South Florida Bulls vs SMU Mustangs, Sat, 10/21/2021, 3:00pm
Score: SMU 41 – 17; Attendance: 23,335
Weather: Cloudy, 84; Ticket: $20; No parking for us, uber’d to game
Review: “Ole Miss Lite” by Tree
SMU is in the heart of Dallas, so getting there is very easy. Dallas is a vibrant town. It has all the accoutrements of a big city: restaurants, nightlife, other sports venues. We stayed in an Airbnb in Oak Lawn, which is the heart of the LBGQT community. It was about 10 minutes from campus and had the hip, up and coming vibe that I enjoy – my slightly homophobic friend, not so much. The Airbnb was a repainted dump that was good enough for sleeping until the upstairs apartment started an all-night jam session. It looked like we picked the wrong night to quit drinking. The next morning, I found a decent trail along Turtle creek, making my game day a solid one. Unfortunately, the creek itself had a ton of litter in it. So much for “Don’t Mess with Texas”. SMU itself is right next to a very posh, old money neighborhood. The bucolic setting continues right into campus, which exudes both beauty and wealth. With a tuition price tag of ~$57k, it should do so.
At SMU they don’t tailgate, they boulevard. It is a slightly scaled down version of the Ole’ Miss “Grove”. If you want to tailgate there as a visitor, you need to be ready to pony up. I called the school to see what a single game 10×10 spot would be and was quoted $1,160. It was homecoming, but it is clearly designed for local alums where the season long pass isn’t much more than that and makes a lot more sense. The spot did come with 20 tickets to the game, but I didn’t even have half that number of folks interested in going to the see SMU. So, as a visitor, it is not practical to tailgate but you can certainly walk the Boulevard. We pre-gamed at Mexican restaurant just outside of campus that was unfortunately way too slow. That put us about an hour behind schedule. By the way, SMU does a whole walk to the stadium bit with their Shetland Pony Peruna leading the team on. My crew is almost never recovered from Friday night or interested enough to make such spectacles, particularly when there are some east coast games already up and running. Michigan v. Wisconsin commanded more attention than a marching Shetland pony on that Saturday.
We arrived at the top of the Boulevard, in the Quad where all the fraternities and sororities party. It is a good time, but I prefer to hang with my own demographic. I don’t need to be playing beer pong or flip cup at my age. I mean, I will, if pressed to do so, but I am generally into a more relaxed environment. Most of the kids were cool. I onlyB encountered one douchey frat boy, otherwise they were normal, fun kids. We then walked our way down the Boulevard toward the alumni section. We passed some food trucks and spots where you could buy drinks. We then proceeded to walk up to various tents and talk to people where we were inevitably offered beer and food. As one of my buddies noted, they were rich people nice. A bit wary of outsiders, but then they warmed up nicely when they realized we weren’t trying to sell them anything. The tent set ups were fairly standard although there was the occasional linen tablecloth and candelabra. There were also TVs and cable set ups. It was the Grove Lite. All in all, it was a good vibe. So good in fact, that we were told as many people will stay on the Boulevard and party as those that will go into the game.
That was borne out as we went into Gerald J. Ford stadium, named after the billionaire banker and not the 38th President. The stadium was barely half full, and it is a small stadium at 32,000. That is not to say it is completely without charm. There’s a small hill in the one end zone, and kids spent the whole game sliding down it on scraps of cardboard. Above it there is a more than adequate video scoreboard. Our seats were on the visitors 50-yard line for which we paid the princely some of $20 a seat. We had to buy ten of them to get a group rate, but I easily resold them on Stubhub to break even. To be fair, for anything other than a big game, you could probably by the cheapest ticket and just walk your way down. However, with a stadium that small, every seat is likely to be a good one. I don’t recall any signature cheers. The band was good even if it was relatively small. Known as the best dressed band in the land, they were dapper in their jackets and straw hats. Perhaps the best tradition is having Peruna run across the field after each score. We had lucked out in the weather department as all week, heavy rains were forecasted. However, it cleared up Friday and by the second half, the sun was so bright on the visitors side that we made our way to the home side seeking shade. Once there, we encountered much louder fans. And to be fair, the noise in the stadium did cause a delay of game penalty for USF.
The concessions were a mix of local and traditional stadium fare. They did sell beer and my souvenir cup was attractive. Much the same could be said for the fans, particularly the student body. The denizens have the reputation for being well dressed for games. I would say that was somewhat true and we did see some fans doing the whole nine yards. For me, I went Frat Boy casual, which is something I never do for football games. I certainly did not feel out of place, but there were plenty of golf shirts and t-shirts once we got inside the stadium. There was a similar mix among the women, but as someone in our group commented, they were more than several ladies dressed more for the club than a football game. It was a little extreme but not way off from what you see today at other games, particularly at southern schools. Lastly, it was a “blue” game, but you would have never guessed it. Add SMU to the long list of schools that have tried but failed at a “color” game.
SMU came into the game a 21-point favorite and I took them to cover. This isn’t the Pony Express of the past, but the Mustangs have fully recovered from the death penalty they received from the NCAA in 1987. In the last few years, they have certainly been competitive in the American Athletic Conference, and they came in undefeated for this game. Southern Florida was definitely a team going in a different direction, with only one win to their name. The Mustangs rolled out to a fourteen-point lead at the half but got a bit sloppy in the second half. They let SMU come back a couple of times with some poor pass defense. I was quite confident I was going to lose money on this game but then SMU revved it up. They scored two late touchdowns letting me celebrate with SMU faithful on the home side of the field, where, as previously mentioned, we had moved to when the sun on the visitor’s side became oppressive.
I attended this game with a group of friends I like to call the nine o’clock club. We have done some big sites including Michigan and Notre Dame. We start out hitting the bars on Friday night, then tailgate on Saturday for at least four hours and then roll into the game. Most of this group is a little long in the tooth and by nine o’clock Saturday night, we usually must call it a night. The spirit might be willing, but the liver is not. This time was not any different, particularly when someone in our party managed to smuggle in some strategically concealed vodka to the game. It was noted, “It’s not Tito’s but Titties Vodka.” Nobody will ever claim we are the classiest bunch.
SMU really is a smaller version of Ole Miss which is not surprising given that’s where their current president came from. On the plus side, they don’t play in the SEC so the game is likely going to be more competitive than the often occurring Ole Miss blow-out. On the downside, you really need to know someone to make the most out of the Boulevard experience as a visitor. Unless you have an SMU connection, I wouldn’t save loads of time to walk the Boulevard. By all means, I recommend checking it out, but if you don’t have a spot, you probably only need an hour or less. If you are with the visiting team and have access to a tailgate, then I would suggest you join in. Other positives include cheap tickets and a city that offers lots of complementary activities. The SMU experience is not a must see, but I wouldn’t avoid it either.