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North Texas to honor Hayden Fry with throwbacks vs. SMU

North Texas considers SMU a rival, but the feeling is not mutual.

Though the two schools sit only 35 miles apart and both have sponsored football for more than a century -- UNT actually started two years before SMU, in 1913 -- they've played just 39 times. Of those 39 meetings, North Texas has won just six.

The schools have never been in the same conference, and they operate in largely different worlds. One is urban, the other suburban. One is large and public, the other small and private. Whereas North Texas draws most of its students from the DFW Metroplex, SMU is just as likely to draw a student from out of state than down the street.

In fact, it's that on-again, off-again nature that gives this rivalry its name. "I'd like to play because I think we could beat them, and my players feel the same way," North Texas head coach Matt Simon said in 1994. "If they'd like to play on a Safeway parking lot, just give us a date and time." The game has been known, unofficially, as the Safeway Bowl ever since.

So, other than real estate adjacent to I-35 E, what do these football programs have in common?

One thing: Hayden Fry.

Best remembered nationally for his legendary coaching tree and his 20-year run at Iowa, the future College Football Hall of Fame coach was an SMU Mustang and a North Texas State Eagle before he was a Hawkeye.

Fry's first head coaching job came in Dallas, where he led SMU to a Southwest Conference championship and integrated the conference as the Mustangs' head coach from 1962-72. SMU fired Fry despite a 7-4 record in '72, and North Texas State -- coming off a 1-10 season -- scooped him up immediately.

He led UNT to a share of the Missouri Valley championship in his first season in Denton, then produced the best team in the program's modern history in 1977 -- a 10-1 record, a No. 16 Coaches' poll ranking, and a 24-13 win over SMU at Texas Stadium.

Fry left for Iowa after the 1978 season, but he's still remembered fondly at both of his first two schools, especially in Denton.

And on eve of the Mean Green and Mustangs' first meeting since Fry's death last December, UNT is trotting out some Fry-era throwbacks, complete with apple green and the iconic Flying Worm logo.

UNT Fry 2
UNT Fry 3
UNT Fry 4

Saturday will mark Year 7 of a 12-year home-and-home, bouncing back and forth from Denton to Dallas from 2014 through 2025.

Perhaps the schools can use this occasion to make their shared memory of Hayden Fry permanent. Instead of allowing this rivalry to carry a tongue-in-cheek name of a supermarket that doesn't even operate in Texas, what if we turned the 2020 Mean Green-Mustangs game into the first Hayden Fry Bowl?