Fall 2009

The history of the Iron Skillet

SMU thought up the idea of a traveling trophy in the 1940s. But it's been mostly TCU property in recent years.

Fall 2009 | 3 comments

by Molly Mahan '09 and Rick Waters '95
Updated: Thursday, September 26, 2013

Derrell Tipps, TCU’s student body president, presented it to his SMU counterpart, Bobby Harris. Tipps is quoted in the December 6, 1946, issue of the Skiff saying, “It was their idea, so we had to let them win the first one.”

School rivalries are not unique to TCU and SMU. In fact, the Mustangs aren’t even TCU's oldest rival. 

The Horned Frogs' feud with Baylor is longer and goes all the way back to 1899 when TCU was called AddRan Male & Female College and resided in Waco.

Most alums remember the story: A fire in 1910 destroyed the TCU campus, and the university was relocated to Fort Worth. Ironically, Dallas bid to be home for TCU to pair with newly chartered Southern Methodist University in 1911.

Ultimately, Cowtown offered more and 35 miles would separate the two on the opposite sides of the Metroplex.

But a rivalry was born.

The adversaries clashed on the football field for the first time in 1915 in TCU's first home game. The Frogs were victorious by a score of 43-0.

But in this series, victories haven’t always been so easy. SMU and TCU often destroyed the other’s bid for a perfect season. In 1929, the first time TCU was conference champions in the Southwest Conference, the Frogs were undefeated, except for a 7-7 tie with the Ponies the last game of the season. In 1935, again, TCU was undefeated, as was SMU, when they battled in the "Game of the Century." SMU won and went on to the Rose Bowl, where it lost to Stanford. The Frogs were sent to the Sugar Bowl and beat more highly regarded Carnegie Tech.

Both teams claim national championships that year. The Frogs were recognized by the more respected Williamson rating system as the nation's top team. The Mustangs were picked No. 1 in the two polls -- Dickinson and Houlgate.

The Iron Skillet had not yet been conceived, but the rivalry between the two schools was brewing.

The first "Battle for the Iron Skillet" occurred on November 30, 1946, as college football boomed after World War II. Weeks prior to the game, SMU’s Student Council proposed the idea of presenting a trophy to the winning team. TCU accepted the idea, and the two schools' governing bodies met in Dallas to set up the rules of the traveling trophy, which became the Iron Skillet.

At the time, an inscription on the pan of the Skillet read: “Presented in token of southwestern friendship to the winner of annual TCU-SMU football game. Student tradition sponsored jointly by student governments of the universities.”

After the game, the two student councils met at the Italian Village restaurant in Dallas to present the Mustangs with the inaugural trophy. Derrell Tipps, TCU’s student body president, presented it to his SMU counterpart, Bobby Harris. Tipps is quoted in the December 6, 1946, issue of the Skiff saying, “It was their idea, so we had to let them win the first one.”

Interestingly, the first time TCU brought the skillet home was in 1948 after a 7-7 tie at the Cotton Bowl. One of the rules on which the councils had agreed is that in the event of a tie, the visiting team owned the trophy for the year.

Decades went by and interest in the Iron Skillet began to wane until the artifact was lost. In 1993, however, both schools agreed to resurrect the tradition and a new Iron Skillet was brought to the table, reigniting the rivalry. The new skillet is cast iron, 15 ¼ inches wide, 2 ¼ inches deep, weighs about 30 pounds and is manufactured by Lodge in the United States.

Its plaque reads:
“The Battle for the Iron Skillet
A Tradition since 1915”

Also as part of the new tradition, the Skillet goes to the winning team's athletics department, rather than student council.

One mystery remains: Why a skillet? History books provide scant details. Some claim that an SMU fan in the 1950s was caught frying frogs legs in a skillet at a tailgate before the game, and a TCU fan wagered that the winner should take the pan home, but that conflicts with a published report of the skillet originating with the councils.

TCU leads the all-time series 45-40-7, having won 11 of the last 13 games. TCU's lead would be larger had the Frogs not forfeited the game in 1918. The teams have met every year except 1919, 1920, 1925, 1987, 1988 and 2006.

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4/21/2012 8:11:41 PM D'Anne Dorough said:

Derrell Tippps is my father. What a great keepsake for me and my family. Thanks for that!

4/14/2014 9:58:57 AM Mark said:

At first, I thought this article was related to a cast iron skillet. Interesting read though.

9/27/2014 12:01:25 AM Tammy hutchison said:

Thanks for this article. I've always wondered about the history behind this rivalry and the iron skillet. I find it fascinating that someone wanted both Universities to reside in Dallas as a "pair". Glad that TCU headed down the road it did!

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