I may have pinpointed the moment in time when the fortunes of Aztec Football went 180.
It started at last year’s Montys when Audrey Pine bid $1,000 for the right to conduct the Marching Aztecs in our Fight Song at an Aztec game. Audrey had a feeling her husband Tom might enjoy that.
Fast Forwarding to Saturday’s Wyoming game Tom and I found ourselves on the sideline late in the first half. Tom had spent the week procuring his authentic Cowboy outfit, thinking up his skit, and dealing with me regarding the details of pulling it off. I had spent an hour or two pestering Bryan Ransom, (Band Director) and Steve Schnall and Sean Briner from Athletics into allowing it to go forward.
There had been some collective consternation and understandably so. Not only was the proposed skit too long in a halftime that was saturated with important elements like the induction of the Aztec Hall of Famers, http://goaztecs.cstv.com/trads/sdsu-trads-98hof.html the mood of the evening was not frivolous. In fact, everyone was uptight about the pregame ceremony which was to be a tribute to the Fire and Police and volunteers. The lineup included Mayor Sanders, Fire Chief Jarman, Police Chief Lansdowne, County Supervisor Chair Ron Roberts, and Red Cross Director Joe Craver. President Weber would give a live on-field tribute along with Jeff Schemmel and Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson. It was a trying event to arrange. When one added in the undeniable context that attendance at Aztec football has been falling rapidly with no abatement provided by cheap tickets, everyone involved at the university was getting a little anxious. They weren’t really in the mood for fun.
I stashed Tom in a corporate box and went to the field to check out the ceremony. For some inexplicable reason the Qualcomm PA system seemed to have a few loose screws and the announcer’s spiel was incomprehensible. But as always, the trusty Diamondvision camera caught the tenor of the event and the VIP’s faces were dutifully scrolled on the Jumbotron. The throng of fans—mostly on the new home side, understood what was happening and paid attention. When Steve took the live mike, the PA system rallied and I was able to enjoy watching Steve speak his tribute while hearing the words 2 seconds later. In the elevator Steve sincerely remarked to the VIPs “Isn’t sports marvelous for bringing people together?” The collective responses of agreement were convincing.
By the time I got back to Tom, the Aztecs were down 14 nil. He was despondent. “They haven’t got the proper scheme. The formation is wrong for this group of players!” he lamented. Eventually we walked around the stadium. Tom was still in a funk. “We’re not improving,” he whined. “Coach says we’re improving, I countered. It may not show up in the win column yet.” “Do you think Long can do this?” Tom asks. “I do” I said.
I decided to change the subject to get Tom psyched up for his 2 minutes of fame. “What we need is some levity. We need to change the mood of this place. You are just the guy to do it.” “Okay,” he said without much enthusiasm.
We collected President Weber and got down to the field. Tammy Blackburn interviewed Steve on TV. They talked about how well our community and our SDSU community contributed to fire trauma abatement.
Tom and I went into a tunnel under the stands and got him into his cowboy gear. While he was putting on his chaps I snuck a peek at the game. Wyoming went up by three touchdowns. Tom walked out of the tunnel. His fake mustache, ten gallon hat, yellow bandana, boots and chaps were convincing. I laughed out loud. Tom smiled. We scored.
Suddenly the half ended and a stampede of Cowboys rushed by. Tom ventured into their path and was high fiving and barking at them. “What did you say to them?” I asked in the wake. “I said we were going to kick their asses in the second half!”
Before we knew it the cameras were rolling, and the Aztec Warrior mascot was denying Tom the Cowboy entry up the ladder to conduct the band. The Marching Aztecs booed loudly. Tom fell down in a choreographed heap and the mascot (Miguel) and I quickly helped transform him into a red and black tuxedo-clad fight song director. Tom leapt up the ladder, vigorously conducted and then turned and bowed to the fans. The cheering was real.
I went to the president’s box and introduced myself to the Fire Chief. “I know you are getting important accolades for your terrific work recently, but I just wanted to say that I thought you executed an excellent coin flip.” “Well, she said, the result was we lost the flip but I did get good rotation on it. Last week, Arnold just flung it up in the air!”
We scored. Steve and I went visiting. He naturally approached all the box guests and introduced himself. Vice president Roush talked about some obscure football eligibility rule. Vice president Kitchen talked about a conference of University presidents he’d attended that day. On our way to the booster box I asked Steve about his legacy. He told me that every president of a great university brings a new and needed dimension. Steve’s is to sync up the university and community. We scored.
As we were headed back he told me how proud he was that our school had produced so many local leaders who had really stepped up over the past three weeks. He envisioned a full page ad in the UT with pictures of Jarman, Kolender, Sanders, Roberts, Slater-Price, Cox, Madaffer, Jacob, Horn and Faulconer beneath the headline “Aztecs Supporting San Diego.” I found myself contemplating how important State really was. I thought about how football is a nice stage for convening a lot of really good people. Winning football would be a bonus but really, as a University we were doing remarkably well.
Our defense was quietly exerting some influence. We scored again. Everyone stepped up. We won.