There has been endless debate about what college football game should be designated the "Game of the Century." A game such as the Texas-Arkansas match up in 1969 comes to mind for many people. But, perhaps, there has never been a game more deserving of that title than the epic 1935 showdown between SMU and TCU. It was a clash of two undefeated titans that drew national attention. The game came down to a 45-yard touchdown catch by SMU's Bobby Wilson. The play has been referred to as the "$85,000 pass" and takes its place as one of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.
The stakes for the game could not have been any higher. The Southwest Conference title, a Rose Bowl bid, and probably the national championship would go to the winner. SMU was 10-0, and TCU, with slinging Sammy Baugh at the helm, was 11-0. It was No.1 vs. No. 2. Which team was ranked higher at the time differs depending on which school is talking about it.
The game drew unprecedented national attention as the National Broadcasting System sent it live across the country. This was the first such broadcast of a game ever in the Southwest. Grantland Rice was one of the dozens of sportswriters from all over the country that were sent to Fort Worth to cover the game. Both schools held pep rallies the week of the game with cheers of "On to the Rose Bowl" echoing across campus. On game day, nearly 37,000 fans made their way to TCU. The stadium only held 25,000 but that did not stop all 37,000 from making their way into the game one way or another. SMU's Bob Finley recalled, "Fans were all over everything, the hillside and the grass. They crawled over fences, pushed gatekeepers out of the way."
Prior to the game, SMU's coach Matty Bell had told Dallas News sports editor George White, "Now don't change your selection, but we're going to win this game." However, SMU was going to have to do it shorthanded as All-SWC back Harry Shuford was sidelined with an injury. Finley was given the play calling duties and led the Mustangs to a 14-0 lead. Bobby Wilson scored both times, once receiving and the other running.
But TCU was a great team, and they fought their way back to tie the score at 14 going into the fourth quarter. With a little more than eight minutes left in the game, Finley and company made arguably the most important play in school history. Matty Bell had sent in Jack Rabbit Smith to take over play calling duties for this series, but left Finley at quarterback. There was no sending in plays from the sidelines in those days. So what happened next came as a shock to Matty Bell as well.
On fourth and four at the TCU 39, Smith called for a fake punt, even though on the sideline Bell was sure they would try to kick it out of bounds inside the TCU 10. Finley, the team's normal punter, broke the huddle and headed to line up in formation when Wilson grabbed him and said, "Throw it as far as you can. I'll be there."
Finley recalls, "Wilson was out wide. I made as if to kick the ball, and the line slowed down. Then I backed up and threw it, and I was buried. I heard the people scream, and when I got up, I saw Wilson in the end zone, jumping up and down."
Finley's pass had sailed more than 45 yards in the air and came down to Wilson inside the five, where he caught it between a couple of TCU defenders, and dove into the end zone for the touchdown. SMU had taken the lead, 20-14. Baugh tried valiantly to bring the Horned Frogs back, but was denied by the Mustang defense.
SMU won the game, the conference, and the national championship. The win sent them to the Rose Bowl which in turn meant SMU would receive $85,000 in revenue. It was used to pay off the Ownby Stadium mortgage. The pass from Finley to Wilson thus became known as the $85,000 pass and one of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.