October 27, 1945, will always be remembered as one of the greatest moments in SMU history. You might be wondering why this date would be so important, especially considering Tulane beat the Mustangs quite easily. But it was the day that had such a profound impact on history that even the loss in that game is inconsequential. It was on that day that Doak Walker chose SMU over the University of Texas. A moment such as this is worthy of a much higher ranking than this point, but we honor the man who wore Number 37 on his jersey by making him No. 37 on our countdown of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.
The Mustangs were in New Orleans to take on Tulane in a midseason non-conference match-up. SMU was thoroughly outplayed in a game that was not as close as the final score indicated, 19-7. However, as fate would have it, the Mustangs did not go home empty handed.
Doak Walker was also in New Orleans with his best friend and high school teammate, Bobby Lane to watch the game. In February of 1945, both Layne and Walker had entered the maritime service, and they had just been released from it. The following day, Layne was planning to return to Austin to rejoin the Longhorns for the start of winter term. He used the trip to New Orleans to try and convince Walker that he needed to come back with him.
However, Walker had a special place for SMU in his heart. Growing up not far from the school, Walker used to watch SMU practice during the mid-1930s. His favorite player was Harry Shuford, and young Doak would hold Shuford's helmet and play catch with him during breaks. Also, in SMU's favor was the fact that Walker's old coach at Highland Park, Rusty Russell, was now an assistant coach for Matty Bell.
After the SMU-Tulane game, Walker had just about agreed to Layne's entreaties, and after the game Layne took Walker to a hotel to meet Texas coach Blair Cherry, who was in town to scout the game. What happened next could be viewed as luck by some or just a simple twist of fate.
Walker and Layne were on their way up to Cherry's room in one elevator while Cherry came down to the lobby in another to check out. Cherry proceeded to leave and made his way back to Austin. So when there was no one to meet, Walker decided to catch a ride back home to Dallas on the train with the Mustangs. Four days later, Walker enrolled at SMU and was given Number 37, the same number worn by Harry Shuford and a spot on the varsity squad.
Lester Jordan, SMU's athletic business manager and sports publicist, said, "If Cherry hadn't been coming down that elevator while Bobby and Doak were going up, Doak would have gone to Texas. Because, you see, he would have given Blair his word and he wouldn't have gone back on it."
Walker could do anything and everything on the football field. Even though he was only 5-11, 165 pounds, he could run, pass, kick, block, and play defense. And even more important than any of his physical abilities, he was a true leader that could inspire everyone around him.
Thankfully for SMU, Doak Walker chose to be a Mustang, and the rest if history. No person has ever had as much influence on SMU football as Walker. He is honored with a statue in Doak Walker Plaza just outside of Ford Stadium. And now we honor him once more with his place on our list of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.