1963 - 66 Mustangs
(Authentic Reproduction)

The high energy play of the Mustangs established in ’62 with Fry’s arrival continued as they ran multiple packages from their I Formation Offense and due to a lack of physical talent, blitzed constantly on defense. Introduced after the 27-16 opening day loss at Michigan, they teamed an upgraded helmet appearance that included a white rearing mustang decal on each side and white player identification numerals in the rear of their red shell, with an improved 4-6 record. Most games were close and many, win or lose, went down to the last two minutes before a winner was determined. Fry somehow used upset victories over number four Navy and Roger Staubach, and a 14-7 victory over Arkansas as a springboard to the Sun Bowl despite the team’s losing record. They lost to Oregon 21-14 but fans were elated that they were back in the bowl business. Quarterback Danny Thomas led the nation in punting and added 846 passing yards though sophomore Mac White came on strong late in the year. Highland Park High School product John Roderick used his 9.3 speed to become an important offensive weapon, teaming with Bill Gannon who scored forty-four points. Noseguard John Hughes anchored the defense and was named to the All Conference team but by May of ‘64, anything positive from the ’63 season was almost forgotten as the NCAA hit the Mustangs with two years of probation and a bowl ban for providing illegal benefits to recruits and some current players. To date it was the most severe penalty a Southwest Conference school had suffered and if nothing else, the perception that “something isn’t correct at SMU” hurt recruiting efforts. 1964 was not a good season, with the 1-9 record harking back to 1960’s disaster. The only win came over Texas Arlington so it was a blank slate versus equivalent competition. Injuries to quarterbacks Thomas and Donnie Oefinger kept them limited and expected contributors Mac White, John Roderick, Buddy Miller, Larry Jernigan, and Tom Hillary were either injured for the entire season or otherwise declared ineligible. Despite his knee injury Thomas set a school punting record and led the SWC in punting for the third time, while also handling field goals. Going to a full two-platoon rotation, sophomore John LaGrone stood out as an All SWC noseguard, an “A” student, and was strong enough to walk around the campus coliseum two consecutive times on his hands!

A terrific defense carried the 1965 Ponies to an early 4-2-1 record with victories over number one ranked Purdue and a 31-14 besting of Texas. Unfortunately, LaGrone, defensive end Doug January, and linebacker Billy Bob Stewart as All SWC performers weren’t enough to make up for an inconsistent offense led by Mac White and sophomore halfback Mike Livingston. Roderick showed enough to become the Miami Dolphins first round draft choice where he played for two seasons, finishing ’68 with the Raiders. With three straight losses to end the season, the year’s total was a pedestrian 4-5-1 but the real news came off the field. During the summer prior to the start of the 1965 season, Fry went out on a limb signing recruit Jerry LeVias out of Beaumont, Texas Hebert High School. He became the first African American to be granted an athletic scholarship in the Southwest Conference, had starred for the Texas All Stars when they faced off against Pennsylvania in the Big 33 Game and was an obvious star as he readied for his first season of varsity play. 1966 would be an historic season for SMU football for multiple reasons. For the first time in eighteen years, the Mustangs won the Southwest Conference championship, represented the SWC in the Cotton Bowl, and introduced the conference to its first African American scholarship athlete. Potential was there as NFL scout Willie Walls stated that SMU “has thirteen potential pros presently” on the roster. The season certainly did not start out positively as back-up defensive back Tom White suffered a fatal incident of cardiac arrest during spring football practice. When the season began, it became obvious that this spunky bunch had “no quit” in them and would battle to the end of every game. The conference record was 6-1 and it seemed as if every victory came with a minute to only seconds remaining on the game clock. Quarterbacks Mac White and Mike Livingston, who doubled up as a tailback in the Ponies’ I Formation, made good use of both Mike and Harold Richardson in the backfield and of course, newcomer LeVias at end. Though LeVias handled the ball but sixty-six times all season, his rushing, catching, and return work broke the kickoff return record of Doak Walker and most importantly was credited with winning six of the eight games via the actual winning play or setting up the winning play. His nine touchdowns were important but his presence on the field changed things and led to upsets throughout the entire season, with kicker Dennis Partee a steady, important contributor. The potent offense almost overshadowed a great defense led by three-time All Conference performer and Co-captain LaGrone and his 150 tackles, and linebackers Stewart and Jerry Griffin, a future CFL stalwart, who carried Baby Ruth candy bars in his shoulder pads that provided game time energy snacks. The last minute heroics, presence of seven All Conference players including LeVias, White, guard Lynn Thornhill, the three linebackers, and 220 pound defensive tackle Ron Medlen, and the exciting offense that led the SWC in rushing and total offense made them a popular foe versus Georgia in the Cotton Bowl. Even the 24-9 loss did not diminish this fine season and optimism for the future.


A name that brings instant recognition to football fans in Texas but perhaps not nation wide, defensive guard John LaGrone was a throwback, even during the throwback era of the 1960’s. An undersized two-way lineman in high school at 5’10” and 190 pounds, he remained undersized at 210 while a three-time All Conference and two-time All American at SMU. Of course, he was not “just a small” player. LaGrone was variously described by opponents and coaches as “solid as stone,” “he loved contact,” and “when he hit you, he hurt you.” The undisputed team leader wherever he played, he allowed his own play and quiet leadership to turn every team he represented, rise to a championship level. At Borger High School, what had been a moribund program flourished when legendary Gene Mayfield became the coach in 1957 and enjoyed the leadership that LaGrone provided.  During his three high school varsity seasons as a two-way lineman, he was named All State guard twice when only eleven players in any season received All State honors. His team won three District Championships and lost in the 1962 State Championship Game. One of the few to be named as a unanimous All State selection LaGrone chose SMU for its academics and style of defense that stressed quickness, his forte, though anyone who could walk up and down forty-five degree inclined concrete walls on their hands, as LaGrone regularly did, was certainly one of exceptional strength. An off-season workout warrior, LaGrone’s hustle sparked the Ponies to the 1966 Southwest Conference Championship while he garnered three-time All SWC honors, Consensus All American, and Academic All American notice. At Edmonton of the Canadian Football League, he joined a mediocre bunch in ’67, made the All CFL squad twice, and was named as the CFL Most Valuable Defensive Lineman in 1969. The team, like his squads at Borger and SMU, rose to play in both the 1973 and ’74 Grey Cup Games. His football honors were many and include being named to the Texas High School Football Hall Of Fame, The Texas High School All Time Team of The Decade, The Southwest Conference Team Of The Decade, and he is considered by many experts to be the greatest defensive player in the history of the Texas Panhandle region.  In his football off-seasons, LaGrone earned his law degree at Baylor and for many years, dating from 1991, sat as the Judge for the 316th District Court in Hutchinson County Texas.

If interested in any of these SMU helmets please click on the photos below.