This Saturday, for the first time in a quarter century, the University of Connecticut football team will come to Dallas to face off against SMU. The Mustangs are expected to cruise to an easy victory over the winless Huskies, which is a must if they hope to keep their slim bowl chances alive.
In the leadup to their 1989 matchup, the scenario was flipped. UConn was, if not a powerhouse, at least a strong postseason contender. SMU, meanwhile, was in its second game off the NCAA-imposed death penalty that left its athletic program in ruins. They were a step slower, a head shorter, and a lot less experienced than most of their foes. Of 89 players, 73 were freshmen.
"I don't know what people thought individually," says Mike Romo, who quarterbacked the 1989 squad and now works for an investment firm in New York. "I think to a certain extent, there was a belief we were going to be competitive. I don't think anyone signed up to be over-matched."
Their first game, a 35-6 trouncing at the hands of Rice, never a football powerhouse, probably should have been enough to convince them that they were. Same with the first three-and-a-half quarters of the UConn game, at the end of which they trailed 30-14. The fans at Ownby Stadium had realized as much and had begun to file out to the parking lot.
Then came the Miracle on Mockingbird.
"I don't know if they let off the pedal or if we just started clicking," Romo says, but they began marching down the field.
Romo, who'd been recruited by UT, A&M and others until an ACL tear left SMU as his only suitor, orchestrated an eight-play, 87-yard drive capped off by a 43-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Michell Glieber.
SMU punched in a two-point conversion, recovered an onside kick, then booted in a 43-yard field goal to bring the score to 30-25 with 3:14 to play.
Had UConn made a couple first downs, the game would have been over, but SMU's defense forced a punt with 2:21 on the clock, more than enough time for the Mustangs' run-and-shoot offense. Romo quickly marched the team down the field, converting twice on fourth down to reach UConn's four yard line with time enough for one final play.
It was a play they'd run several times during the game, with four wideouts choosing their route based on the defense. UConn knew what was coming. The Husky secondary jumped the routes while their line flushed Romo from the pocket. He was scrambling toward the sideline as the game clock hit zero when he caught sight of wide receiver Michael Bowen cutting behind the defense.
Pitch. Catch. Touchdown.
At the time, Romo and his teammates didn't think of the game as SMU's First Win Post-Death Penalty. To them, it was just a win. That only came later, after it had been dubbed the Miracle on Mockingbird and became one of the few inspiring moments during the Mustangs' next two decades of mediocrity.
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Romo says he's fielded a handful of phone calls this week about the game, and he's happy to take them.
"It was cool and an honor to have a role in playing that game," he says. It's left many fond memories.
Not so much for UConn. The Hartford Courtant's Jeff Jacobs writes this morning of the devastation players on the 1989 Huskies still feel, going on to point out that Mockingbird Lane was a street JFK's motorcade drove down en route to Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963.
Not that "the profound national heartache of 1963 is to be confused in any way with the athletic disappointment of losing a football game in shocking fashion." Just that both those things happened.