During the early eighties, the Mustangs were one of the premier teams in the Southwest, but in 1983 they made their claim as the best team in the Far East. The Mustangs highlighted the 1983 season with the longest road trip in school history- all the way to Tokyo, Japan for the 1983 Mirage Bowl vs. the Houston Cougars. The Mustangs dominated the Cougars 34 - 12 in front of 70,000 Japanese fans for one of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.
The Mustangs were front page news in the Orient as the Mirage Bowl was one of Japan's biggest sporting events, attracting more than 70,000 Japanese football fans. Whenever the Mustangs made a big play, SMU's cheerleaders would hold up a huge placard telling the Japanese in their language to wave their pompoms and cheer for SMU. A Mustang contingent that included the football team, coaches, band, cheerleaders and more than 300 Mustang Club members was entertained by the Mirage Bowl Committee. As part of their trip, the football team gave clinics to Japanese football teams who were in awe of the players.
The game was a spectacular experience. By 10 o'clock in the morning the stadium was three-fourths full. The spectators enjoyed performances by the Mustang and Cougar bands then cheered a special ceremony in which the cheerleaders carried a lighted torch to light the Olympic Torch at the top of the stadium. Once the game began, it was all SMU.
After the SMU victory, Mustang quarterback Lance McIlhenny was named the game's Most Valuable Offensive Player and safety Russell Carter was tagged the Bowl's Most Valuable Defensive Player. The Mustangs were great ambassadors for the university, the state of Texas, and the United States of America. The 34-12 pummeling of Houston in Tokyo gave the Pony Express some international exposure that makes it one of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.