Our tour guide for this trip was one retired Show member. She grew up in Albuquerque so she was able to lead us around town and give us a little background information. Prior to our departure from San Diego she texted each of us a warning that we should bring some non-Aztec clothes for our night on the town after the game. Win or lose, she suspected that Lobo fans would be unfriendly. Apparently Albuquerque is a dangerous place to live. Our guide relayed one story to us of a popular eatery in the college area called Frontier. It is well known for its breakfast burritos (as apparently the entire area is), but to even enter the restaurant one must first pass through a metal detector.
No more than 30 seconds after disembarking our plane in New Mexico a Lobo fan approached one of my companions to inform him “you know, here everyone is a Lobo.” He was not kidding. Not only is everyone a Lobo, everything is a Lobo. Restaurants, theaters and shops all bear the nickname of the UNM athletic teams. Observing how enthusiastic this town is about Lobo athletics, I began to wonder what happens during football season. Another interesting observation about the city of Albuquerque is that literally everything is brown or a shade thereof. The buildings, the interior of the airport and even the grass are all brown. It could be the most mundane looking place I’ve ever been.
Our plane landed just 4 hours prior to game time, so before heading to the arena we briefly drove around the campus area. We first spotted the statue of a Lobo, and decided it was necessary for us to mount it, in order to assert our Aztec dominance. After this we ventured into the UNM campus bookstore. One of my Show compatriots asked an employee there “I hear you have a large coloring book section, is this true?” Eventually we met up with well known pep band member FemBone for lunch. We dined at Bailey’s on the Beach, a restaurant at which FemBone’s brother helped create the menu. There I enjoyed my Coca-Cola containing real sugar, imported from real Mexico.
After lunch we made our way on over to The Pit. While waiting to enter the arena (approximately 1 hour before tipoff) surrounded by a veritable wolfpack of UNM fans, I was very tempted to sing the SDSU fight song, but the fear of being shanked was enough to dissuade me. Once we were inside the arena I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm any longer. As I stood on the concourse above the bowl of the arena I shouted “GO AZTECS” as loud as possible. Immediately, the infamous Lobo super fan “Snake”, took notice and he was none too pleased with the Aztec invasion. I’m not sure how his nickname came about, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a reference to his reptilian appearance, with his bald head and leathery skin. If you know nothing of “Snake”, just know this, he was arrested last season for soliciting a prostitute. Can you really blame the guy though? There must be slim pickings in ABQ, as evidenced by another fan’s fondling of UNM mascot Lobo Lucy (http://www.krqe.com/dpp/news/crime/police:-lobo-lucy-groped-by-drunk-fan).
Shortly before the game former New Mexico Lobo Darington Hobson came out to take his seat in the front row, but not before holding his ear to the crowd in order to elicit a response. I wonder if Hobson realizes many Lobo fans still feel jilted about his decision to leave New Mexico early. Yet another gaudy Lobo persona is the New Mexico coach himself, Steve Alford, even if only in his wardrobe choices. One of my favorite chants ever started at Viejas Arena was the one mocking Steve Alford’s “Mustard Pants.” Well, for this particular matchup with the Aztecs Alford chose to complete the condiment combo with his Ketchup Jacket.
Before the game started I had a nice conversation with one of the few Aztecs fans that made the trip out to Albuquerque. I didn’t catch his name, but he sits in section C in Viejas. Here is a picture of him at the airport, snapped before I knew that he’d be sitting right next to me.
A couple minutes into the game the Aztecs found themselves in a 13-6 hole. And just a few minutes after that the Aztecs completed what might have been the decisive run in the game. Now, in this game I’m not sure I got the full experience of visiting The Pit. I don’t know when it’s supposed to be louder than Hell, but when the Aztecs are on a 12-0 run it is no louder than a church. The highlight of the first half (and probably the season) was DJ Gay’s epic (beyond) half court shot. DJ had been on a tear near the end of the half, so when he rebounded the ball I though to myself ‘I’ll bet he hits another three,’ then I looked up at the clock and saw that less than 3 seconds remained, and I thought ‘oh well,’ and before I could even finish the thought, the ball was swishing through the net, and all I could think was “Holy SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!” Up to this point I had been somewhat reserved with my enthusiasm, being surrounded by hundreds of irritable Lobos. But I would not sit after the best shot I have ever seen in person. The 4 of us stood and belted out the Aztecs’ fight song at the top of our lungs. Never have I seen such anger, hate and rage issued through the expressions on a person’s face. The New Mexico fans around us were seething that opposing fans would dare enter their Pit and dishonor its hallowed atmosphere with an alien fight song. No one likes us, we don’t care!
On this particular night DJ Gay was inhuman. He channeled the spirit of Brandon Heath, to hit 7 out of 11 three point shots. The Lobos would have been wise to pull the fire alarm in this game (http://www.krqe.com/dpp/sports/ncaa/unm-pit-evacuated-), because DJ Gay was on FIRE!! By the end of the game you could literally hear the collective sigh of the Lobo fans each time DJ caught the ball.
During the second half when it became apparent that the Aztecs would leave with a victory, the New Mexico fans became testy. After an Aztec basket, during a timeout I stood and cheered verbatim “Go Aztecs! WOOooOOooOO!” A Lobo fan a few rows in front of us told me off saying “you have no class!” Another Lobo shouted “they don’t know what it’s like to win in March, give them a break!” What I found ironic about this is that just this past March the Aztecs defeated New Mexico in an important tournament game.
Late in the game the Aztecs found themselves in a bit of foul trouble. The fans in the arena would never have known though, because even after the recent $60 million dollar renovation to The Pit, there is no scoreboard that lists players’ points and fouls. Even the arenas of the Big West feature such conveniences. Seriously New Mexico, get your act together.
So the Aztecs left The Pit with yet another W (having won 4 of the last 6 in Albuquerque). After the game we waited by the bus to get a few pictures with the team, and to congratulate them on a wonderful victory. Already waiting by the bus was UNM fan “Snake”. He was there getting all the Aztecs to sign an SDSU media guide. He was very respectful, appreciative and congratulatory to the team and coaches, so much so that I almost feel bad for my digs on him earlier in this blog (almost). So I invited him to join us in one of the photos with the team. We waited around for quite a while for the hero of the night DJ Gay, as he was heavily occupied with the press after such a performance. Finally he came out with Coach Fisher and the four of us cheered “DEEE JAAAAAY GAAAAAY” a la the Viejas Arena PA announcer. Both DJ and Coach were all smiles.
After a dominant victory in The Pit and a successful post game photo op, I skipped back to our car jovially, as though we had just won the MWC Tournament. On the way back to the car Darcy (our tour guide and Show retiree) provided one of the best quotes of the trip, “I love it when Gay is hot!”
The next morning, the Lobos were greeted with the below headline in the Albuquerque Journal. Awesome is right! After the victory Malcolm Thomas tweeted “19-0…Can we get some respect?” The Aztecs are starting to get the respect they deserve. It seems with each victory, more and more jump on the bandwagon. ESPN called the Aztecs the most impressive undefeated team of the week. And after the plane landed in San Diego even the flight attendant exhorted “Go Aztecs, 19-0” over the speakers.
On my return flight to San Diego I had the pleasure of being on the same plane as the team. When I boarded in New Mexico, as I walked past Steve Fisher in search of a seat, he stopped me to shake my hand and thank me for coming out. So I decided to take a seat in the same row across the aisle. During the flight Coach worked diligently in preparation for the Aztecs’ next game (at home against Air Force on 1/19). The flight was pleasant, and I was excited to be back once again in America’s finest city. While waiting outside for my ride to pick me up at the airport DJ Gay, Billy White and Tim Shelton walked past me towards the team bus, and as they did so they approached me to thank me for coming. I thanked them for continuing to win and wished them luck against Air Force. I was really impressed with their gesture, and I’m glad that we have such honorable student athletes representing our school.
That does it for this edition of the Road Show Blog, the next installment will be after the UNLV game on February 12th.
Until that time,