Iron Skillet '35: 'Game of the Century'

September, 22, 2010
9/22/10
7:30
AM CT
The third in a series flashing back to memorable moments in the Battle for the Iron Skillet. This season's version kicks off Friday night at SMU's Gerald J. Ford Stadium and will be televised on ESPN.

Grantland Rice, the famous sportswriter, called the 1935 TCU-SMU game the "Game of the Century," and judging by the close score and ramifications of the game, it lived up to the hype.

Both the Horned Frogs and Mustangs came into the 1935 game at Amon G. Carter Stadium undefeated. On the line was a Southwest Conference title, a Rose Bowl bid and a national championship. SMU was 10-0 and TCU, led by quarterback Sammy Baugh, was 11-0. The National Broadcasting System filmed the game, allowing fans across the country to see it. The legendary Rice was one of many journalists covering the game.

Amon Carter Stadium held about 25,000 in 1935, but the attendance figures are listed as about 37,000 as fans jammed in behind the end zones and anywhere else they could find a view.

"Fans were all over everything, the hillside and the grass," said SMU's Bob Finley, who called plays on the field for the Mustangs, according to accounts kept by the SMU media relations department. "They crawled over fences, [and] pushed gatekeepers out of the way."

SMU took a 14-0 lead with Bobby Wilson rushing for a touchdown and catching another. But TCU came back to tie it going into the fourth quarter.

SMU coach Matty Bell (who coached for a few years at TCU in the 1920s) told Jack Rabbit Smith to call plays for a series midway through the fourth quarter, but left Finley at quarterback. That was an important choice since coaches didn't send in the plays from the sidelines then. Smith decided to call a fake punt on fourth-and-4 from the TCU 39-yard line. And Finley was the punter.

According to SMU's account of the game, Wilson told Finley as the team broke the huddle to throw it as far as he could.

"I'll be there," Wilson said.

Finley later said he faked like he was going to punt the ball and then threw it. As he did, he was tackled, so he didn't know if the pass was complete before he heard the crowd and got up just in time to see Wilson in the end zone.

The pass was more than 45 yards in the air and landed between two TCU defenders and into Wilson's hands to give SMU a 20-14 lead. Baugh tried to take TCU back down the field, but couldn't score.

Finley's throw is known as the $85,000 pass because that was what the Rose Bowl paid the Mustangs to come. SMU used the money to pay off Owenby Stadium.

SMU went on to lose to Stanford 7-0 in the Rose Bowl. TCU was invited to the Sugar Bowl and beat LSU 3-2 on a muddy field at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans.

At the end of that season, there was no Associated Press poll (that came a year later). The Dickenson poll, one of the first national ranking systems created, gave SMU the national championship (awarded before bowl games). The Paul O. Williamson System, which had gained some credibility, gave the national title to TCU and LSU. So both the Horned Frogs and Mustangs claim national titles from that 1935 season.

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