SMU and Notre Dame both had great football teams in the 1950s, and both are Christian-based universities. A famous quip became: “An atheist is a man who buys a ticket to the Notre Dame-SMU game and doesn’t care who wins.”
Many citations of the quip exist in newspapers in the fall of 1954, all unattributed. The quote has sometimes been attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower (then the president), but this is almost surely wrong. It doesn’t appear to be something he’d have said in 1954 or earlier.
SMU has attributed the quotation to popular comedian and movie star Bob Hope, and that seems to be correct.
Bob Hope and SMU
Long before he became a major donor to SMU, Hope enjoyed a warm, affectionate relationship with SMU students. Always an enthusiastic Mustang sports fan, he invited SMU’s football team to visit him at Paramount Studios when the team traveled to the 1935 Rose Bowl. In 1949 he was “kidnapped” from a show in Fort Worth by SMU students who took him to a giant pep rally in downtown Dallas preceding the SMU-Notre Dame football game. Hope quipped that an atheist was someone who didn’t care who won when SMU played Notre Dame.
27 October 1954, Los Angeles Times, “Ham on Ryon” by Art Ryon, pg. A5:
Don’t know who thought it up, but we like this description of an atheist: He’s a guy who goes to a football game between Notre Dame and Southern Methodist University—and doesn’t care who wins.
24 November 1954, Dallas Morning News, part I, pg. 1:
An atheist is a man who buys a ticket to the Notre Dame-SMU game and doesn’t care who wins. We don’t know who it was, but some other guy thought of it first.
A Treasury of Texas Humor
by Bill Cannon
Plano, TX: Republic of Texas Press
Dwight Eisenhower, born in Denison, Texas, is quoted as saying, “An atheist is a guy who watches the Notre Dame-SMU game and doesn’t care who wins.”
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Friday, September 07, 2007 • Permalink