Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Mystique of the Southwest Conference, Part 2



The Mystique of the Southwest Conference, Part 2

By Enju Aihara
The Daily Magi
September 22, 2071

Beginning in the late 1930s and lasting until 1995, the Southwest Conference Champion automatically received an invitation as the "host" team in the Cotton Bowl Classic game on New Year's Day in Dallas, Texas. Opponents usually were the runners-up from the Big 8 Conference or the Southeastern Conference, although independents Penn State and Notre Dame were also often featured. From the 1940s onward, the Cotton Bowl Classic was counted among the four major bowl games, and often had national championship implications. However, in the 1990s, the game declined in importance, largely because of the decline of SWC prominence. In 1977, Notre Dame became the last team to win a national championship in the Cotton Bowl Classic by beating Texas in the January 1978 game.

The SWC had many legendary players and coaches over the years. In football, John Heisman, Dana X. Bible, Paul "Bear" Bryant, Darrell Royal, Frank Broyles, Hayden Fry, Lou Holtz, Bill Yeoman, Gene Stallings, and Grant Teaff all served as head coaches in the conference. Some notable SWC players included Davey O'Brien, Sammy Baugh, Bobby Layne, Doak Walker, Tom Landry, Bob Lilly, Don Meredith, Earl Campbell, Andre Ware, Mike Singletary, John David Crow, Lance Alworth, and Eric Dickerson. The trio of kicking contemporaries Steve Little of Arkansas, Tony Franklin of Texas A&M, and Russell Erxleben of Texas all kicked record setting field goals of 60 + yards in the same season.

The early 1980s were the glory years of SWC basketball, including the Phi Slama Jama teams at the University of Houston. However, the most consistent program during the last quarter of the 20th century was the University of Arkansas with Sweet 16 appearances in 1978, 1979, 1981, 1983, 1990, 1991, Elite 8 appearances in 1978, 1979, 1990 and 1991 and Final Four appearances in 1978 and 1990. Arkansas's famed Triplets, Marvin Delph, Ron Brewer and Sidney Moncrief, gave the rest of the league fits. Furthermore, the Razorbacks' Lee Mayberry, Todd Day and Oliver Miller won three straight SWC regular season and tournament titles from 1989–1991, the school's last three seasons in the conference. The passion of Arkansas fans for their Razorbacks often overran the confines of SWC basketball venues, so much so, that Reunion Arena in Dallas (annual site of the SWC postseason tournament) was deemed "Barnhill South" (after the Razorbacks' on-campus arena) based on the numbers and intensity of Hog fans present.

Outstanding basketball coaches included Nolan Richardson, Tom Penders, Eddie Sutton, Abe Lemons, Guy V. Lewis, Shelby Metcalf and Gerald Myers. Great SWC hoops players included the aforementioned Triplets, Akeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Vinnie Johnson, Jon Koncak, Alvin Robertson, Ricky Pierce, Day, Mayberry, Miller and U.S. Reed, among others.

The Texas Longhorns baseball program under coach Cliff Gustafson won national titles in 1975 and 1983, as well as titles under Bibb Falk in 1949 and 1950. The Arkansas Razorbacks also fielded fine teams that advanced to the College World Series. The Hogs finished 2nd in 1979, 3rd in 1985 and 5th in both the 1987 and 1989 seasons. The Hogs have continued this tradition since moving to the SEC, reaching the CWS three times under Arkansas alum Dave Van Horn. Texas A&M rose to power in the late 1980s, going 58-5 in 1989 before losing twice in the regional championship round on its home field to LSU. The Aggies reached the College World Series in 1993. Rice began its ascent to college baseball's elite in the conference's final years under coach Wayne Graham, reaching the CWS in 1997, the year after the conference disbanded.

The Arkansas Razorbacks were dominant in track and field winning 15 SWC cross country team titles, 11 SWC indoor track team titles, 9 SWC outdoor track team titles and an incredible 8 SWC triple crowns (cross country, indoor track and outdoor track champions all in the same season. During their SWC days, the Razorbacks won 14 NCAA national team championships and one NCAA team triple crown. The list of Arkansas individual SWC champions and individual NCAA champions is long. Standout coaches and athletes include the legendary John McDonnell of Arkansas, the winningest coach in NCAA history regardless of sport. Baylor's Michael Johnson, Texas A&M's Randy Matson, Houston's Carl Lewis and Arkansas' Mike Conley all went on to win Olympic gold medals.

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