UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas -- SMU celebrated its first bowl bid in 25 years in style Monday, accepting an invitation to play in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24.
President Gerald Turner, athletic director Steve Orsini and coach June Jones, wearing leis, officially accepted an invitation at a festive, Hawaiian-themed event inside the student center. The announcement caused the crowd of a few hundred -- fans, boosters, administrators, players, cheerleaders and band members -- to break into wild applause.
"We've proven there's life after death," Orsini said.
It is SMU's first bowl invitation since beating Notre Dame in the 1984 Aloha Bowl. In 1985, the program was placed on three years' probation. In 1987, the SMU football program was given the Death Penalty by the NCAA and was shut down for two seasons -- the harshest penalty ever given to any major collegiate program.
Jones said he was most excited about taking his team to Pearl Harbor before the game. It was something he had planned with special teams coach and longtime friend Frank Gansz, who passed away before the season started at the age of 70 after complications from knee-replacement surgery.
"That will be special when we load up and go to Pearl Harbor," Jones said.
Jones added the bowl game gives SMU some respect. It should also help with recruiting, something Jones and his coaches are focused on even as they prepare for the bowl game. Jones said it was easy for coaches to use the fact that SMU wasn't winning or playing in bowl games against them.
"They'd say, 'Why do you want to go there? They won't win. They haven't been to a bowl,'" Jones said. "They can't say that now."
Senior wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders agreed.
"I'm really excited to do this before I left here," Sanders said. "I thought when he [Jones] came, we'd get there. I read his book and I thought maybe the second season we could do it. I can't wait."
Jones said the program can focus on more long-term goals.
"We'll start talking about winning championships now," Jones said. "We're in the dance now. The next step is to take it to the next level. I think we're probably two seasons away from really challenging to get to build it to where TCU has gotten it, Boise has gotten it. But we can get there."
SMU will start its bowl practice on Dec. 7 -- Pearl Harbor Day.
Jones is hoping that SMU's opponent will be Hawaii. For that to happen, Hawaii must beat Wisconsin this weekend. Should Hawaii lose, the Mustangs could face another WAC opponent.