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The Friday Off Topic: Yes, SMU Football is still a rival, but how does it compare to the Revivalry?

The Mustangs are good and they aren’t going anywhere, but the Bears still raise the hackles most for most of the purple-clad folks in Fort Worth.

NCAA Football: SMU at Texas Christian Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

For a long time, TCU was the Metroplex laughing stock. The tides turned in 1997, when the 1-10 Horned Frogs notched their singular victory over the Ponies on a blustery November night, tearing down the goalposts in celebration of being slightly better than another bad team.

Since that fateful night, the Horned Frogs — mostly thanks to Gary Patterson — have gone 19-4 against the Mustangs, a record that has rendered this rivalry all but dead for the younger generation of fans that follow college football in North Texas.

But things are changing on the Hilltop; the insertion of former TCU analyst Sonny Dykes has breathed new life into Dallas’ only football team (hi, non-Texans — remember, the Cowboys play in Arlington) and all of the sudden, SMU is... good?

The Mustangs went 10-3 in 2019, their first double-digit win season since 1984 (they’ve had eight seasons with ten or more losses in that time period) and were 7-3 in 2020. Since Dykes took over in 2018, the Ponies are 22-13 — not lighting the world on fire by any means, but certainly trending in the right direction. They’re finding themselves in recruiting battles against the big boys and are winning some of them, fielding a top four class in the AAC the last three years and adding big-time talents like 4* QB Preston Stone — an elite prospect with 44 offers, including Alabama, Georgia, LSU, and Notre Dame — and receiver Danny Gray, a one time TCU pledge who flipped to the Ponies on Signing Day in 2019.

And... most importantly of all, they came into Amon G Carter Stadium two seasons ago and had their way with the Horned Frogs for a half, jumping out to a 15-0 lead, taking a 31-17 advantage into the locker room and holding on for a 41-38 win.

A couple weeks ago, we asked you all what types of things you all wanted us to focus on as we try and survive the never ending summer without sports, and we got some great responses. Because it seems to come up every year, and because we have had to stew extra long over the last loss, I decided to address this one first:

It’s a great question, one that has become even more relevant now that the Horned Frogs and Bears play each other annually as members of the Big 12. But really, the three schools have been intertwined long before they they first became running mates back in the glory days of the SWC. All three small private schools — TCU the smallest at 10,489, Baylor the biggest at 16,787, and SMU in between with 11,739 students — with religious affiliations and very high opinions of themselves. They have all had periods of great athletic success — often with a dirty underbelly — and periods of complete and utter irrelevance. They play each other often and closely — the Frogs and Bears have met 116 times with TCU holding the 56-53 victory advantage (seven ties, wtf) and the Ponies have matched up with their across the metroplex rival 99 times, losing 51 of them (and seven more ties). Both Baylor and TCU can boast as long as an eight game win streak over the other, while SMU went as many as 15 straight over TCU but has won just four times since Gary Patterson first donned purple. Both rivalries have great nicknames: The Battle for the Iron Skillet slightly edges out The Revivalry in my opinion, and the photos that come after the winning team takes possession of the rusty cast iron prize are often priceless.

The origins of each are outstanding as well: proximity first bore fruit for TCU vs SMU in 1915, and they have played all but seven seasons since. There are two versions of the story as to why they go to battle over a skillet, given as follows:

  1. TCU and SMU fans began the tradition back in 1946. During pre-game festivities, an SMU fan was frying frog legs as a joke before the game. A TCU fan, seeing this desecration of the “frog”, went over and told him that eating the frog legs was going well beyond the rivalry and that they should let the game decide who would get the skillet and the frog legs. SMU won the game, and the skillet and frog legs went to SMU. The tradition eventually spilled over into the actual game and the Iron Skillet is now passed to the winner.

2. “The first “Battle for the Iron Skillet” occurred on November 30, 1946, as college football boomed after World War II. Weeks prior to the game, SMU’s Student Council proposed the idea of presenting a trophy to the winning team. TCU accepted the idea, and the two schools’ governing bodies met in Dallas to set up the rules of the traveling trophy, which became the Iron Skillet.”[4] The TCU magazine article has this to say about the other story “One mystery remains: Why a skillet? History books provide scant details. Some claim that an SMU fan in the 1950s was caught frying frogs legs in a skillet at a tailgate before the game, and a TCU fan wagered that the winner should take the pan home, but that conflicts with a published report of the skillet originating with the councils.”

In between there have been many memorable events, whether it was members of the SMU Band dropping rye grass seed on the field in Fort Worth while performing in a manner that ended up with TCU’s field displaying a large M spanning from the 50 to 35 yards lines or TCU fans dying the water across the Dallas campus purple and covering the band facility in pro-Frog paraphernalia. There was the original “Game of the Century” — a title bestowed upon the team’s 1935 matchup that not only decided the SWC title but sent SMU to the Rose Bowl — the first team from Texas to ever play in Pasadena.

And of course, SMU’s disappointment at not being the team invited to the Power Five party lingers over every matchup now, as they toil away at the kiddie table where both programs sat for so long, hoping that someone will make room for a program that is finally investing the type of money that it takes to make you truly matter in college football.

Though it’s been a while since this game truly meant something on the national stage — though TCU fans will shudder remembering 2005 and what could have been — the improved program east of the gateway to the west should make it matter more going forward. There was a time when a win over the Mustangs was just another skin on the wall, but Dykes isn’t long from turning it into something that bolsters the SOS.

As for Baylor...

Well, first of all, let me join the cacophony in saying “THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART FOR SAVING ME FROM HAVING TO SPEND FOUR YEARS IN WACO.”

Baylor students saved us all by burning down TCU’s administrative building back in 1910, 11 years after the schools first locked facemasks on the gridiron. These two teams have met 116 times in 122 years, and have been as closely matched in that time period as any rivalry in the country. According to Wikipedia, “since resumption of the annual rivalry in 2010, the series is led by TCU 7-4, and since TCU joined Baylor in the Big 12 in 2012, the Big 12 series record is held by TCU 6-3. Only the SEC rivalry between the Georgia Bulldogs and Auburn Tigers, Big Ten rivalry between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Wisconsin Badgers, and non-conference rivalry between the Kansas Jayhawks and Missouri Tigers are similarly competitive over 100+ meetings.” Another unique aspect to this rivalry is that is has been played on the school’s homefields all but one time — a neutral site tie in Dallas in 1925 being the only exception. It has been ugly at times — Gary Patterson and Art Briles truly hated each other in a way that riled up both fan bases — and though it doesn’t have the prank history or trophy of the Iron Skillet game, it’s been far more closely contested: games between Baylor and TCU have been decided by 7 points or less 43 times, including 7 ties.

Another interesting, if depressing, weird note on this series: in 1971, TCU coach Jim Pittman collapsed and died on the sideline in Waco during the rivalry game, the only time in collegiate history that a coach died during a game.

After running off four straight victories over the Bears in the post-Briles era, the teams have split their last two contests: a 29-23 triple OT win by Baylor in Fort Worth in 2019, and 2020’s 33-23 TCU win. The games have been fraught with meaning, too: of course, we all know the stakes that came to light after the fact in 2014, but since then, there was the double-OT slosher that helped send Art packing, the catharsis of 62-22, the 45-22 beatdown that included a sideline brawl, the 16-9 slugfest orchestrated by Grayson Muehlstein and dominated by Jalen Reagor that helped a broken TCU team get bowl eligible (on Baylor’s Senior Day!), how close the under-Frogs MAX WAS IN got to knocking off a top ten BU team in one of the best environments I have ever witnessed at Amon G Carter, and last year’s game that saw TCU jump out to a 30-0 advantage that jump-started their season. These games have mattered, a LOT, since the two teams reclaimed their conference rivalry, and no matter the score, they are always tension-filled and entertaining.

So which is the bigger rival for the Horned Frogs, Baylor or SMU?

I think it depends on when your TCU fandom began.

Since 2000, TCU and SMU have played all but two years: 2006 and 2020. TCU and Baylor played just four times — 2006, 2007, 2010, and 2011 — after the Frogs were left brokenhearted at the dissolution of the SWC after the 1995 season and before they joined the Big 12 in 2012. If you went to school in Fort Worth between 1996 and 2005, you never saw these two teams play, so what would the Revivalry possibly have meant to you? But, if you have followed TCU since, well, 2014... you know why this is the team that most sticks in the craw of dedicated Frog Football fans in recent history.

So the question becomes, which rivalry matters to you more — or which team does it hurt the most to lose to in a given season?


Which team do you get more upset about losing to?

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  • 62%
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196 votes total Vote Now

We hope you will tell us why in the comments.

Oh, and if you want to check out Clint’s video...