Southern Methodist University (SMU) Mustangs Football - Pony Express Day

Southern Methodist University (SMU) Mustangs Football - Pony Express Day

April, 03 2023

The term “Pony Express” conjures up images of the American West of the nineteenth century. Rugged horsemen galloped over great distances, carrying mail to the far-flung outposts, most in the Southwest and California, in an era before the telegraph served from coast-to-coast.

For football fans of a certain age, the term Pony Express recalls the Southern Methodist backfield duo of Eric Dickerson and Craig James (1979-1982). During their time together, Dickerson (HOF Class of 2020) and James propelled the Mustangs back into national prominence after a decade of mediocrity, or worse. They hinted at their greatness to come during their freshmen season of 1979. They combined for over 1,400 yards for a 5-6 team. In 1980, they burst onto the national scene, running for a combined 230 yards in a 20-6 upset of second-ranked Texas in Austin on national television. The victory was SMU’s first over the Longhorns since 1966 and propelled them to a final record of 8-4 and their first bowl appearance since 1968.

Dickerson and James combined for more than 2,600 yards in 1981 as the Mustangs finished 10-1 and won their first Southwest Conference title since 1966. Unfortunately, SMU was prohibited from accepting a Cotton Bowl bid due to being placed on NCAA probation for recruiting violations. In their senior year, they topped 2,800 yards as the Mustangs went unbeaten. Their 11-0-1 record was good for a second straight SWC title and a long-awaited return to the Cotton Bowl, in which they defeated Pittsburgh 7-3.

While the “Pony Express” may have been the most famous backfield duo in SMU history, neither of them were as celebrated as Ewell “Doak” Walker (1945-1949). Walker won the Maxwell Award in 1947, the Heisman Trophy in 1948, and was named Player of the Year by Collier’s Magazine in 1949. He missed one year while serving in the military and amassed amazing numbers in just 35 college games: 288 total points, 2,076 rushing yards, 1,786 passing yards, and 1,514 return yards. Walker led the Mustangs to back-to-back SWC championships and two Cotton Bowl appearances. Walker was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1959.

Walker, James, and Dickerson may be the most accomplished players in Southern Methodist history, but an argument can be made that the most famous Mustang to be in the backfield was quarterback Don Meredith (1957-1959). Although SMU was barely over .500 during his time, Meredith was voted one of the “Most Exciting Players in SWC History” by Texas sportswriters. He led the Mustangs to upset wins over Texas in 1957 and 1958, a tie with third-ranked Georgia Tech, and near upsets of top ranked Ohio State and Notre Dame in 1958. Meredith later gained notoriety as the first quarterback to take the Dallas Cowboys to the NFL Championship Game and international fame as a key member of the Monday Night Football broadcast team in the 1970s.

From the 1940s to the 1980s, multiple Hall of Famers excelled at “carrying the mail” during three distinct eras of backfield excellence at Southern Methodist, carrying the legend of the Pony Express in a whole new direction.

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