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ESPN finishes documentary series with piece on Southern Methodist

"Pony Excess," a two-hour film on the SMU football program of the 1980s, will air at 8 p.m. Saturday
by Mel Bracht Modified: December 9, 2010 at 4:55 pm •  Published: December 9, 2010

A few years back, a running joke in football was that star running back Eric Dickerson had to take a pay cut when he left SMU to play in the NFL.

Twenty-eight years after he left SMU, Dickerson is still not talking about what inducements, if any, he received to attend the university after being a highly recruited standout from Sealy, Texas.

“It's a dead subject,” Dickerson said in a conference call this week with “Pony Express” backfield pardner Craig James. “I've never been a guy in any situation to kiss and tell.”

ESPN looks back at the powerful SMU football program of the 1980s — the only program to receive “the death penalty” from the NCAA for repeated recruiting violations — in the fascinating documentary “Pony Excess,” which wraps up the highly acclaimed “30 for 30” series at 8 p.m. Saturday. The two-hour film, arguably the best installment in the series, will air after ESPN's Heisman Trophy presentation.

Filmmaker Thaddeus Matula, a graduate of the SMU film school, traces the history of the program in the competitive Southwest Conference, the illegal inducements to athletes that led to the downfall of the Mustangs' program and its eventual revival under coach Forrest Gregg.

Now an ESPN sportscaster, James said, “I hope that people once they see this film will look at us in the same sense that they do an Oklahoma, a Texas, an Alabama, a Penn State, a USC, a Notre Dame — that it was a great football team that was part of a culture that is different than it is today.”

That culture included widespread payments by boosters in a much less regulated era.

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by Mel Bracht
Copy Editor, Sports Media
Mel Bracht is a copy editor on the presentation desk and also covers sports media. A 1978 graduate of Indiana University, Bracht has been a print journalist for 34 years. He started his career as sports editor of the Rensselaer (Ind.) Republican...
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