Not trips halfway around the world. Not chickenpox. Not the death penalty. And, this year, not even COVID.
For 48 years and counting, SMU football fanatic Paul Layne has navigated all obstacles to attend every game played by his beloved Mustangs. He was planning to attend Saturday’s Tropical Smoothie Café Frisco Bowl before SMU pulled out because of several COVID cases, ending its season.
Now, Layne’s 531st consecutive game will have to wait until Sept. 4 when the Mustangs — fingers crossed — kick off their 2021 season against Abilene Christian.
Games have been canceled. But, remarkably, nothing has thwarted Layne.
“The closest I came to missing a game was 1995 when I had chickenpox,” says the 66-year-old Dallas realt estate agent. “But it was Halloween, so I just dressed like a scarecrow and sat away from everybody in the upper deck of the Cotton Bowl.”
His Mustang Mania obsession began as a freshman SMU cheerleader in 1972.
“I guess it got in my blood,” he says, joking.
He’s traveled to watch SMU play in Tokyo, Hawaii (eight times) and college football hotbeds such as Florida, Notre Dame, Michigan and Austin. Layne’s streak has outlived eight head coaches, spanned 22 losing seasons and survived the hiccup of 1987-88 when the program was banned for major recruiting violations.
The truth? Layne’s loyalty has rewarded him with some really bad football. The Mustangs have treated him to a record of 229-298-7 with only 10 bowl games over five decades. The low: A 2-22 two-year stretch in 2007-08. The peak: A 51-7-1 dominance from 1980-84, highlighted by an undefeated season in 1982 and a No. 2 national ranking.
Layne’s all-time favorite coach: Sonny Dykes.
Favorite player: Eric Dickerson.
Favorite play: Receiver Bobby Leach’s deflected, 79-yard touchdown catch that helped the Mustangs remain unbeaten and beat Texas in Austin in 1982.
“I’ve had so many memories,” Layne says. “But that play still gives me goosebumps.”
In a year in which games were canceled and fans were prohibited, Layne said he’s been “very lucky” to not have his streak snapped by COVID. In 2020, he’s traveled to SMU road games in San Marcos (Texas State), Denton (North Texas), Philadelphia (Temple), Tulsa (Tulsa) and Greenville, N.C. (East Carolina). But on Oct. 16 in New Orleans, he needed a Hail Mary.
Tulane University was only allowing parents of players at its games, but Layne got an assist from Dykes and athletic director Rick Hart, and wound up being the only fan in attendance on SMU’s side of the stadium.
“They wanted to keep my streak going, too,” he said of the SMU powerbrokers. “So it wound up being just me and the cardboard cutouts.”
The voluntary withdrawal from the Frisco Bowl cases caps another disappointing season for SMU. Led by quarterback Shane Buechele, the Mustangs started 5-0 and were ranked as high as No. 16 but eventually lost their last two games and were forced to settle on a low-profile bowl game against UTSA, a small in-state school in their own backyard.
“Our team deserved to play another game,” SMU athletic director Rick Hart says. “I’m disappointed for our fans, and even more disappointed for our players.”
But no matter the site or the stakes, Layne remains committed to keeping his SMU streak alive until he’s, well, dead.
“I can do six feet apart, no problem,” Layne says of COVID regulations. “Heck, I plan to keep going until I’m six feet under.”