Alumnus writes book about 1987 SMU Death Penalty

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Twenty-five years after the SMU football team was given the infamous “Death Penalty” by the NCAA, one member of the 1987 squad has decided to revisit the subject.

Defensive end David Blewett’s SMU football career was cut two years short by the penalty. So, in 2011 at the age of 45 he decided to try out for the team.

The experience brought about months of unanswered questions, research and repressed memories Blewett never knew existed.

With the release of the ESPN: 30 for 30 film, Pony Excess, Blewett’s daughter also started raising questions.

“My daughter asked me what really happened or if I did anything wrong,” Blewett said. “If Thad [Matula] hadn’t made that film, I’m not sure that she would have asked me about it.”

The question made Blewett realized that he, and many of the other members of the 1987 team, had never talked about the Death Penalty with their children or with anyone.

“It’s kind of this thing that happened that we all kind of moved on from,” Blewett said.

In his book The Pony Trap: Escaping the 1987 SMU Football Death Penalty, Blewett writes, “For us [the team], SMU football was a time that just ended one day. Even if we wanted to talk about it, there was nothing to say.”

While attempting to answer his daughter’s question, Blewett came up with his “hair-brained” idea to play football again. However, even after months of working to get in NFL combine shape, head coach June Jones denied Blewett a spot on the team. At this point, Blewett decided to put everything down on paper.

This included Blewett’s experience at SMU, such as the games and interactions in the ’80s, his attempt to get back on the team and the truth about the penalty.

Blewett’s book is his answer to his daughter’s question, and he includes everything from the history of the NCAA to details of a chaotic SMU campus.

Although the event happened decades ago, Blewett believes his book still has relevance and impact.

“It [the Death Penalty] still defines the SMU community,” Blewett says in his book. “It’s alive every time another school is accused of a violation.”

“The legacy is that it [the Death Penalty] is still out there as an issue and the reason I think it’s out there is that we’ve never healed the wound properly,” Blewett said.

“I think it’s almost karma. There are things in life that you have to do the right way or they just don’t end.”

On June 19, 1987, the United Methodist Church released The Bishop’s Committee Report on SMU suggesting an event to “give an opportunity for the whole SMU community to put past sins behind symbolically and in the spirit of God who will make all things new, to celebrate a new beginning for a great academic institution related to the United Methodist Church.”

This event never happened, but Blewett sees its importance.

“I look at it like when somebody dies. You have a priest stand up and say nice things. People stand up and say nice things. You get closure and you bury the person and you say nice words over the casket and I think it helps you move on,” Blewett said.

Before the questions and the research Blewett didn’t even see his own need for closure.

“For 25 years I hadn’t even thought about it. When I started down this path I realized that I have all these repressed memories that are unsettling and unsettled,” he said. “I think we’re still struggling with the leftovers of this thing.”

In comparison with the widely-viewed Pony Excess film, Blewett’s book offers a different perspective of the media. Blewett says the media in his book “is not the good guy” and explains how it was “compromised by the NCAA” in the 80s.

He also provides more detail on the punishment of a vast majority of SMU players who were innocent and an explanation that “all the supposed corruption is minimal.”

A current member of the Lettermen’s Board of Directors and the Mustang Club, Blewett has become re-engaged with SMU after his recent experience.

He says he now proudly owns SMU t-shirts and hangs a Mustang flag on his home in University Park.

The Pony Trap and the research, detail and truth within it, is Blewett’s offer of closure for himself, his former teammates, the school and an answer to his daughter. 

“The Death Penalty caused a problem 25 years ago. It is long gone. We can’t keep saying [it] is the problem, that’s part of keeping it alive. Our problem today is something different. The more people say that, the quicker we can make some decisions to move forward.”

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