Greatest Moments

On January 1st, 1983, the SMU Mustangs and the Pittsburgh Panthers squared off in the 47th Cotton Bowl Classic. SMU was playing in its first Cotton Bowl since New Year's Eve 1966, when they fell to the Georgia Bulldogs, 24-9. On this day, however, the Mustangs would emerge victorious thanks to an option quarterback from Highland Park named Lance McIlhenny. McIlhenny ran the option to perfection as he scored the game's only touchdown to give SMU a 7-3 victory in one of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.

Over the course of two seasons, the Mustangs had compiled a 20-1-1 record and back-to-back Southwest Conference championships. The Panthers were also one of college football's winningest programs. In four seasons, they had rolled up 42 victories and just five losses. Together, these two teams combined for a .906 winning percentage. This was truly a clash of two titans.

The first half ended with the score tied at zero, making it the first time that neither team had scored in the first half since 1961. Pitt broke the scoreless tie when Eric Schubert hit a 43-field goal in the third quarter. And thus SMU, which outscored its opponents, 116-57, in the fourth quarter, was going to have to get only one touchdown in the last period to overcome Pitts' 3-0 lead. As the fourth quarter began, Lance McIlhenny proved he could go deep. First McIlhenny connected with his Miracle Man, sophomore split end Bobby Leach, for a 20-yard gain to the SMU 49. The Ponies then called their split-end reverse, for the first time all year, but Leach was nailed for an 11-yard loss by safety Dan Short and end Chris Doleman. Now facing second-and-21 from his 38, McIlhenny faked a handoff, went back and let fly for Leach running a streak down the right sideline with left cornerback Troy Hill. Leach ran around the back judge, screening Hill from the ball, then made an over-the-shoulder catch at the Pitt 20 for a 42-yard gain.

McIlhenny then decided to go back to the ground game deep in Panther territory. On third-and-1 from the 11, McIlhenny pitched left to Craig James, who got a first down at the nine and would have scored had he not slipped trying to cut inside free safety Tom Flynn. The stage was set for McIlhenny to run into Mustang history. On the next play, McIlhenny ran the option out of Collins' power-I - the same play on which he scored the TD against Arkansas that clinched the Southwest Conference championship.

McIlhenny faked up the middle to Eric Dickerson, faked the pitch right to James, cut inside and ran out of linebacker Yogi Jones' arm tackle at the four to score standing up. Jeff Harrell converted, and the Ponies had a 7-3 lead with 13:43 left in the game. The Mustang defense went on to preserve the win.

On this day, the best quarterback on the field was not the highly publicized Dan Marino. The Cotton Bowl belonged to Lance McIlhenny. The feisty junior quarterback completed five of eight passes for 101 yards, and executed the Mustang offense brilliantly. McIlhenny had the superior NCAA pass-efficiency ranking during the season, 133.7 compared to Marino's 118.2. And though McIlhenny took a beating early, he was the architect of the game's only touchdown.

After the game, SMU coach Bobby Collins was asked where he thought the Mustangs should be ranked nationally. "As far as I'm concerned, this is the No. 1 team in the nation," Collins said. "They seem to play best when things are not going that well. We do what we have to do. How else can you judge a team than from what they do?" SMU ended up being ranked No. 2 in the final AP poll behind Penn State. Nevertheless, 1982 was a magical season for the Mustangs. The Pony Express finished the season undefeated thanks to the running of McIlhenny during one of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.

THE COUNTDOWN
No. 90 :: First School Win (1915)
No. 89 :: Rutledge sets two school records (2003)
No. 88 :: Phillips 100 yard INT (1984)
No. 87 :: McCown completes 19 straight (1999)
No. 86 :: Brownlee kicks 57 yd. field goal (1985)
No. 85 :: Bennett records first career win (2002)
No. 84 :: SMU closes out the Cotton Bowl (1999)
No. 83 :: Ownby Stadium opens (1926)
No. 82 :: James sets SWC record (1982)
No. 81 :: Stewart named All-American (1993)
No. 80 :: Briggs sets new Mustang mark (2002)
No. 79 :: SMU defeats Arkansas 31-9 (1997)
No. 78 :: The 1980 Holiday Bowl (1980)
No. 77 :: Hopkins records 4 INTs (1981)
No. 76 :: Pony Express heads to Japan (1983)
No. 75 :: SMU plays in first ever bowl game (1924)
No. 74 :: Hayden Fry named head coach (1962)
No. 73 :: McIlhenny leads SMU over Baylor (1982)
No. 72 :: Flanigan sets total offense record (1997)
No. 71 :: Bell inducted into CFHOF (1955)
No. 70 :: Dickerson runs wild against A&M (1980)
No. 69 :: Charles breaks freshman record (2001)
No. 68 :: Johnson sets sack record (1999)
No. 67 :: Dupard leads pouding of Texas (1985)
No. 66 :: Sanders named first All-America (1928)
No. 65 :: Rossley breaks reception record (1994)
No. 64 :: First win over Texas (1924)
No. 63 :: Gregg returns to SMU (1988)
No. 62 :: Mann leads SMU over TCU (1926)
No. 61 :: Berry defines excellence (1954)
No. 60 :: Birth of the Mustang Name (1917)
No. 59 :: Ford scores first TD in Ford (2000)
No. 58 :: Wolf sets SWC record (1992)
No. 57 :: Meredith sets SWC record (1957)
No. 56 :: Choate Anchors SMU Defense (1978)
No. 55 :: SMU downs Texas (1965)
No. 54 :: Tolbert leads win over BU (1978)
No. 53 :: SMU downs Texas in Austin (1982)
No. 52 :: Partee kicks win over Baylor (1966)
No. 51 :: Hopkins recovers Pitt fumble (1983)
No. 50 :: Dickerson scores 19 TDs (1981)
No. 49 :: Romo breaks completion record (1990)
No. 48 :: LeVias breaks reception record (1968)
No. 47 :: SMU records 400th win (1997)
No. 46 :: SMU clinches winning season (1997)
No. 45 :: Walker on Life Magazine (1948)
No. 44 :: Rote No. 1 NFL Draft Pick (1951)
No. 43 :: SMU blanks TCU (1966)
No. 42 :: SMU downs UNT on Homecoming (1989)
No. 41 :: SMU RUNS over Razorbacks (1980)
No. 40 :: Richardson sets rushing record (1968)
No. 39 :: Wolf breaks NCAA record (1989)
No. 38 :: SMU downs Arkansas (1984)
No. 37 :: The Decision (1945)
No. 36 :: Doak Walker Day at SMU (1998)
No. 35 :: SMU Upsets A&M (1974)
No. 34 :: SMU Ties Ohio State (1978)
No. 33 :: SMU ties Penn State (1948)
No. 32 :: The Army game (1928)
No. 31 :: The TCU Game (1947)
No. 30 :: SMU comeback against Baylor (1975)
No. 29 :: Hixson leads nation in passing (1968)
No. 28 :: Back to the Cotton Bowl (1949)
No. 27 :: Smith picks off Marino (1983)
No. 26 :: The Aloha Bowl (1984)
No. 25 :: Mustang Mania (1978)
No. 24 :: First SWC Title (1923)
No. 23 :: LeVias Baffles Texas A&M (1966)
No. 22 :: Debut Of The Pony Express (1980)
No. 21 :: Undefeated SMU Beats Texas (1947)
No. 20 :: The Ohio State game (1950)
No. 19 :: Dickerson breaks SWC record (1982)
No. 18 :: Revenge against Houston (1992)
No. 17 :: Tie versus Texas A&M (1994)
No. 16 :: Win over Notre Dame (1951)
No. 15 :: Walker career accolades (1949)
No. 14 :: SMU ranked No. 2 (1982)
No. 13 :: The House That Doak Built
No. 12 :: Bluebonnet Bowl in 1968
No. 11 :: Opening of Ford Stadium (2000)
No. 10 :: The Navy Game (1963)
No. 9 :: Carter's block against Arkansas (1982)
No. 8 :: Miracle on Mockingbird (1989)
No. 7 :: The 1949 Notre Dame Game
No. 6 :: National Champions (1935)
No. 5 :: Signing of Jerry LeVias (1965)
No. 4 :: McIlhenny Cotton Bowl TD (1983)
No. 3 :: The Miracle Man (1982)
No. 2 :: The $85,000 Pass (1935)
No. 1 :: Doak Wins the Heisman (1948)