S M U
1968 - 72 Mustangs
A new approach to the offense and a uniform that introduced blue numerals to their white away jersey in place of the previously used red ones, and a new red helmet that now featured a modernized, galloping white mustang decal on each side of the shell and white player identification numerals on the rear was the order of the day with the arrival of the 1968 season. As the head football coach, Hayden Fry deferred to Hayden Fry the Athletic Director and decided to present a wide open attack in order to attract fans that had fallen in love with the professional Dallas Cowboys. “Excitement ‘68” was the theme and motto and the squad delivered a solid 8-3 effort and a 28-27 Bluebonnet Bowl victory over Oklahoma. Twenty-four records were set in that game and this reflected a year in which the directive given to quarterback Chuck Hixson was to throw often, throw to everyone, and throw from any place on the field. Hixson finished as the NCAA’s top ranked passer and set ten conference records, throwing what was then, an unheard of sixty-nine attempts in a losing effort versus Ohio State.
All American LeVias sparkled in numerous roles, caught a SWC record fifteen passes in that Ohio State game, and was augmented by tight end Ken Fleming who caught fifty-three passes for the season, for 588 yards. Behind All SWC tackle Terry May, halfback Mike Richardson, another All Conference choice, ran for a SWC record 244 yards against Texas A&M and then played three seasons with the Oilers. The overlooked defense got a great performance from All SWC defensive back Jim Livingston but the offense carried the day with the staff’s notation that Hixson’s 3103 passing yards, and Mike Richardson’s 1034 rushing yards made them the first pair of SMU players to team up to pass for more than 2000 yards and rush for 1000 yards in a season.
SPOTLIGHT ON JERRY LEVIAS:
It’s doubtful that any football fan could imagine that at the age of twelve, Jerry LeVias suffered a stroke that left him with facial twitches and an inability to walk for a year and a half. His protective mother would not allow him to play football but telling her he was the team student trainer, he wound up as an undersized starter for the highly regarded Beaumont, Texas Hebert High School team that regularly produced top level collegiate and pro players. He was nothing short of great in the Negro Interscholastic League and met Hayden Fry’s scholastic and personal criteria for the first African American he would recruit at SMU. A great performance at the Texas vs. Pennsylvania Big 33 Game left SMU assistant Chuck Curtis and UCLA head coach Tommy Prothro embroiled in a bout of fisticuffs but LeVias chose SMU for its academic promise and Fry’s support. Giving LeVias the first SMU football scholarship granted to a Black player also made LeVias the first of his race to receive a Southwest Conference athletic scholarship and opened him to ongoing and at times, brutal episodes of racial prejudice. Some acts were merely tasteless, like Texas A&M’s releasing of black cats onto the field prior to kickoff. Other acts, like the death-promising letters and boasts of sniper fire that would end his life, required law enforcement’s intervention. LeVias managed to handle all of the ugliness until the fourth game of his senior season when he walked off the field after being spit on by an opposing player. He had won over his teammates early and was elected President of his dorm as a freshman by being responsible, even mannered, and friendly but as he described it, the hate finally got to him. He re-entered the field and answered with a fourth quarter, eighty-nine yard punt return for a touchdown that proved to be the winning margin in a 21-14 contest against rival TCU. LeVias’ career fully met the expectations, with a three-time All Conference, two-time All American, a Consensus All American, and Academic All American legacy. Records included seasonal receptions, yards, and returns, 4,320 career total yards and 154 points. He topped all of it off with the Senior Bowl MVP, Southwest Conference Sportsmanship Award, and Most Valuable Lineman in the American Bowl trophies. LeVias became a member of the College Football Hall Of Fame, the Texas Sports Hall Of Fame, and enjoyed an eight year pro career. He was the AFL Rookie Of The Year in 1969 with the Oilers, where he remained for two seasons and then spent six with the Chargers until his body began to show a bit too much wear and tear. Always a role model, LeVias has been successful in business and donated a great deal of time to charitable and children’s causes. As a heralded athlete, Jerry LeVias certainly left a tremendous legacy but he has done the same as a valued member of his community.
Coach Fry expected to again have a high powered offense in ‘69 but despite big numbers from quarterback Chuck Hixson and Conference Sophomore Of The Year flanker Gary Hammond who led the SWC in receiving, scoring production fell off by 100 points! Hixson’s 217 completions and 2313 yards ranked him second nationally while leading the conference in passing and tight end Ken Fleming contributed forty-one receptions. Halfback Daryl Dogget, a 5’6”, 185 pound low-to-the-ground plugger, rolled up 809 yards. Despite All SWC play from linebacker Bruce Portillo and DB Pat Curry, who contributed seven interceptions, there were too many defensive let-downs and the Mustangs finished poorly at 3-7. With Hixson and Hammond returning, the final 5-6 record for 1970 was disappointing. Hammond, slowed by injury, saw time at receiver, was primarily a halfback, and filled in on occasion at quarterback, the position that he played at Port Arthur’s Thomas Jefferson High School. He led the SWC in receiving for the second consecutive year and was SMU’s leading rusher. Even with their competent quarterbacking, the pass protection, despite the presence of All SWC tackle Bill Jackson, was spotty, and the offense was not consistent. End Ken Fleming was steady and linebacker Joe Stutts also produced an All Conference season.
SPOTLIGHT ON CHUCK HIXSON:
Chuck Hixson completed his career with a slew of school and conference records, many of which stood for decades. His 642 completions, 1115 attempts, forty touchdown passes, and 7179 passing yards were unheard of numbers for the era and he earned a place in the Southwest Conference Hall Of Fame. He was called “…the greatest college passer I have ever seen” by legendary Arkansas coach Frank Broyles and many echoed the sentiment. Because his San Antonio Highlands High School program was so advanced, Hixson only played as a starter his senior season yet had scholarship offers from seventeen major programs and was coveted by the Southwest Conference schools. As a husband and father, he was more mature than most of his teammates during his collegiate career and manual labor and a lot of food had built his physique to a solid 200 pounds at 6’2”. One of his greatest attributes was an ability to call audibles at the line of scrimmage, and he was personally credited with play calls that produced the majority of SMU’s touchdowns during his three varsity seasons, an unusual talent for his era. Hixson set his records despite what was considered to be poor pass protection for the majority of his time on the field. He was drafted by the Chiefs and spent only two years with the organization before entering private business.
Replacing Hixson was so difficult that Fry moved Hammond to quarterback on a full time basis for the 1971 season. He responded well but at 5’11” and 182 pounds, took a beating on his way to the Kern Tips Memorial Award as the SWC’s Outstanding Senior. He passed for 787 yards and ran for 401 but the real weapon was All Conference sophomore running back Alvin “Duck” Maxson. Another 5’11” 185 pounder, he led the SWC in rushing with 1012 yards and had five games with more than 100 yards on the ground. Fry’s Flying Wishbone, a spread offense with Wishbone options was junked after two games as the pass protection was non-existent. The defense however, was the culprit in an up-and-down 4-7 season, despite the All SWC heroics of safety Robert Popelka; they were inconsistent, playing solid ball and holding Texas to their lowest Wishbone rushing total, and falling apart against lesser opponents. That football was perceived as not bringing in expected income elevated the tension level for the staff. 1972 would be a 7-4 winner, yet the Mustangs would fire eleven year head coach Hayden Fry before the season concluded. Bum Phillips had been brought in as defensive coordinator and he molded the defense from ‘71’s worst in the SWC to the best, leading the conference in rushing and total defense. Led by Consensus All American DB Popelka and 6’5”, 250 pound sophomore All SWC tackle Louie Kelcher, they were solid. The offense was talented with end Ken Harrison named to the All Conference team as a sophomore, and running back Maxson again breaking the 1000 yard rushing mark and earning All SWC honors. Teamed with freshman back Wayne Morris, the Ponies were explosive though at times, inconsistent, with quarterback Keith Bobo displaying obvious talent. Despite being 4-1 at mid-season, there was turmoil. Two non-conference games had been moved to the new Texas Stadium at the behest of boosters and the Cotton Bowl supporters were up in arms. Nothing seemed to help as attendance again slipped, dropping another 4000 per game from the ’71 level despite using the pro venue. Fry had angered many by seemingly running off less talented players in what was described as a “bloodbath” at training camp and the faculty was unhappy with his increasing number of academically unqualified and underachieving athletes. Three consecutive losses, suspect play calling, losing too many close games, and what was described as “the most disorganized sideline in major college football” made for a negative atmosphere. Fry fought constantly with alumni, boosters, and administrators, lied to the media, and it was noted that for every upset, “lost three games he should have won.” Fry later contended that he had a contentious relationship with some boosters who wanted to maintain an illegal “slush fund” to provide inducements and benefits to recruits and players. Fry was fired on Friday December 1, prior to the next day’s game against rival TCU. Only the third winning season in his eleven years, Fry believed that his removal was unjustified with two years remaining on his contract. He departed with a 49-66-1 record and few predicted that he would become a College Football Hall Of Fame entrant for his subsequent coaching achievements. He became head coach and athletic director at North Texas State University, taking a program on the verge of termination to a 40-23-3 record. Ignored for bowl invitations despite 10-1 and 9-2 records in 1977 and ’78 respectively, Fry moved to Iowa where he achieved his greatest triumphs. [ see HELMET HUT http://www.helmethut.com/College/Iowa/IAXXUI79XX.html ]
From ’79 through 1998, he compiled a 143-89-6 record, took a terrible Iowa program to respectability, three Big Ten Championships, three Rose Bowl appearances, fourteen bowl games, and introduced a passing oriented attack to what had been a traditionally run-dominated conference. He produced a far-flung “coaching tree” with numerous assistants including Bill Snyder, the Stoops brothers, Barry Alvarez, Kirk Ferentz, and Dan McCarney becoming successful head coaches.
If interested in any of these SMU helmets please click on the photos below.