The first few years after the Death Penalty are years that SMU fans try to forget. In the years immediately after, they could barely field a team.
The Mustangs new head coach, Forrest Gregg, was taller and heavier than most of his players. Almost all the players who saw significant snaps for the Mustangs in those years were either true freshman or redshirt freshman.
In 1989 and 1990, SMU went a combined 3-19, highlighted by a 95-21 embarrassment in 1989 at the hands of Houston and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware.
But for one player, Cary Brabham, playing for SMU wasn't forgettable, even in the tough years during which he was on the team. Cary played safety for the Mustangs from 1989 until 1992, notching 387 career tackles and nine interceptions. He was named to the all-Southwest Conference team and was academic all-America.
However, Cary's accolades are not the reason he enjoyed playing for SMU. He enjoyed it because he grew from the experiences that came from playing in the wake of the Death Penalty, and he treasured playing for Forrest Gregg.
"One of the main reasons why I went to SMU was because I had a lot of respect for Coach Gregg," Brabham said. "I'd heard a lot about him. You knew who he was just based off watching TV. He just demanded respect when you were around him. He taught you life lessons along the way."
Gregg was a role model for a team full of 18- and 19-year-olds. He had a team full of players who wanted to respect him and play their hardest for him and for each other, even in the midst of the sanctions. If anyone asks Gregg who his favorite players to coach were, Cary knows the coach will say the first post-death penalty group.
"He'll say to this day that the best group of players he ever coached was our group that came through SMU and fought through what we fought through. I believe in that group we ended up with about 10 lawyers and 10 doctors. We had a very good group, very intelligent group and very hardworking group, and that's what it took to face what we faced."
Cary's intelligence – both football and academic – showed. He got a brief taste of the NFL with the Raiders and Panthers, and he also earned a business degree from SMU. He says that his time at SMU under Gregg has enabled him to have the successful and enjoyable life that he has.
"Forrest Gregg instilled a very high level of work ethic in his players. Part of him is in me because he coached me for so many years, and that's rolled over into my life." Cary's time under Gregg has helped him guide his son, Case, a rising senior at St. Mark's School of Texas in Dallas, to a college football career at a school that will help him chase his real passion: medicine. Case committed to Harvard on June 26, three days after receiving an offer from the Crimson, his first. The elder Brabham said that Case has wanted to go to an Ivy League school since he was little.
"This has been his dream since he was a kid; to go to as strong of an academic school as he could go to. He got that dream and I think he's going to hold onto it."
Case echoes the same sentiment. Harvard had been looking at him for three years, but with his dad's Forrest Gregg-inspired work ethic and attitude constantly motivating him, the offer he'd dreamed of finally came on June 23. He wasted no time pouncing on it.
"I got a great feeling, just because I felt like a lot of the work I put in, both academically and athletically, has finally paid off," Case said. "Harvard to me is the pinnacle of a combination of academics and athletics. I couldn't ask for anything more, it's almost like a dream."
Just like his father, Case constantly worked hard off the field, as shown by his 1600 out of 1600 on the SAT. While all Harvard students have work exceptionally hard, Case's story is unique, even for a future Ivy League student. At 17 years old, Case has co-authored medical publications with Dr. Harry Kim at Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas.
"He's worked in Scottish Rite in clinical and in research with a doctor there (Kim)," Cary explained. "He's studied with doctors there, and publications have his name on it as a co-author because he worked so closely and did research for Dr. Kim."
Case says he wants to pursue a career in medicine. His research work has been in orthopedics, but he says that is not necessarily what he wants to pursue. But he will certainly have a lot of options because of his impressive academic background.
On the football field, Case is a force. He stands an imposing 6-foot-3 and weighs 220 pounds. During his high school career, he has played quarterback, running back, tight end, slot receiver and outside receiver. Harvard plans to use him as a hybrid tight end and H-back, and Cary think his son can excel at it because of his athleticism.
"There are not many kids his size that have the speed and the jumping ability and the overall athleticism Case has," Cary said. "He can actually jump further than I could going into the NFL. He's got a lot of speed for a guy his size. He can separate from corners because he's bigger and he can run down the field and create problems for the safeties with his speed."
Case's athleticism did not go unnoticed by college coaches. He attended a Harvard camp earlier in June, and Harvard's head coach, Tim Murphy, was so stricken by Case that he pulled him aside after the camp ended to talk to him and to have somebody throw to him.
"The recruiting coach told us after said he's never seen the head coach do that to a player, ever, to pull him to the side to get a closer look at him," Cary said.
Princeton also had looked at Case for a long time and offered soon after Harvard did, but Case says he is firmly committed and does not plan to look anywhere else.
But before Case made his decision and narrowed his list, his dad's alma mater had taken some looks at him. Case said he had attended an SMU summer camp and a couple practices and met some coaches, but when he set his sights on the Ivy League, SMU stopped recruiting him. Yet Case said SMU was appealing to him because of his family history there. (Case's mom also attended SMU).
While Case has made his decision and his recruitment is done, he says that he enjoyed having his dad help him during the process.
"His experience after going through the process and then playing has allowed him to be a mentor," Case said. "He always shoots me straight with honest opinions that really help me make my decisions. It's helped me a lot on my path."
Cary is happy his son is fulfilling his dream of attending an Ivy League school, but he is just as proud that he sees a little of his old coach in Case. "Gregg liked the players who played for the love of the game and worked hard for it, and Case has had that instilled in him. He has a very high work ethic and is a hardworking kid."
Case may not be headed to the Hilltop, but his father's experiences there have shaped the way he plays football and the way he approaches school. Even Cary may want to forget those blowout losses and poor records, but he won't be forgetting the impact his time at SMU had on him and his son anytime soon.