Pony Up? or: Life After the Big XII

I attended my first SMU football game on Saturday and I felt the need to write about my experience. After four years of attending games at (pretentious use of full title incoming) Owen Field at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, it is safe to say I’ve been a bit spoiled by major conference college football. One of my friends, who’s now in grad school at George Mason University, discussed with me which of our situations would be more desirable after coming out of major football universities for undergrad. Was it better to have bad football or no football? After this game it’s safe to say the lines are blurred.

I went to the game with my family, as SMU was playing their alma mater, Texas A&M. The first thing I noticed was the makeup of the stadium. I would guess (and I’m terrible at eyeballing figures so take this with a grain of salt) about a quarter of the stands were empty. What was for sure was that about half or maybe more of the attending fans were clad in the maroon and white of the Aggies. Gone was my idea of a student section spanning from the 50-yard line to the endzone. The students were down low in the corner in a section smaller than most visitor sections at larger schools. Students get in free to football games and even then the section wasn’t filled. Students, obviously intoxicated, led vulgar chants at the top of their lungs. I’m sure this happened at OU as well, but the section was so large it was easy to mask.

As for the football itself, it was… interesting. SMU is now quarterbacked by my favorite University of Texas player in recent memory, Garrett Gilbert. As another one of my friends put it, “He completed more passes to our team than Landry!” My father, ever the pessimist about the Aggie defense, would gasp every time a deep ball was in the air. I constanty assured him, “It is literally Garrett Gilbert. Don’t worry.” On one such toss, I called an interception as soon as the ball was released, even though the receiver and the corner were step for step with each other. The ball drifted wide, straight into the hands of a waiting safety.

The crowd looked for anything to celebrate. The band played the full fight song for every first down. The highlight for SMU was a blocked extra point, which gave the player who had made the block the NCAA record for blocked kicks. He was a freakish athlete, but when the high of the day is a special teams play, it says a lot about your football program.

A&M moved the ball at will. Johnny Manziel looked like an upgraded version of the quarterback who played the first half of the game against Florida and the receiving corps was much more dialed in than they had been in past games.  A&M also broke a 3rd quarter scoring drought that dated back to November of 2010.

By the end of the first half, the student section had evaportated. The atmosphere of SMU football could be summed up in one visual: the marching band on the field during their show with the SMU kickers running drills and warmups over them. A kicker ended up lining up a field goal mere inches from a trombone player and if the song the band was playing was not the twirler feature, it would have lead to hilarious consequences. The punters sailed practice kicks directly over the massed ensemble, each time praying for the distance to clear the band. SMU football seemed like everyone going about their own business, but in a group setting.

However, struggles aside, SMU definitely won the pregame. Bishop Boulevard being covered in tailgating tents was a sight to behold and the pregame comraderie was welcome in comparison to the mass stadium exodus after the Aggies opened up a lead. The idea of SMU football, though the product is still steadily improving under June Jones and it has made great leaps forward after the Pony Excess death penalty, still remains greater than actual SMU football. In fact, the greatest accomplishment of SMU football was rationalizing my OU/tx ticket purchase. Despite all its flaws I’ll give the Mustangs another chance. I think I love football too much to stay away.

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