On October 11, 1963, the fourth-ranked Navy Midshipman came to the Cotton Bowl to play the Mustangs on the Friday night before the Texas-OU game. A crowd of 37,000 fans came to Fair Park with the intentions of getting a look at Navy’s All-American quarterback Roger Staubach. What the crowd did not expect was that the Mustangs, and second year head coach Hayden Fry, were about to knock off Staubach and company in one of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.
After the Midshipmen got out to a 10-0 lead, sophomore quarterback Mac White took a sweep 22 yards for a touchdown. However, Staubach brought Navy right back to extend the lead to 18-7. Danny Thomas then came in to the game and hit Thomas Hillary for a touchdown with five seconds in the first half, bringing the Mustangs to within five at 18-13 at the intermission.
Late in the third quarter, Staubach threw a touchdown pass for a 25-13 lead. But on the third play after the kickoff, Roderick ignited the Cotton Bowl as he took a pitch from White and made one of the most exciting plays of the entire decade. Roderick cut all the way across the field at the 35, got a block from White of all players and then raced 45 yards into the end zone to cut the Navy lead to six at 25-19.
The Mustang defense then stepped up and made the first of several big plays on Navy’s next possession. Dave Corder intercepted Staubach allowing the offense to come back on the field to go for the lead. SMU drove inside the Navy 10 and gave the ball to Roderick for the final surge into the end zone. The Mustangs had stormed back to take the lead, 26-25. But Staubach, with his usual determination, moved his team down the field setting up a field to give Navy a two-point lead with 2:52 remaining in the game. It only took the Mustangs four plays and 47 seconds to take the lead back. Billy Gannon was able to fight his way into the end zone from the one, and SMU took a 32-28 lead.
But back came Staubach, proving why he would come to be known as “Captain Comeback” during his days at the helm of the Dallas Cowboys. It appeared that the game was going to be won by the team that had the ball last. But Donald Campbell and Tommy Caughran broke up two passes in the end zone in the last few seconds, and the Mustangs had their upset win.
Coach Fry was named national Coach of the Week. The win over Navy helped propel the Mustangs into the Sun Bowl despite the fact that they finished 4-6 and tied for fifth in the Southwest Conference.
Nearly forty-two years after the final gun had sounded, Staubach still talks of the game. At the 2005 SMU Kickoff Luncheon, Staubach mentioned that the Midshipmen were the best team in the country, except when they stepped on to the field in the Cotton Bowl. Staubach went on to win the Heisman Trophy and then a pair of Super Bowl titles with the Dallas Cowboys. But on that October day in 1963, Staubach was not able to work his usual magic against a very determined SMU team.
It was a great day for SMU football and a career day for a little-known halfback out of Highland Park named John Roderick. By the end of the day, Roderick had gained 146 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns. He was the spark the Mustangs needed to take down the heavily favored Midshipmen. The win over fourth-ranked Navy in 1963 takes its place as one of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.