Great story, Bud, and it is good to know that you have changed history, at least as far as SMU's records of it are concerned.

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Mar 28, 2023Liked by Football Archaeology

Rockne was only one of the members of the stable of Christy Walsh, who syndicated to newspapers not only top athletes and coaches but also celebrities of all kinds. Walsh was kind of an early version of the Hollywood packager and was almost as famous as his clients. Another thing that was interesting was the way Rockne, like many famous coaches in those times, felt free to skip his own team's game! Can you imagine Nick Saban missing a Crimson Tide game to take in Florida-Georgia? Finally...you gotta admit that Barbasol really gave the Rock an exceedingly clean all-over shave!

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And then there's the story of the sportswriter who became the head football coach -- while still reporting for the newspaper! In 1921, the head football coach at SMU was Burton Rix, one-time head coach at the famous Terrill School for Boys in Dallas. Elijah "Bill" Cunningham was a graduate of Terrill School and a recent grad from Dartmouth, and his first job out of college was as a reporter for the Dallas Morning News. He covered among other things, SMU football, and the News allowed Cunningham to assist with coaching duties for the team in his spare time.

Rix had been the head football coach for a few years (he was also the head basketball coach concurrently -- imagine that today!), but the 1921 season started off poorly for the Mustangs. After two games, Rix resigned. Amazingly, SMU opted for Cunningham to be the head coach for the remainder of the season, and Cunningham remained in his reporter's role with the News as well. His head-coaching stint did not go too well, as he coached the final six games of the season, all losses except for a tie. Ironically his first game as head coach was against Austin College, and the head coach for Austin was none other than his Terrill and Dartmouth teammate and classmate, Eugene Neely, an All-American at Dartmouth, despite him having only one arm.

Cunningham handed off the SMU coaching duties after the season was over and focused on his sports reporting. He was asked by the Boston Post newspaper to cover the 1922 battle between the powerful Centre College team vs. Texas A&M, played in Texas. The Post was so pleased with his coverage of what was a big upset win for the Aggies, that they offered him a full-time job, which he accepted. Cunningham spent the rest of his life in Boston as a reporter for the Post and then the Boston Herald, becoming a legendary sportswriter in New England.

These facts about Cunningham taking over as the SMU coach for the balance of the 1921 season were unknown to SMU. Early last year, I brought it to their attention and gave them the proof of the series of events that transpired, and how it differed from their official history. Based on my research SMU made all the changes necessary to correct their official records, statistics, and narrative regarding this information. That was all completely reflected in their official 2022 season Media Guide.

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