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In good times and bad, SMU superfan always in the stands

Over the last 36 years and 381 games, whenever and wherever the Southern Methodist University Mustangs took to the football field, Paul Layne tagged along.

Over the last 36 years and 381 games, whenever and wherever the Southern Methodist University Mustangs took to the football field, Paul Layne tagged along.

SONYA N. HEBERT/DMN

Paul Layne hasn't missed an SMU football game - home or away - in the last 36 years. His streak hasn't been easy to keep and has caused him to miss big moments along the way. But, he says, 'It's what I do.'

He's been to Reno, Waco, Honolulu, El Paso, Fresno, South Bend, Tulsa and Tokyo.

He's been everywhere, man, he's been everywhere.

FILE 2001/Staff photo

Mike Cavan's last home game as SMU's football coach, an emotional, come-from- behind 37-20 win over Rice that the coach celebrated with players Corey Riley (left) and Kevin Aldridge, was one of the many memorable games loyal fan Paul Layne has witnessed through the years.

It seems nothing can keep Layne from the game, even illnesses that would keep lesser men in their beds. One year against Rice, he climbed to the top of the Cotton Bowl bleachers decked out in a Halloween costume to hide a case of adult-onset chicken pox.

His dedication to the Mustang cause won Layne an honorary Letter Award from the school's Lettermen's Association on Friday night.

And tonight, Layne launches Year 37 of his amazing streak against Stephen F. Austin.

Along the way, he witnessed the famed Pony Express running back tandem of Eric Dickerson and Craig James, when the wins came like clockwork. And he was there when the NCAA handed down its "death penalty" in 1986, which cost SMU its 1987 and '88 seasons.

When football resumed in 1989, Layne returned, too - especially because his sister Amy had transferred down from the University of Nebraska and followed him as an SMU cheerleader.

But Layne's unyielding commitment to SMU football has posed some challenges for family and friends - like the time his ex-wife remarried. He persuaded her to schedule her wedding on a Friday night, within driving distance of SMU's game with the University of Nevada the following day.

So the night before the Mustangs tangled with the Wolf Pack in Reno, Layne attended Trina Rothwell's wedding in California's Sonoma Valley, then drove 200 miles to catch the opening kickoff.

"They wanted to get married in the fall, and they had a couple of places they were looking at," Layne recalled. "I looked at the schedule - we didn't have any open weeks - and I saw that we had a game against Nevada that November.

"Sonoma was on their list, and I saw it was only about a three-hour drive to Reno, and I said, 'Make it that weekend.' Our game was on a Saturday night, so she made the wedding Friday night."

But what about skipping the game, just that once?

"Skip the game?" he pondered. "Nooooo."

Rothwell, who is now Layne's business partner, can only laugh when she thinks about it, mostly because the same sort of thing keeps happening.

"I just sent off my RSVP for a wedding," she said earlier this week. "The father of the bride and Paul were both cheerleaders at SMU, so they have an allegiance.

"I wrote, 'I will be attending, and as you know, Paul will be attending the SMU game.' "

Sacrifices

Layne is apologetic about such things.

"We were fellow cheerleaders and best friends," Layne said, and he gently suggested pushing the wedding back a week, to an open date for SMU. That didn't work, so Layne knew what he had to do.

"I know they want me to come, but I can't come - we're playing at Washington State that day," he said. "But his daughter will get a really nice gift."

He realizes he has missed some once-in-a-lifetime events. But when he's at the game, "there's no other place I'd rather be," Layne said. "It's what I do."

It has been that way since he was a tiny child in Mesquite. His parents took him to his first SMU game when he was 2, and if the Mustangs were in town, the Layne family was at the game, he said.

Neither parent was an SMU graduate. And the family counts University of Texas great Bobby Layne as a distant cousin. But the family took an interest in SMU during the Doak Walker days, and "it just stuck," Layne said.

College days

When he graduated from Mesquite High in 1972, he knew there was only one college for him.

He spent two years covering sports for The Daily Campus but cheered and hollered so much in the press box that he realized he needed to take his exuberance elsewhere.

Layne moved down to the sidelines as a cheerleader in 1974 - and began the second year of his formidable home-and-away attendance streak.

"We traveled to Ohio State, places like that, and after school was over, I just kept going to the games," Layne said.

Lots of travel

He spent the first 14 years of his professional life working for his dad - "Thank goodness he was a nice man, and made it easy for me to get to the away games" - and then he became a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, which made travel a whole lot easier.

He met Rothwell along the way, married and later divorced, "but we've stayed great friends and became business partners," Rothwell said, leading a team at Ebby Halliday's In-Town realty office.

And with all those years together, she knows Layne won't be helping out with open houses on Saturday afternoons in the fall.

Does she make up for that the rest of the year?

"I do, I do," Rothwell laughed.

Positive thinker

Over the course of 36 years, Layne has seen a lot more SMU losses than wins - the Mustangs are 152-222-7 since the start of the '73 season. But he is ever the optimist about SMU's chances, even after back-to-back 1-11 seasons.

"I think we have a very good coach and staff, the team works hard, and they have a lot of heart," he said. "I think this is the year we start to turn it around.

"The goal is a bowl game, and I think we can do it. I think we might have the most improvement of any team in the country."