About Pony Excess
From 1981-1984, a small private school in Dallas owned the best record in college football. The Mustangs of Southern Methodist University (SMU) were riding high on the backs of the vaunted "Pony Express" backfield. But as the middle of the decade approached, the program was coming apart at the seams. Wins became the only thing that mattered as the University increasingly ceded power of the football program to the city's oil barons and real estate tycoons and flagrant and frequent NCAA violations became the norm.
On February 25, 1987, the school and the sport were rocked, as the NCAA meted out "the death penalty" on a college football program for the first and only time in its history. SMU would be without football for two years, and the fan base would be without an identity for 20 more until the Mustangs' win in the 2009 Hawaii Bowl.
This is the story of Dallas in the 1980s and the greed, power and corruption that spilled from the oil fields onto the football field and all the way to the Governor's Mansion. Director Thaddeus D. Matula, a product of the SMU film school, chronicles the rise, fall, and rebirth of this once mighty team.
As a kid I had no greater loves than Star Wars and SMU football (you know, besides girls); in fact, you could say I was born into them. My father had been at SMU for few years -- he's now been there for the better part of four decades -- and my older brother was already a big fan of both. Naturally I came along and had to up the ante. The love of the former manifested itself into a deep-seeded need to become a filmmaker. The love of the latter manifested itself into piano lessons and the saxophone in hopes of someday marching with the Mustang Band on the same field as my heroes. My eventual stint with the band was brief, filmmaking got in the way, but as the saying goes ... "one out of two ain't bad."
I was 8 when the Mustangs got the death penalty; it felt like my heart had been ripped out. SMU football -- something that had been mine, so special to me -- had been taken away. Obvious to me now is the fact that grown men at the time felt the exact same way. Many of them also felt shame, others embarrassment, and some felt both. For me personally, it was a loss of innocence; I had a "say it ain't so, Joe" moment and was forced to grow up. I learned the good guys don't always win, and had to question whether the good guys are truly good or whether they are good just because they are yours.
I have wanted to tell this story ever since.
It's a story of Dallas in its golden era, when the Cowboys were America's team and the TV show was the world's gateway into one of the great cultures of all time. It was a time of big hair and bigger oil, fast cars and faster women; it was an idea, a dream, and a place to dream big. Everything in Dallas was shiny and new; if you wanted it bad enough you could get it in Dallas, and every purchase financed with the currency of excess.
The good times couldn't last forever, and in 1986, the Dallas real estate market crashed. By '87 Dallas had tumbled into what would become a decade-long recession. I like to think that it's not a coincidence that SMU football crashed at the same time. There were just too many dreams and too many divergent visions; it was unsustainable. Eventually and inexorably those dreams slammed together, swirled and churned into a perfect storm for both the city's economy and the Mustangs. The brand new gleaming skyscrapers sat empty downtown ... and just down Central Expressway, so did the Mustang locker room.
As a fan you ask why did this happen? Why did it have to happen? Why did it have to happen to my team? Who can I blame? That is why the journey of this project is so much fun for me, personally. And you know what? On the journey I found an answer to my old question; in the end it's not really about good guys and bad guys because sometimes the good guys can still be good, but so can the bad guys.
What's Everyone Saying?
Thaddeus D. Matula literally grew up at SMU as the son of an SMU professor. He is the writer/director of eight short films, and one feature, as well as the lead writer on a made-for-television thriller entitled "Close-Up."
Matula's eight short films -- all fictional narratives -- have played at festivals all over the world and have aired nationally on PBS. His science fiction short, "The Dreamer v.2.1," notched awards at The International Festival of Cinema & Technology in Paris, France for editing and use of technology. His film "Fish Don't Wear Clothes," a comedy that enjoyed a lengthy festival run, won him acclaim at the prestigious Los Angeles International Short Film Competition.
Thaddeus D. Matula
Mitch Geller Michael Hughes
Joan Lynch Connor Schell
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