The history of TCU versus SMU football game is as long as it is heated.
The teams in the heart of Texas have battled it out 99 times, making this Saturday’s game their 100th meeting. TCU leads the rivalry being 51-41-7 against the Mustangs, with their first meeting being in 1915 here in Fort Worth.
Over the 106-year-long feud, many memorable games have taken place that added fuel to the heated rivalry between the two schools and cities. From The Cotton Bowl to battling for a spot in the Rose Bowl, the two powerhouse schools of the Dallas-Fort Worth area have fought to secure bragging rights and the right to be called the best team in North Texas.
1935: TCU does not smell the roses
The year 1935 was a big one for both programs as they each looked to make it to one of college football’s biggest stages. Top-ranked TCU faced No. 4-ranked SMU in a game that would decide who would go to the Rose Bowl. At a game that was called “The Game of The Century” by The New York Sun, 36,000 people attended Amon G. Carter Stadium, even though the stadium only held 30,000 people at the time.
The tightly packed fans witnessed a miraculous play that sealed TCU’s fate in what was the second-largest audience at a Texas football game at the time. With the game tied 14-14 in the 4th quarter, SMU quarterback Bob Finley lobbed a deep pass on TCU’s own 37-yard line to Bobby Wilson, who made what was called a “miraculous catch” and stumbled right into the end zone for the win. This loss caused the Sammy Baugh-led TCU Frogs to miss out on the Rose Bowl, which only strengthened the rivalry between the teams.
1947: No perfection for the Mustangs
The 9-0 Mustangs expected to walk away with an easy victory against the 4-4-1 Frogs in a game that would have given them a perfect undefeated season in 1947. Future Heisman winner Doak Walker was a Swiss Army man for the Mustangs, putting up 119 yards rushing, two touchdowns, passing the ball 14 times, as well as kicking both field goals and extra points.
Nevertheless, TCU was up 19-13 with a minute and a half left on the clock. SMU marched down the field and put up another score to make it 19-19 with only 25 seconds left. All SMU needed to win was a simple extra point from Walker to clinch a perfect season. Walker missed the extra point, and TCU was able to tie the game up to stop their bitter rivals from having a perfect season.
1948: The Cotton Bowl matchup
After the thrilling 19-19 tie a year prior, The 8-1 Mustangs and the 4-5 Frogs were looking to get a victory against their in-state foe on one of the biggest college stages, the Cotton Bowl. The stadium in the heart of Dallas welcomed 67,000 people to see the two hearts of Texas battle it out. This season was Walker’s Heisman year, and he looked to cap it off with a win against the Frogs.
TCU lead most of the game 7-0 until a 4th quarter pass from SMU tied it up 7-7. For the second year in a row, SMU could not win against TCU and was forced to carry an 8-1-1 record for the season.
1997: If we can’t win, neither can you
TCU had one of its worst seasons ever in 1997, sitting at 0-10 before their matchup with SMU. The Mustangs had fallen on hard times after the NCAA dropped the death penalty on them back in 1987, as the ruling crippled their program for years. Now, SMU was looking at brighter days, as they were 6-4 and needed just one more victory to snag their first bowl appearance since 1984. All they needed to do was beat the 0-10 Frogs to go bowling, but TCU had other plans.
SMU started the game off by putting up 10 points in the first 10 minutes of the game. Then, TCU retaliated and scored 21 unanswered points to take a convincing lead. Despite a touchdown and a successful 2 point conversion from SMU with three minutes left in the fourth quarter, TCU managed to hold on to the victory and win their first game of the season.
The Mustangs’ four interceptions on defense were not enough to make their bowling dreams come true, as TCU’s run game by both Basil Mitchell and then freshman LaDanian Tomlinson (a combined 138 yards on the ground) helped them secure the victory. This game not only stopped SMU from getting to the postseason, but it also proved that even as underdogs, TCU was going to come to play against their bitter rivals.
2014: The massacre at Ford Stadium
In 2014, TCU had one of their best seasons as a program, as the team was on pace to win the Big 12 and go 12-1. At the time, the Horned Frogs were the new kids on the block in the Big 12, having just joined in 2012. SMU was not as lucky, as long-time head coach June Jones had resigned a few weeks prior to the game. The 3-0 Frogs looked to make a statement against the 0-3 Mustangs in Dallas to prove why they belonged in a Power 5 conference.
TCU ran over SMU offensively. Quarterback Trevor Boykin threw for 280 yards and 4 touchdowns and ran for 67 yards and an additional 2 touchdowns on the ground. Running back B.J Catalon ran for 118 yards and a touchdown as well, while the Horned Frogs defense held SMU to only 156 passing yards and two yards per carry on the ground. Even TCU backup quarterback Matt Joeckel threw a touchdown while relieving Boykin in the 4th quarter.
SMU stood no chance, as TCU put up a whopping 56 unanswered points in a shutout win against the Mustangs. The game had the largest margin of score in the matchup’s history. TCU would go on to be ranked No. 6 in the polls while SMU crawled to a 1-10 season, making this matchup one of the biggest victories for the Frogs in recent history.
The battles between these two storied programs have gone on for longer than the players playing on Saturday have been alive and there are no signs of that stopping anytime soon. Both teams have not played against one another since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the 2020 game between the two teams was canceled. Whether TCU regains the Iron Skillet or SMU keeps it in Dallas will be determined this Saturday at Amon G. Carter stadium.
The Iron Skillet
Depending on which side of the DFW area you are in, you will hear two different accounts about the origin of the coveted Iron Skillet. TCU’s account of how the trophy came to be was in 1946, where SMU’s student council thought of a peculiar idea: the winner of each of their football games should be awarded an iron skillet as a trophy. SMU passed the idea along, and TCU’s student council agreed to the idea.
SMU’s account is drastically different from TCU’s telling, as SMU claims a tailgate dispute in 1946 to be the origin of the Iron Skillet. According to legend, an SMU fan was frying up some frog legs at a tailgate in Fort Worth before a match between the teams. A Horned Frog fan saw this and took offense to the act, telling the fan they should not eat the legs and fry them. Rather, the TCU fan suggested whoever won the match should also win the skillet and eat the legs. SMU won that match and in turn, ate the legs and kept the skillet. This then eventually bled into the official matches and a skillet was awarded to the winner.
Both accounts are mere stories at this point and no one, Frog or Pony, knows the true origin of the unusual tradition. No records were kept of the origin of either official sanctioned trophy or a fan dispute as a true fact. Rather, the legends of how the prized trophy came into existence will continue to stand disputed as the two teams continue to face each other for years to come.
TCU takes on SMU in Fort Worth on Saturday at 11 a.m.