You’d think that for me, as a University of Oklahoma alum and diehard Oklahoma Sooners fan, the 2017 college football season would be remembered mostly from Ohio State to an eventual national championship.
However, strangely enough, I may end up remembering the 2017 season mostly as the year New Mexico State won a bowl game. The Aggies defeated Utah State 26-20 in overtime when Larry Rose III scampered 21 yards to pay dirt in Tucson, home of the Arizona Wildcats, in the Arizona Bowl.
Too many bowls, they say. Man, you should have seen NMSU’s excitement as the student body rushed the field.
Coincidentally, the last time New Mexico State won a bowl game, it was by one score over these same Utah State Aggies. Talk about an Aggie-on-Aggie rivalry in the making. That was back in 1960; this was Friday night.
But the reason this win stands out to me, aside from NMSU being the alma mater of a work colleague, is because I listened to the first New Mexico State football game of the year, a Thursday night affair August 31 against the Arizona State Sun Devils. Kristi and I were set to depart for Albuquerque the next day for one of my stranger-in-a-strange-land sports trips to watch the Lobos dismantle Abilene Christian that Saturday.
I was excited for football, and we had visited Tempe, Arizona as part of a spring training trip, earlier in the year, too. Heck, my interest was as much in Todd Graham’s Sun Devils as it was in any team from the Land of Enchantment. Arizona State jumped out to a 14-0 lead on New Mexico State with 8:26 to play in the first quarter. Kalen Ballage had rushed for a score, and Manny Wilkins had thrown deep to Jalen Harvey.
This was to be expected from lowly New Mexico State, and the radio analyst for NMSU couldn’t contain his disappointment in a season gone so foul so soon, so much so that I was getting a kick out of it, less than half way through the first quarter of the first game of the season. From where I was sitting, as a listener and general sports fan, the hometown radio voice of his beloved Aggies had basically thrown in the towel.
I forgot what he said exactly, but both Kristi and I chuckled that he had gone from excited about college football’s fresh start to ready to step off a cliff.
We stopped listening and ate dinner, and then we went home, excited for our Labor Day weekend trip.
I checked the score before we went to bed: New Mexico State had lost, but they had lost quite respectably, 37-31, to ASU. My thought was, “Way to hang in there.” And I remember commenting to Kristi how impressed I was with New Mexico State’s sense of fight in the face of apparent low expectations.
Long story short, Arizona State ended their season this afternoon getting hammered by North Carolina State in the Sun Bowl.
And NMSU won their first bowl game in 57 years. I’m a sympathetic rooter, and this made my night. It was like the close of a season-long underdog story for me.
It’s also a lesson in having just a little bit of faith.