Sizzling Rivalry: Why the TCU-SMU battle goes beyond the Iron Skillet

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    Rivalry isn’t a strange thing for brothers Joe and Asher Richardson. Their duel isn’t so much a sibling rivalry, but a collegiate one.

    Joe is a 2012 SMU graduate. Asher is a senior criminal justice major at TCU.

    And while neither claim to be diehard TCU or SMU football fans, the Battle for the Iron Skillet is a rivalry with which they are quite familiar.

    “Whenever SMU beat TCU [in 2011], I remind him consistently,” Joe said. “Whenever TCU beats SMU, I say, ‘The refs were paid.’”

    The Iron Skillet game is a yearly tradition, as the Horned Frogs and the Mustangs clash on the gridiron to win a piece of iron cookware, not to mention bragging rights. The Frogs currently lead the Mustangs in football victories 46-40-7.

    “It can be likened to a sibling rivalry,” TCU Dean of Admission Ray Brown said.

    The age-old opponents are set to face off yet again on Saturday, but there’s more to the rivalry than a football game and a frying pan. Outside football, TCU and SMU have been working to maintain an edge academically amongst other universities around the nation, as well as distinguish themselves in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

    Brown said one main cause for rivalry is that both schools share many similarities “on paper.”

    “Let me emphasize ‘on paper,’” he said. “We are very different institutions. But it is unusual to have two institutions who look so much alike on paper to be so close together.”

    Situated less than one hour away from one another, the schools’ proximity is another cause for rivalry, said John Denton, a 1985 graduate and former kicker for the TCU football team.

    Denton, now the director of major gifts for TCU Athletics, said the rivalry was much more heated when he played on the team.

    “I think it’s hard now for students and players to understand,” he said. “You knew everybody that played at SMU because you played against them in high school. And the nature of the rivalry was such that on game day, you really didn’t like those guys.”

    “It got to a personal level, and I think that’s what added to the fierceness and the competitive nature of the games back then,” Denton said.

    The sting of the 1983 matchup in Fort Worth still etches a mark of pain in Denton’s memory. TCU had a first and goal at the 3-yard line. Three snaps later, the Frogs were still short of the end zone.

    They tried going for it on fourth down, but the Mustangs’ defense prevailed. The Frogs returned to their locker rooms, four points short of a win. The final score was 21-17.

    The emotions were real.

    “I think among some of the guys my age and older,” Denton said, “you hear ‘SMU’ and it still gets your ears up a little bit.”

    But for the Richardson brothers, the rivalry is far less salty.

    “We don’t really take it seriously,” Asher said. “I mean, I love going to games and stuff, but it’s funny to talk about.”

    A battle for identity

    Following the “on paper” similarities, TCU and SMU almost mirror one another. Both are private institutions, both have Christian religious affiliations and both are considered “more selective,” according to U.S. News and World Report.

    “In my mind, TCU is the SMU of Fort Worth, and SMU is the TCU of Dallas,” Joe said.

    Likewise, he said the stereotypes of the “typical TCU student” or “typical SMU student” are similar as well.

    “The stereotype at those schools are very affluent students, many of whom are involved in Greek life,” Joe said. “That’s kind of what, whenever I talk about SMU to people who didn’t go there, that’s what they see.”

    The numbers of students involved in Greek organizations are not drastically different. According to U.S. News and World Report, 53 percent of undergraduate women at TCU are involved in a sorority, compared to 48 percent of undergraduate women at SMU. The gap is slightly greater among men: 42 percent of undergraduate men are in fraternities at TCU, compared to 32 percent of undergraduate men at SMU.

    “I think similarity breeds rivalry,” Joe said.

    Another cause for rivalry, Brown says, has to do with the city each school is located.

    “SMU is located, obviously, in the city of Dallas, which is glitzy. It’s concrete and steel. It’s wealth,” he said. “TCU is in the city of Fort Worth, obviously, and this city’s nickname is ‘Cowtown.’”

    And rightfully so. Fort Worth is the home of the Stock Show and Rodeo, where streets are cleared of motor vehicles so horses and wagons can roam the streets for the All Western Parade. On the flipside, Dallas is the home of Reunion Tower, where visitors can experience a 360-degree view of downtown while tapping through interactive touchscreens and high definition cameras.

    Asher describes Dallas as “hipster,” while Fort Worth is more “country.”

    And the personalities of the cities are reflected in the schools, too, Brown said.

    A battle for an academic reputation

    If each school based its academic reputation on U.S. News and World Report rankings, SMU is ahead in the race. SMU ranks No. 58 on the list, while TCU sits at No. 76.

    Brown said the reason SMU ranks higher is that U.S. News and World Report favors institutions with medical schools or law schools. TCU has neither a medical school nor a law school, while SMU houses the Dedman School of Law.

    Although SMU ranks higher, TCU is the more selective school, accepting 47.4 percent of its applicants in contrast to SMU’s 50.7 percent, according to U.S. News and World Report.

    Both schools have different focuses in admissions as well, Brown said. While SMU emphasizes SAT and ACT scores, TCU emphasizes high school curriculum strength.

    SMU Dean of Undergraduate Admission Wes Waggoner said SMU has a “deliberate academic focus,” and athletics serves to support the university experience.

    Sports does, however, have an effect on admission—a factor that Asher said played a role in his decision to attend TCU.

    “I wanted to go to a school that had awesome sports,” he said.

    A battle for a frying pan

    Come Saturday, the rivalry between TCU and SMU will manifest itself on the football field of Gerald J. Ford Stadium.

    TCU played its first two games in the comfort of their home turf at Amon G. Carter Stadium. This time, TCU fans who make the trek to Dallas will be purple oddballs in a sea of red and blue, likely littering the campus with playful trash talk.

    Even back in 1945, the year before the Iron Skillet was chosen as the prize, fans expressed their heated passions.

    According to a 1945 article from The SMU Campus, Horned Frog fans painted large “TCU’s” on the library column and in front of Dallas Hall at SMU. Likewise, Mustang fans did their own paint job on TCU’s campus as well.

    Hence, in the following year, the SMU student council decided that both schools needed a symbol to prevent vandalism, according to a 1946 Dallas Morning News article.

    That symbol would be the trophy awarded to the football game’s victor—something similar to the Little Brown Jug awarded at the Minnesota-Michigan rivalry.

    But instead of a jug, the winner would receive a skillet.

    It’s a heated rivalry for a simple item—doesn’t sound much different from an average brotherly squabble.

    If Joe and Asher decide to go to the game on Saturday, it will be their first time seeing the rivalry play out together.

    But it won’t be their first time teasing one another.

    “I think it’s hilarious,” Joe said. “I just like to annoy [Asher] with it.”

    Kickoff for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 11 a.m. at SMU.

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