In the history of SMU football, no two days have helped shape the future of the program as June 13, 1997 and September 2, 2000. The first date is when University officials announced that significant funds had been raised to begin construction on a brand new, on-campus football stadium. The second is the date that Mustang football returned to campus in the brand new $60 million Gerald J. Ford Stadium for the inaugural game against Kansas. The return of Mustang football to the Hilltop takes its place as one of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.
The state-of-the-art facility would not have been possible without the generous donations of Gerald J. Ford, Lamar and Norma Hunt, Ray L. and Nancy Ann Hunt, and Sherrill and Jo Ann Pettus, all of whom are SMU alumni. Thanks to the gifts of these Mustang faithful, the entire SMU community was given the opportunity to experience college football the way it was meant to be.
Gerald J. Ford Stadium, finished in August of 2000 on the former Ownby Stadium grounds, has a horseshoe configuration with an open south end zone adjacent to Mockingbird Lane. The architecture is consistent with the Collegiate-Georgian style of the entire SMU campus and features traditional, yet state-of-the-art design concepts. College football enthusiasts regularly comment that Ford Stadium is one of the finest facilities in the country.
The stadium has a seating capacity of 32,000 with the possibility for future expansion to 45,000. The 32,000-seat configuration includes nearly 600 preferred club level seats and 240 seats in 24 spacious luxury suites housed in a custom, three-level press box. In addition to housing preferred club and suite seating, the air-conditioned press box provides excellent sightlines and comfortably accommodates more than 125 working print, radio and television media.
The playing surface is 25 feet below ground level, with half of the stadium’s seats sunk below grade, ensuring a smooth transition into the surrounding neighborhood and the remainder of the SMU campus. Unlike some college football stadiums, just by looking Ford Stadium a person can tell that it belongs on a college campus.
The day of the game, September 2, 2000, was full of energy and excitement that the campus had not seen for generations. Fans began arriving to campus six hours before kickoff in order to take in a full day of activities. Once fans filed into the stadium, the excitement had reached a new level. The realization of a dream several years in the making was about to take place.
After an on-the-field ribbon cutting ceremony prior to kickoff, the Mustangs scored on the first four possessions to take a 24-0 lead. By the end of the day, the Mustangs had whipped Big 12 foe Kansas, 31-17, before a sellout crowd of 32,267. It was the first capacity home crowd for Mustang football since 1990.
From the pre-game tailgating on “The Boulevard” to the pageantry and excitement of the game, Gerald J. Ford Stadium has brought the college football experience back to the Hilltop. College football is meant to be played on college campuses. It brings former and current students together so that they can celebrate a place that prepares the youth of this nation for future endeavors. This is what Gerald J. Ford Stadium has done for SMU. This is why the opening of the stadium on September 2, 2000 will go down as one of the90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.