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  • Writer's pictureEric Moreno

Gerald J. Ford Stadium - SMU Mustangs


Photos by Eric Moreno, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00

Gerald J. Ford Stadium 5800 Ownby Dr University Park, TX 75205

Year Opened: 2000 Capacity: 32,000

 

SMU Mustangs – Gerald J. Ford Stadium

Located in the upscale section of Dallas known as University Park sits Southern Methodist University, aka SMU. Legend has it that the first brick laid for the campus back in 1941 is at the highest point in the city of Dallas. That point became Dallas Hall, known as the Hilltop, and is the focal point of the academic center of campus.


In addition to being one of the nation’s top research facilities, they play a little ball at SMU as well. The SMU Mustangs first took to the gridiron in 1915. They would join the now defunct Southwest Conference in 1918, and it would be as a member of that conference that the program would experience its highest of highs and lowest of lows. Fielding such legendary players as Don Meredith, Eric Dickerson, Doak Walker, Forrest Gregg, and Raymond Berry, the Mustangs would go on to claim National Championships in 1935, 1981, and 1982.


A cursory Google search – or the 30 for 30 documentary – will explain the previously inferred lows. However, with a forthcoming move to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in 2024, SMU looks to be on the verge of another period of excellence.

For much of their football history the Mustangs called Ownby Stadium their home. A campaign led by the eponymous Gerald J. Ford (no relation to our nation’s 38th President), a Texas banker and SMU alum, helped build their new stadium on top of the remains of their former home in 2000. Currently in the midst of a stadium expansion which will close in the current horseshoe and add in new boxes, the stadium, like the rest of the SMU campus, is still gorgeous. Read on to learn what makes is so special.


Food & Beverage 4

The food and beverage scene at Gerald J. Ford Stadium is pretty great, to be honest. There are numerous food trucks parked outside the stadium (inside the security screening), and you can take what you buy inside the stadium.


They also have numerous kiosks and stands throughout the stadium’s main concourse. Many offer up your traditional gameday fare, like hot dogs, popcorn, nachos, pretzels, soda, and beer. The vast majority of these are self-serve, which really helps speed up the process and keeps fans from missing too much of the action.


If you’re looking to expand beyond the norm, the stadium has quite a few local vendors who’ve set up shop with their wares. For example, Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q offers up chopped and sliced brisket sandwiches, HTeaO has several blends of their signature iced teas, and Ruthie’s For Good has several of their signature sandwiches available. The costs, I found, are a little lower than at most other big-time college stadiums, so that is a welcome change.


Atmosphere 3

The atmosphere at SMU is truly something special. I cannot say enough about how beautiful the campus is. While it is set literally in the middle of arguably the busiest city in the state, the campus could not be more bucolic. Once you enter University Park, you feel like you’re transported to a small-college town. The white-brick buildings and impossibly green lawns just add to what you’re experiencing.


Gerald J. Ford Stadium’s main entrance is protected by Doak Walker Plaza, complete with a larger-than-life statue of the 1948 Heisman Trophy winner. Inside the stadium you’ll find a team merchandise stand where fans can purchase their Mustang gear. Beyond that things are a little vanilla – the main draw, again, is the campus itself.

The construction being done on the stadium does hamper things a bit, as it can’t help but be distracting. However, by the time it’s done before next season, it will probably be spectacular.


Neighborhood 5

The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is one of the largest and busiest areas in the country. Almost anything a person could want to see and do can pretty much be found in Big D. For sports fans it doesn’t get much better, as all five of the major sports can be found within driving distance of SMU, with the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars both being housed in the city’s downtown. As both the NBA and NHL seasons overlap with the college football one, fans have a unique chance to double-dip on games if they want.


Also, for fans looking for something else to do and see either before or after a game at Gerald J. Ford Stadium, the legendary State Fair of Texas also runs during the college football season. Famed for its smorgasbord of deep-fried delights, the State Fair should be experienced at least once in everyone’s lifetime. For history buffs, another attraction you might want to visit is the George W. Bush Presidential Library. A museum dedicated to our nation’s 43rd President, it features exhibits on the life of President Bush, his family, and his political career. It is also literally on the campus of SMU, so if you have time, it’s easy to visit.


In terms of dining and lodging, even though the stadium is in the heart of the SMU campus, there are still plenty of options nearby. One such example is Bubba's Cooks Country, which bills itself as country cookin’ for city folks. Despite that their menu has a lot to offer, including house-made fried catfish, meatloaf, and fried chicken. Another option within walking distance of the stadium is Red Stix Street Food; specializing in Asian street fare, Red Stix serves up dishes like shaken beef, orange chicken, and dynamite shrimp.


For lodging, those who don’t want to use a vacation rental type property can find options near the SMU campus. The closest options are The Lumen and The Beeman Hotel – both are boutique hotels within walking distance of the stadium. However, you’re bound to find something that will fit your budget; one caveat is to book as far in advance as possible, especially during the State Fair, as those rooms fill up fast and rates rapidly increase.

Fans 3

There was a really good crowd at the last SMU game I attended. The Mustangs averaged just under 25,000 fans per game in the 2022 season, and announced a significant bump in season ticket sales for the 2023 season, thanks in part to the forthcoming move to the ACC. I think that number was pretty close to what I witnessed during my last visit.


SMU also boasts a really unique tailgating scene, as there aren’t the parking lots (they have garages at SMU; more on that shortly) that most schools boast. So, much like the famed Grove at Ole Miss, SMU has The Boulevard. There is a lot of civilized pre-game revelry being done under the tents on this historic part of the campus.

The one thing that keeps this score from being higher is that, despite the good-sized crowd, the fans still seemed very reserved. There are far more SMU polos and various blue shades of sun dresses in the crowd than there are jerseys and face paint. I think this fits in with the setting, but it does undercut what you’d expect at a typical football game (college or high school) in most places in Texas.


Access 4

Gerald J. Ford Stadium, as mentioned, is located in the heart of SMU’s campus. This is conveniently located adjacent to Interstate 75. The exit for the campus, the stadium, and University Park are clearly marked, which will make navigating Big D fairly simple.


The stadium and campus are both close to the Metroplex’s two major airports, as they are 25 minutes from DFW International Airport and 19 minutes from Love Field, respectively. While not as notorious as the traffic in Houston, Dallas is no slouch in this area. For those not wanting to brave the highways and byways, the Dallas Area Rapid Transport (DART) is a pretty good option. There are multiple stops on the SMU campus for passengers.


Once in the area you can choose to park on any of the side streets on campus that aren’t marked, or you can pony up (pun intended) the $20 to park in the lots or parking garages. Exiting the campus and games can get a little bottlenecky, but it really isn’t that bad.


Return on Investment 5

Single-game tickets for Mustangs games at Gerald J. Ford Stadium start at $20 each. This is an incredible bargain both for a team with the history of SMU, and also one that plays at a very high level, and are about to play at an even higher one.


With the relatively low costs for parking and concessions – and in a setting as unique as SMU – you’re getting a real deal when you attend games at Gerald J. Ford Stadium.


Extras 4

The Mustangs pull out most of the traditional game day Extras that a lot of big-time colleges have. They have the cheer squad on the sidelines firing up the crowd as well as the SMU Pom Squad, described as an elite show team, performing routines during halftime.


The SMU Mustang Band, aka the “Best-Dressed Band in the Land,” performs throughout the game and also at halftime. SMU also boasts not only a costumed mascot, named Peruna, but also a live Shetland pony mascot, the original Peruna, now Peruna IX.

I have to admit to experiencing a considerable amount of joy whenever I see a live mascot at football games. Plus, there is a sense that anything can happen whenever Peruna drags his handlers across the field after a Mustang score. If you’re up for it, search for Peruna on YouTube and see some of that unexpected happen.


Final Thoughts

I will freely admit that I have had SMU on my bucket list for quite a while. I’m a fan of the old Southwest Conference and there is still a mystique tied to those teams for me.


While that definitely added to my personal enjoyment of my experience at Gerald J. Ford Stadium, I feel like anyone who attends will enjoy themselves equally as much. With that said, college football fans, plan your trip to Dallas when you can. It looks like things are only going to get better from here.


Follow Eric Moreno's Stadium Journey on Twitter at @EricMoreno6477.

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