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SMU "Pony Excess" documentary is excellent, complete with Craig James at his cocky best

December 12, 2010 - Cory Giger
ESPN's "Pony Excess" documentary on SMU's football program getting the death penalty is extraordinary TV. And almost as extraordinary is how smug, cocky and unremorseful some of the people are who brought about the scandal that destroyed a college football program.

Craig James, in particular, comes across as a smarmy, unapologetic figure every time he opens his mouth in the two-hour piece, which debuted Saturday night. So does former coach Ron Meyer, who was in charge of the program when all of the massive cheating began in the late 1970s.

It's my opinion -- and I have to say that because nothing has ever been proven -- but it's my opinion that James, Meyer and Eric Dickerson were all crooked and breaking the rules at SMU. Their actions, along with the actions of many others, were unbelievably reckless, ruthless and stupid. But to hear all of them talk about what happened, they just sound so smug and not the least bit sorry or responsible.

The primary excuse of the people at SMU seems to be, "Hey, everyone else was doing all this cheating, so why was the NCAA just picking on us?"

Watch the documentary, and you'll see why. It's a fascinating look at everything that's wrong in college sports and the stupidity of the people in charge at SMU at the time.

SMU deserved the death penalty, and it's impossible to watch the documentary and come to any other conclusion.

The least some of the former players and coaches could express is sadness and disappointment over their involvement in the scandal. That's the one thing the documentary is missing.

If you're a college football fan, you owe it to yourself to check out this program.

If you'll remember, Penn State plays a role in the story line as the Nittany Lions won the 1982 national title despite losing one game, while an undefeated SMU team that had one tie was overlooked.

Many PSU fans still believe James dislikes Penn State and Joe Paterno to this day because of that. I interviewed James at the 2007 Alamo Bowl and wrote a story about that very topic. He denies the allegations, which you can check out below.


From Dec. 29, 2007

By Cory Giger

SAN ANTONIO -- Craig James says he's a big fan of Joe Paterno's and, despite the belief among some Penn State followers, he holds no animosity toward the legendary coach or the Nittany Lions.

"I have the greatest respect for Joe Paterno," said James, an ESPN broadcaster who worked Saturday's Alamo Bowl. "What he has meant for college football and means to college football is unbelievable."

This is the 25th anniversary of Penn State's and Paterno's first national championship. That same year, James played alongside Eric Dickerson in SMU's "Pony Express" backfield.

SMU finished as the nation's lone undefeated team, going 11-0-1 with a tie against Arkansas. The Mustangs beat Dan Marino and Pitt in the Cotton Bowl, 7-3, but finished No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll.

Penn State, led by quarterback Todd Blackledge, was No. 2 entering the Sugar Bowl and beat Herschel Walker and No. 1 Georgia, 27-23. The Lions finished 11-1 and were voted No. 1.

There's a conspiracy theory in the Nittany Nation that James still holds a grudge against Paterno and PSU over the national title issue.

"I think Todd Blackledge and Coach Paterno would stand behind me and say that I have nothing against Penn State," James said. "Obviously I have fun poking and having fun with Blackledge and Coach Paterno about the '82 championship. We wanted to win the deal. So I mean it's a fun deal.

"But it's the passion of college football that these fans hold onto, and so whenever they hear me say something about that, they take it to heart as if I really have an agenda against Penn State. I've been very flattering and very complimentary of Joe Paterno ever since I've been a broadcaster, so hopefully they understand that."

The fire was fueled last year when James called Paterno an "old fart" after Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema pulled a fast one with some kickoff trickery before halftime.

"Way to go, Coach Bielema, give it to the old fart," James said on ABC.

That was the game Paterno suffered a broken left leg after a sideline collision. James issued an apology after the game, contends he meant nothing by the comment and sent Paterno his best wishes to recover from the injury.

"If you saw the context and the way it happened immediately from the field to the booth, it was an endearing term," James said. "I wasn't calling him an old fart. He and [former Iowa coach] Hayden Frye, if you go back and look at it, used to call each other old farts.

"Where I come from it's a term of endearment. I have nothing negative and did not mean it mean-spiritedly at all."

It's customary for the TV broadcasters to meet with the head coaches the night before a game, and James did that Friday.

"We had a good visit," James said. "I enjoyed my time with Coach Paterno, had no problem at all."

Was it a little awkward?

"No, not at all," said James, who noted Paterno said nothing about last year's comment.

James has no doubt his SMU team would have beaten the Lions had they played in 1982.

"We beat 'em," James predicted with a big smile. "I tell [Blackledge] all the time he's got my ring, man. Give it to me. The old voting system got us back then."

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