GREATEST MOMENTS | SMU beat TCU in 1935’s ‘Game of the Century’

American Football on Outdoor Field at the 50 Yard Line

SMU-greatest“In the most desperate football this season has known from coast to coast, Southern Methodist beat Texas Christian 20 to 14, and thereby carved out a clearcut highway right into the middle of the Rose Bowl beyond any argument or any doubt.”

So began Grantland Rice’s account of what he called the Game of the Century, and the sports moment judged the greatest in SMU history. It might also be the greatest moment in sports hyperbole.

The Mustangs won on what Rice described as “the most daring play of a daring game” — Bob Finley’s 45-yard  touchdown pass to Bobby Wilson.

“I remember it as a pretty routine catch,” Wilson told the authors of Best There Ever Was. “All that whirling dervish stuff was a bunch of hooey.”

The Mustangs went on to lose the Rose Bowl 7-0 to Stanford, but  won the Rockne Trophy as national champions after beating TCU. The Mustangs outpointed No. 2 Minnesota and No. 3 Dartmouth in the Dickinson System. 

TCU, meanwhile, claimed the national championship under the Williamson System after beating LSU 3-2 in the Sugar Bowl.

That and hyperbole aside, SMU beat TCU on Nov. 30, 1935, giving the Mustangs legitimate claim to their first and only national championship.

SMU’s website recapped the Game of the Century, and “the most daring play of a daring game,” in 2015:

SMU-1935-national-championsThere has been endless debate about which college football game should be designated the “The Game Of The Century.”

The Texas-Arkansas matchup in 1969 comes to mind for many, but perhaps there has never been a game more deserving of that title than the epic 1935 showdown between SMU and TCU.

It was a clash of two undefeated titans and the stakes for the game could not have been higher. The Southwest Conference title, a Rose Bowl bid and a national championship would go to the winner. SMU was 10-0, and TCU, with Sammy Baugh at the helm, was 11-0.

The game drew unprecedented national attention as NBC sent it live across the country. This was the first such broadcast of a game ever in the Southwest. Grantland Rice was one of the dozens of sportswriters from all over the country that was sent to Fort Worth to cover the game.

On game day, nearly 37,000 fans made their way to TCU. The stadium only held 25,000 but that did not stop all 37,000 from making their way into the game one way or another. SMU’s Bob Finley recalled, “Fans were all over everything, the hillside and the grass. They crawled over fences, pushed gatekeepers out of the way.”

With All-SWC back Harry Shuford sidelined with an injury, Finley was given the play calling duties and led the Mustangs to a 14-0 lead, but the Frogs fought their way back to tie the score at 14 going into the fourth quarter.

With a little more than eight minutes left in the game, head coach Matty Bell had sent in Jack Rabbit Smith to take over play calling duties for this series, but left Finley at quarterback. There was no sending in plays from the sidelines in those days, so what happened next came as a shock to Bell as well.

On fourth-and-4 at the TCU 39, Smith called for a fake punt, even though on the sideline Bell was sure they would try to kick it out of bounds. Finley, the team’s normal punter, broke the huddle and headed to line up in formation when All-America halfback Bobby Wilson grabbed him and said, “Throw it as far as you can. I’ll be there.”

Finley’s pass had sailed more than 45 yards in the air and came down to Wilson inside the 5, where he caught it between a couple of TCU defenders, and dived into the end zone for the touchdown. SMU had taken the lead, 20-14. Baugh tried valiantly to bring the Horned Frogs back but was denied by the Mustang defense.

As Grantland Rice wrote, “Sammy Baugh again put on a passing attack that was eating up ground when the whistle blew with S.M.U. supporters almost in a panic against the deathly machine-gun fire.”

• SMU Hall of Fame

Above: SMU’s 1935 national champions. (Courtesy Southern Methodist University Archives)
YouTube video courtesy SMU Heritage Hall

Monday: Saint Louis and Samford
Tuesday: Sam Houston State and Seattle
Wednesday: South Florida and Southeast Missouri State
Thursday: Southeastern Louisiana and SIU Edwardsville
Friday: SMU and Southern Mississippi

Mike Bambach

Mike Bambach is senior web producer for ASN.