Wednesday, June 7, 2017

June Marks 70th Anniversary of My Public Relations Career

Here it is June and time for the NCAA Track and Field Championships which reminds me that it’s exactly 70 years since June 1947 and the first day in my lifetime career in public relations – thanks to the Aztecs! 

I had just gotten out of the Navy and started at San Diego State in the fall of 1946. Because most of the men had just gotten back from World War II, there was no class hierarchy, so as a true freshman I became the sports editor of the weekly Aztec (not yet a daily), which was an amazing thing. I loved it! 

Willie Steele
Willie Steele, one of the all-time Aztec greats, and our first world-class athlete, was on campus at that time. In the spring of 1947 Willie was one of the top broad jumpers (as the long jump was known back then) in the world, and had qualified for the NCAA Track and Field championships in Salt Lake City. At the time there was no sports publicity director at State. Charlie Byrne was the overall PR guy for the college. 

One day Charlie came in and asked me if I would be interested in going to Salt Lake City and doing the advance work and publicity on Willie Steele and Bill Morales, who was our outstanding javelin thrower. In a nanosecond I said yes, I could do that! And so I went with Willie, Bill, track coach Choc Sportsman, and Bill Terry who was the athletic director at the time. 

At the meet, Willie was absolutely incredible! I happened to be down on the field at the time. His winning jump of 26’6” just barely missed Jesse Owens’ world record at that time, 26’8¼”. 

In 70 years, the long jump distances have hardly changed. Willie’s jump in 1947 would have been good for second place in the Long Jump at the 2016 Men’s Division I Track and Field Championships, and he would have won it in 2014 (winning distance: 26’3”). Think about that: a jump 67 years earlier would have won in 2014! I wonder if this year’s winner will jump farther than Willie did 70 years ago. 

I remember standing there watching Willie as he jumped several inches back on the board to make sure he did not foul. From toe to landing, he had to have flown at least 26’9”. And the world record would have come back with him to little San Diego State College! 

The point I have always made was that Willie Steele was the greatest all–around athlete that we’ve ever had at State in the 71 years I’ve been involved. I’m proud to say that the first story I ever sold to a magazine was one about Willie, called “The Steele Spring.” It appeared in Collier’s Weekly in 1948 and described how he could jump and leap. 

Seems just like yesterday
The trip to the NCAAs in Salt Lake City led to my being named the sports publicity director when I was still a freshman, earning 75¢ an hour. That may not sound like much now, but it was double what I had earned working at the Dixie Lumber Co. (now Dixieline Lumber). Later on, they decided to put me on salary. Now that I was working even longer hours, I figured out that I was now making 65¢ an hour. No complaints: it was like getting paid for your hobby. I managed to carry virtually a full-time job and still graduated in four years. 

This should help you see one more good reason why I am so proud to be an Aztec loyalist forever – an Aztec for Life! At this point I have no intention of ending my active involvement. If you have read my book GO AZTECS! you hear about many more reasons. The latest updated edition – including the dramatic windup to the 2016 season and DJ Pumphrey’s NCAA rushing record – is now available through the Aztec Bookstore and Amazon. (To order, just click the Order Now button at top left.) 

Right now I can hardly wait for the start of the Aztec football season – my 72nd season with the Aztecs! Hard to believe there will be five games in the month of September, and three at home: UC Davis on the 2nd, Stanford on the 16th and Northern Illinois on the 30th. I’ll see you at the Q! 


The men’s long jump finals were held June 7. The winning jump: 26’5”. That’s 1-1/2” LESS than Willie Steele’s winning jump in 1947. Think about that: The winning long jump from 70 years ago would have taken first place in 2017!


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Of All the Stadium Possibilities What’s Best for Our Aztecs?

Day after day it seems there is another article or commentary about a new stadium solution. There is a wide range of viewpoints. One letter to the San Diego Union-Tribune from an “Aztec fan” said he was dumping our Aztecs because they won’t support the SoccerCity plan. Ridiculous! 

Without delving into all the political aspects, who’s stealing from whom and the other accusations, let me tell you how I feel. 

First of all, I love Aztec Football, am very pleased with the progress we’ve made under Rocky Long. Being ranked #25 in both major polls at the end of the 2016 season is proof of that progress. And I am convinced the best is yet to come, IF… 

If the Aztecs have a suitable stadium for their games. While Qualcomm has been good for us in many ways, it really is too big. Now one of the options is a soccer stadium seating only 30,000. Too small. The average home crowd for Aztec home games last year was 37,000+, with three games drawing more than 40,000. With this year's schedule and Aztec success, it should increase. 

There are other factors. An expanded campus versus housing and a shopping center? How much money invested and by whom? But I will leave that to others. 

My viewpoint may be simplistic, but as a rabid Aztec Football fan, I just know we need a bigger stadium than a soccer stadium to succeed. For successful recruiting. For revenue. Maybe it's 45,000 – 50,000, but not soccer size. And the bigger stadium is a must for the long-successful Holiday Bowl. 

From a San Diego sports standpoint, Aztec Football must have an appropriate stadium, just as the Aztec Basketball program has accomplished in our on–campus arena. 

30,000 is not enough (photo by Ernie Anderson)

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

25th-Ranked Aztecs Prove Quality; Send 8 Players to NFL

The 2017 NFL draft was a great weekend for Aztec Football. Eight Aztecs – one-third of the senior class – will be in NFL camps this summer. Nico Siragusa (Ravens, #122), DJ Pumphrey (Eagles, #132) and Damontae Kazee (Falcons, #149) were selected in the draft, and five other Aztecs signed free agent contracts: Calvin Munson (Giants), Malik Smith (Texans), Alex Barrett (Lions), Daniel Brunskill (Falcons) and Kwayde Miller (Ravens). 

DJ Pumphrey, Nico Siragusa, Damontae Kazee (Ernie Anderson)

Three draftees was the most of any Mountain West team, and only 22 schools had more players selected. As AD John David Wicker Tweeted, that’s more than 38 Power 5 schools. And that’s more than Stanford, Arizona and Oregon combined.

A testament to the great program Rocky Long and staff have built. 

The 2017 draft reminded of another great draft, one that seems like just a couple of years ago, but was actually 50 years ago.

The 1967 draft was the first common draft by the NFL and AFL (prior to ’67, each league held their own draft). Eight Aztecs from the College Division National Champs were drafted that year, including QB Don Horn, who was the first Aztec to be selected in the first round (#25), by the Packers. 

Four Aztecs were taken in the second round: DE Leo Carroll (Falcons, #31), RB Don Shy (Steelers, #35), DB Bobby Jones (Bears, #36) and DB Bobby Howard (Chargers, #48).  WR Nate Johns was taken in the sixth round by the Chargers (#147), DB John Williams by the Eagles in the seventh (#174) and WR Craig Scoggins by the Chargers in the 15th (#381).  Eight draftees in one year is still the Aztec record, 50 years later.

There were only 26 pro teams back then. Leo Carroll was the 31st pick; that’s a first round pick in in 2017. Several of those Aztecs had long NFL careers, including Bobby Howard’s 13 seasons (Chargers, Patriots, Eagles), Don Horn’s eight (Packers, Broncos, Chargers) and Don Shy’s seven (Steelers, Saints, Bears, Cardinals).

Don Horn, Leo Carroll, Don Shy, Bobby Howard
The 1966 Aztecs were Don Coryell’s first great team: 11-0 National Champs with a high-powered offense (the original Air Coryell/West Coast Offense), stifling defense (four shutouts; six others scored 18 or less); and two future NFL Hall of Fame coaches on the staff (John Madden, Joe Gibbs). That great team laid the foundation for the Aztecs move to Division 1 three years later.

Congratulations to the 2017 Aztecs in the NFL, and congratulations to the 1966 Aztecs!


Thursday, March 16, 2017

New Edition of GO AZTECS! Book Focuses on Historic Achievements in 2016

Spurred by San Diego State’s impressive 34-10 win over the Houston Cougars in the Las Vegas Bowl, coupled with a list of record-breaking accomplishments, we’ve just completed the fourth edition of GO AZTECS!  

The cover features a great full-color photo by Ernie Anderson that captures the 15-yard run by D.J. Pumphrey in the fourth quarter of the Vegas Bowl to establish a new all-time NCAA record for career rushing yards. 
Pumphrey’s feats, plus a lengthy list of both offensive and defensive new records, are all spelled out in detail, along with more of Ernie’s new photos. Among the impressive records is the one set by D.J. and Rashaad Penny, the first college teammates ever to rush for 2,000 and 1,000 yards in one season. 

With all the national TV exposure of the bowl win over a Houston team who had beaten two ranked teams – Oklahoma and Louisville – the Aztecs wound up ranked #25 in both the two major polls for 2016. 

Having now been to 783 of the Aztecs’ 787 football games in 71 seasons since I saw my first as a Freshman in September 1946, I can’t think of a more dramatic way to close the year. I’m ready for the 2017 season and liked what I saw in the first Spring scrimmage. My goal? Of course, it’s still stands at 1,000. 

The new edition is available now on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2mngTIp 


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Aztecs Basketball Fans Have Been Spoiled

With the solid basketball program Coach Steve Fisher has established at San Diego State, it has been easy for fans to expect near-perfection, After all, winning the Mountain West Conference is almost automatic, right? A trip to post-season games, a natural follow-up, but a disappointment when it’s the NIT and not the NCAA last season.

OK, a bump in the road. Heading into the 2016-17 season, it was clear the Aztecs were ready to take a big step back up. Recruiting had been great. The challenge would be, how do you find enough playing time for all that talent?

So where are we now? Dead last in the MW at 0-3, with lots of obvious problems to solve. And disgruntled fans already taking snide shots at our team.

What happened? Anything we can do to recover? Although it’s never supposed to be used as a valid excuse, there have been several injuries – most damaging, those to Malik Pope and Matt Shrigley. Less definitive has been the seeming loss of tenacity that made the Aztecs sure winners if they were close at the end of the game. Not this year. Without taking shots at any individuals, there has been far less consistency overall.

Is there a solution? Is it too late? Hard to say, but obviously that ls the job facing Steve and his staff. Personally, I believe they will do a good job and this team will take some major strides forward.

My hope is that Aztec fans, spoiled though they may be, will not turn their backs on our team. Instead, give them the full support they need in their efforts to turn this season around. Ask Steve. He says fans play an important role.

Tuesday night is a home game against San Jose State. Winnable, yes, but the improved Spartans just knocked off Fresno State Saturday night, so don’t take it for granted. If you can, be there to support your Aztecs!


Monday, December 19, 2016

Aztec Victory of Historic Proportions!

With a couple of days to think about it, and watching the game video, I keep trying to decide how I should rank Saturday’s big Aztec win in the Vegas Bowl. I’m always reluctant to start making judgments too soon after an impressive victory. Now, after 783 games I’ve seen, the most cautious, most conservative comment I can make is that I cannot think of any single game to top all of the significant factors in this one.

Start with the game itself. Beating Houston, 34-10, a team that had knocked off two highly ranked teams already this year, slots this game well up the ladder with no other factors.

Add to that the fact that we started off slowly, trailing 10-0 before the first quarter ended, then came back to totally dominate them the rest of the way. Two numbers seem obvious factors: 7 sacks and 4 interceptions!

Then look at the historic numbers! DJ Pumphrey ran for 115 yards to up his career total to 6,405 to become the all-time rushing leader in NCAA history.

Along with that, Rashaad Penny went over the 1,000-yard mark for this season, so we became the first team ever to have a 2,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard rusher. I had to laugh, late in the game when Juwan Washington did some impressive running himself, I heard an Aztec fan yell, “Yeah, that’s our third stringer!”

Another thing that made this game special was the large turnout of Aztec fans. Of all our bowl games I’ve been to on the road, I can’t remember seeing that many before. Adding to the good feeling was the number of Aztec for Life players who showed up. I couldn’t see or identify them all, but I know I saw guys from the ‘60s, ‘70s and more recent. Lots of old Letterman’s jackets.

I may be overlooking some other key points, but after ticking off this list I am tempted to say this one was without equal. All of which makes me shout out, “Way to go, Rocky!”  After all he is the architect of this special Aztec era.

DJ Pumphrey: NCAA all-time leading rusher (Ernie Anderson)