Throughout college and professional sports, certain players have the ability to increase attendance by their mere affiliation with a team. Great players help ensure that teams will not have to worry about playing in front of an empty stadium. Doak Walker was one such player. However, Walker did more than help SMU draw overflow crowds to its games; he was the single most important reason why the Cotton Bowl had to be expanded. The expansion of the Cotton Bowl into “The House That Doak Built” takes its place as one of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.
Midway through the 1945 season, the Mustangs were a meager 2-4. Fans were losing interest in the team. But then Doak Walker joined the team for Homecoming against Texas at Ownby Stadium and brought excitement back to the Hilltop. From that point on, things were different for SMU football. The Rotunda stated that, “SMU was an entirely different ball club. It was Doak Walker who effected the change. The lethargic forward wall was transformed into one of charging fury that knew no stopping.” The Mustangs finished the season with three straight shutout victories en route to a 5-6 record, thanks largely to Walker. After serving in the army during the 1946 season, Walker was back in 1947 to pick up where he had left off. And the Mustang faithful was ecstatic.
On November 1, 1947, SMU was scheduled to play Texas at Ownby Stadium. Both teams were undefeated heading into the game, and it was clear that the game was going to decide the Southwest Conference championship. Requests for tickets were through the roof. The game was moved to the Cotton Bowl in order to accommodate as many fans as possible. The Cotton Bowl, at that time, only seated 46,000, but the game drew a standing-room-only crown of 50,000. The wheels were set in motion to enlarge the stadium as soon as workmen could get started.
University officials agreed that starting in 1948 SMU should play its home games in the newly enlarged Cotton Bowl. The final home game played in Ownby Stadium was against Texas Tech on October 2nd. It was a proper farewell to Ownby as the Mustangs drilled Tech, 41-6. From that point on, the Mustangs would move across town to Fair Park and call the Cotton Bowl home for the next thirty years.
As construction of new seating areas was completed, more fans were able to attend allowing the attendance to grow with each home game. By the end of the season the stadium had been enlarged from 45,000 to 67,000 seats. The attendance for the home games was 50,000 for Santa Clara; 55,000 for Texas A&M; 58,000 for Baylor; and 67,431 for TCU. By the end of the 1948 season, SMU had drawn 254,000 fans, an average of 50,900 for their home games, even including the game at Ownby.
In 1949, Walker’s senior season, the Cotton Bowl had been rounded out to reach a capacity of 75,000. The game against Texas attracted 75,139. And in the season finale against Notre Dame, 75,457 fans jammed into the Cotton Bowl. Thanks to Walker, SMU played before more than 470,000 home fans in the 1949 season. From 1947 through 1950, the Mustangs had attracted more than one million people to the Cotton Bowl to see Walker and Kyle Rote. The Cotton Bowl had certainly changed for the better. It was indeed “The House That Doak Built” and is without a doubt one of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.