coaster on his desk made from a photo of that 95-21 scoreboard, because it was the first game he played in. That Houston offense led the nation in scoring at 53.5 points per game.

SMU finished last in the nation in scoring defense (45.4 points per game). After the Houston loss, Glieber and team captains called a players-only meeting ahead of a matchup with I-AA North Texas.
“We just told everybody, ‘Hey, this was a tough outing, but we’ve got to put it behind us, we have an opportunity this week to play against a team that we match up better with,’ ” Glieber recalls. “Everybody needs to go out there and go all out. I remember talking to a couple of those guys that were on defense and just saying, when you make stops, if you sack a guy, get up fired up and show emotion. The rest of the team will feed off of that. And it did.”

One week after allowing 95 points, SMU gave up just nine in a 35-9 win over North Texas. After their lowest low, the Mustangs could celebrate again.

It would be the last time that season. SMU closed the season with four consecutive losses, all to top-20 teams, three on the road, including a 59-6 defeat at Notre Dame in which the Irish put on the brakes when the game got out of hand, which Houston hadn’t done. To some, it was embarrassing to be treated like that, with Irish players running out of bounds. To others, it was sportsmanship.

To their credit, the Mustangs never quit, all the way to the end. In the regular-season finale at No. 9 Arkansas, SMU trailed 20-7 at one point, but rallied to a 24-23 lead in the fourth quarter. It eventually wore down in a 38-24 defeat.

“We really had no business playing with them on paper, but you can’t measure heart,” Romo says. “You can’t measure all of the intangibles that a team has, which, which makes college football great, an interesting week in and week out. … They basically wore us down but to be ahead in that game in the fourth quarter just spoke volumes about what the team was about and the belief that we had in each other.”

That’s what members of the 1989 SMU team think about when looking back. It’s not the 95 points or the mercy other teams showed. It’s the incredible uphill climb they faced and the way they faced it together.

Three years later, in 1992, SMU got its revenge. The Mustangs beat Houston 41-16 at home. Nearly everyone from the 1989 team was gone by that point, but they all saw it or heard about it and celebrated in their own way, many reaching out to each other.

Lindsey returned to coach in the NFL after the 1989 season, and while with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1991, Tim Ryan, a rookie out of Notre Dame, told him SMU was the toughest team they played in 1989. It obviously wasn’t the closest game by any means, but he said other teams quit against the Irish that year, and the Mustangs didn’t, as futile as it was.

“I never coached a group of kids that had more courage,” Gregg told The New York Times in 2012. “They thought that they could play with anyone. They were quality people. It was one of the most pleasurable experiences in my football life. Period.”

When Gregg died this past April, around 30 of his SMU players served as honorary pallbearers.
“We were the proverbial David versus Goliath, and we believed with our little sling and rock, that we could take down the giant because we had faith in our coach and what he was telling us,” Bowen says.
This wasn’t the Pony Express, teams loaded with pro talent that won conference championships. There was no Eric Dickerson or Craig James. Some players didn’t like how they were looked down upon by those ’80s teams in the 2010 documentary “Pony Excess.” But the school itself has celebrated the group. Many returned for a 30-year reunion earlier this season, and they’ll be back to celebrate Gregg’s memory at homecoming next month.

The reunions come as SMU is in the middle of its best season since the death penalty. It is 7-0 and ranked No. 16 in the AP poll entering Thursday’s game at Houston. Celebrating this team is easy.
Few programs would celebrate a 2-9 season. But only one team had to return from a death penalty.
“I don’t know what you would like in or compare it to, but I don’t think you can go through a challenge like that, and not come out of better on the other side, a stronger person,” Romo says. “The ties that were built that year, the camaraderie, the experiences are second to none. Talking with people and understanding what they’re up to today, and the successes that they’ve had in their work life and with their families, like, you can take all of those experiences, apply those in so many different ways.
“I like to think that our team was known for its tenacity and fight, despite the greatest of odds.”
SMU Class of 1993
1989: 2-9
1990: 1-10
1991: 1-10
1992: 5-6
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Re: The Athletic article about the 1989 team v. Houston

Postby bubba pony » Tue Oct 22, 2019 8:20 am

OK, a long article and I was going to just skip over it. Once I got to reading it, it was well written and makes me appreciate what that team went through.
alos, I hate Houston for running up the score. will never forgive them.
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Re: The Athletic article about the 1989 team v. Houston

Postby BUS » Tue Oct 22, 2019 9:01 am

Thank you and rip houston a new one.
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Re: The Athletic article about the 1989 team v. Houston

Postby SmooBoy » Tue Oct 22, 2019 9:47 am

Longest and drunkest Mustang Band bus ride back to Dallas. Pardee wanted 100 no doubt. Jenkins is an absolute @$$hole.

We shan't forget.
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Re: The Athletic article about the 1989 team v. Houston

Postby Dukie » Tue Oct 22, 2019 9:58 am

SmooBoy wrote:Longest and drunkest Mustang Band bus ride back to Dallas. Pardee wanted 100 no doubt. Jenkins is an absolute @$$hole.

We shan't forget.

Hey now, this *can't* be true, because it's right there in the article that Pardee was "upset" with Jenkins for continuing to throw the ball...

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Re: The Athletic article about the 1989 team v. Houston

Postby smitty329 » Tue Oct 22, 2019 10:45 am

South Bay Mustang wrote: Wide receiver Michael Bowen, who started on special teams in 1986, transferred to Georgia after the death penalty but returned to SMU for 1989. He wanted to save it.

“I always loved SMU. That was my team,” Bowen says. “That’s the team I always dreamed of playing for. When the rug was ripped out under me, I liked Georgia and I liked playing for Vince Dooley, but my heart was with SMU. My heart was in Dallas.”

So Bowen returned to a team made up of mostly freshmen — all but 16. Bowen, Glieber and the older players became the leaders by default.

I think we have our pre-game pep talk candidate - Michael Bowen
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Re: The Athletic article about the 1989 team v. Houston

Postby SMU Pom Mom » Tue Oct 22, 2019 11:16 am

Absolutely fantastic article. Made me tear up a little, not gonna lie.
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Re: The Athletic article about the 1989 team v. Houston

Postby Pony ^ » Tue Oct 22, 2019 12:42 pm

I'll say it again, the Athletic is worth every single penny
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Re: The Athletic article about the 1989 team v. Houston

Postby NTXCoog » Tue Oct 22, 2019 12:53 pm

SmooBoy wrote:Longest and drunkest Mustang Band bus ride back to Dallas. Pardee wanted 100 no doubt. Jenkins is an absolute @$$hole.

We shan't forget.

If Pardee wanted 100, he could have easily had it. Took a knee 3 times inside SMU's 20. 1-2 handoffs would have done it. Backup RB Kimble Anders had already rushed for about 50 yards on that drive on 3 carries.
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Re: The Athletic article about the 1989 team v. Houston

Postby PlanoStang » Tue Oct 22, 2019 1:12 pm

BTW, our 89 freshmen got a little revenge their senior year :!:

Date Opponent Att. Result Score
11/7/92 Houston * 14,273 W 41-16
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Re: The Athletic article about the 1989 team v. Houston

Postby JoeKidd » Tue Oct 22, 2019 1:32 pm

We owe Houston a few more good beat downs like the one we gave them in 2012. I'm smelling a pick 6 and us pounding them on the ground.
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Re: The Athletic article about the 1989 team v. Houston

Postby SMU89 » Tue Oct 22, 2019 9:54 pm

Great article. Got to remember, respect, and never forget those players.

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Re: The Athletic article about the 1989 team v. Houston

Postby SMUstang » Mon Dec 23, 2019 11:40 am

I was there at Ownby Stadium when SMU returned from the "Death Penalty". I remember well the first game against Rice and the game against UConn. I left when the Ponies were still two touchdowns behind. I never left another game early after that. I still have that first program with all of the information in it about Forrest Gregg and others.

It's been a long long long journey. Gregg, Rossely, Cavan, Bennett, Jones, Morris and finally Dykes. And the SWC, the WAC, C-USA, and finally the AAC. TCU always seemed to do it right. Improving each year on the field. SMU seemed to be spinning its wheels. Hopefully now that has changed.

I began to lose interest during the Bennett years and Jones never seemed like an SMU coach. He never seemed to care that much, or wear SMU gear, even on the sidelines during games, he probably was past his prime. Morris never excited me though I guess he could recruit well. Thank God for Sonny Dykes, a 10 win season has restored my faith in the Ponies.

I'm sure I am not the only one who still remembers the glory days of the Pony Express and Reggy Dupard, etc. But we are certainly getting older.
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Re: The Athletic article about the 1989 team v. Houston

Postby SMUstang » Tue Dec 24, 2019 2:12 pm

And many are no longer here.
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Re: The Athletic article about the 1989 team v. Houston

Postby mrydel » Tue Dec 24, 2019 4:35 pm

Some on here went to school with Dandy Don and others like myself with Jerry LeVias, Chuck Hixson, Gary Hammond, et al. And we are still alive, kicking, and supporting the ponies.
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