(And it has nothing to do with the fact that the movie is all about college football played in Dallas.)
Last night, I DVR'ed ESPN's final 30 for 30 entry, "Pony Excess", and I watched it this afternoon. (In case you're wondering what exciting stuff I was up to last night, I watched "Top Gun" and went to sleep. People need to come back to the city from college, yo.)
It's weird to say that the movie inspired me about Northwestern football, because the topic of the show - the wildly out-of-control recruiting scandals of SMU in the 1980's and the program's subsequent death penalty - seems a ridiculously far cry from Northwestern football. While SMU was known for their alumni spending loads of cash on bringing in top-notch, hyperathletic recruits allowing them to compete in the highly competitive Southwest Conference, NU has historically been known for having intensely unathletic, scrawny, squeaky clean (with the exception of a few point shaving scandals) brainiacs trot out every Saturday to lose to teams in the highly competitive Big Ten. Around the time SMU was buying conference championships, NU was racking up the longest losing streak in FBS history while our alumni stocked up on thicker rims for their reading glasses.
But the documentary - particularly the last ten minutes - struck a chord to me with a lot of NU propaganda.
Since receiving "the death penalty", SMU football has been decidedly mediocre. From their return to football in 1989 until 2008, the Mustangs had one winning season, and had trouble attracting recruits because of the "black eye" the scandal and years of mediocrity.
However, in recent years, under June Jones, the program has seen a mini-revival. The documentary interviewed several current players, all of whom spoke about coming to SMU because the opportunity to turn the program around and kill the ghosts around the program attracted them - and they spoke about how they felt the 2009 season represented that.
The 2009 season of SMU football was not a spectacular one by most schools' standards. The Mustangs went 7-5 and earned a bid to the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, which annually pits teams from the WAC with teams from the C-USA.
Much like the TicketCity Bowl, the Hawaii Bowl is not the cream of the crop when it comes to bowl season. However, in Pony Excess, SMU's 45-10 victory over Nevada in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl is discussed as if it was comparable to SMU's multiple SWC championships and Cotton Bowl victory attained in the 1980's. The players talked about it as a sign that they had revived the program. Alumni like Eric Dickerson said it was the first time he had watched a college football game in decades - and that he watched all the post-game shows, too, brimming with pride.
Like SMU, Northwestern has some black eyes and ghosts to clean up and get rid of. Some would argue a lot of these have been killed by NU's successfulteams of the past 15 or so years. However, there's still the one biggie: the bowl drought.
As noted the other day, I had trouble getting excited for this bowl because of some of the mitigating factors, like the bowl's lack of prestige, etc. However, watching "Pony Excess" made me realize something. Yes, the bowl system is stupid. There's no reason for it to exist in the way it does, where at the end of the year, 7-5 teams treat matchups against each other like its the end of the world. But it's the system we have. And for 61 years, Northwestern has failed at it.
YES, it's only the TicketCity Bowl. But the demons SMU's players and alumni claim they exorcised in Hawaii last year with a meaningless bowl win have some cousins in Evanston. In the grand scheme of things, their win - like anything NU does in the TicketCity Bowl - was a drop in the ocean of college football. But to a program - to us - it can mean so much more.
This is why I propose NU begin on a decade-long scheme to secretly pay and cover up payments to blue chip recruits so we can be successful and prove that Northwestern football isn't all about losing NU's 0-11 past is gone, but it's still a factor. SMU is conscious of their road back to relevance, and that their bowl win signifies that they're far along on it. I think we're further along on ours. But a win on New Year's can push our program that much further.