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What nobody had been totally prepared for on the day of the game was the sight of 40,000 frenzied people trying to fit themselves into TCU's 24,000-seat stadium. Many without tickets leaped over fences from the tops of automobiles, and many drove their cars through the fences. Some paid scalpers $100 for a ticket—at the height of the Depression, the equivalent of $4,000 now—but these weren't the ones who trampled policemen, climbed over the backs of each other and spilled onto the playing field.
I recall seeing hordes of strangers in slouch hats down on the field posing for pictures with Dutch Meyer and Matty Bell, the SMU coach, before the kickoff. I was older and well into the life of a sportswriter covering other TCU teams when I learned that some of those people my dad had called celebrities that day were Grantland Rice, Paul Gallico, Bill Stern, Bernie Bierman, Pappy Waldorf and assorted Hollywood and Broadway types.
The TCU-SMU game of 1935 has been called various things by various historians. It has been written about under such chapter headings as The Greatest Game Ever Played, The Aerial Circus and The $80,000 Forward Pass. I once had a junior high school teacher who gave it even more significance. She put it first in the order of importance on a list of the five most memorable events in the history of Fort Worth. To her, it ranked ahead of Vernon Castle, a famous dancer, getting killed in the crash of his training plane during World War I, ahead of the Texas & Pacific railroad coming to town, ahead of Swift and Armour putting meatpacking plants in the city and ahead of Major Ripley Arnold opening a fort called "Worth" on a bluff above the Trinity River to protect settlers from the Indians in 1849.
What I mostly remember about the game itself was the constant noise in the stadium, SMU running sweeps and reverses in a blur of red-and-blue uniforms and the Frogs continually dropping Sam Baugh's passes, although he kept hitting his receivers in the chest and hands. Sam threw an amazing 43 passes that day, which was unheard of among civilized people, according to Granny Rice's game report.
I remember Jimmy Lawrence catching one of those passes for a touchdown late in the game and then being carried off the field with an injury. My dad and others around us were very sad to see TCU lose Jimmy Lawrence, but they were very happy that the Frogs had finally fought back from 0-14 and tied the game at 14-14 after a whole afternoon of swirling action.
With about four minutes left to play and SMU lined up on fourth down in punt formation near TCU's 40-yard line, my dad was sipping his "cough medicine" with some relief. The Frogs had gained far more yardage than the Mustangs, and they now looked like the better team, and the Rose Bowl would surely select TCU in the case of a tie. In our section, everyone seemed to agree on this.
Everyone was still agreeing on it when the SMU punter, Fullback Bob Finley, didn't punt. Instead, he dropped back and hauled off and lofted a desperate 50-yard pass toward the TCU goal line. The next thing anyone noticed was that SMU's speedy All-America halfback, Bobby (Will-o'-the-Wisp) Wilson, was racing down the sideline, trying to get there before the football.
Sam Baugh, playing safety, struggled to get there from the other side of the field. At about the three-yard line Bobby Wilson leaped high into the air and twisted around, for the ball was arriving on his "wrong" side. The Will-o'-the-Wisp made a miraculous catch and stumbled into the end zone. The Mustangs won 20-14.
Hundreds of TCU fans, including my dad, sat limply in the stands for more than an hour after the game and-drank their "cough medicine" and stared at the spot where Bobby Wilson came down with the football. Fort Worth's heart was broken.
The broken hearts took little consolation later in the fact that TCU was chosen as the No. I team after the bowl games by the Williamson System, the only one of the syndicated rating systems of the day (the AP inaugurated its weekly Top 10 in 1936) to publish a ranking after the bowl games. This was after SMU was upset by a mediocre Stanford team in Pasadena on the same day that TCU defeated a highly regarded LSU team in the Sugar Bowl. It would only mean something in the brochures.