Monday, September 26, 2016

Why This Week’s Game Will be Special for Me

In all the years I’ve been going to Aztec football games, every one of them has been important to me. I always go to them planning to win. Good seasons, not so-good seasons, that’s always my outlook. 

Our game at NIU suddenly became one that stood out from the others, thanks to DJ Pumphrey’s surprising and much appreciated handing me the game ball. What an unexpected honor. 

Nevertheless, I think you will agree this week’s game with South Alabama in Mobile combines elements to make it unmatched in my life. Could it be matched by anyone’s experience? Rather than tell the story, let me just add here the news release my “press agent” son Ken is sending out this week: 

90-year-old Fan to Close Amazing Life Loop When 
Aztecs Play South Alabama in Mobile, October 1 

When the San Diego State Aztecs meet the University of South Alabama in Mobile on October 1, standing on the sideline with them will be their #1 fan, 90-year-old alum Tom Ables. For him, it will be more than simply his 774th Aztec game. It will be the closing of an interesting 70-year life loop. 

In August 1946, Ables was still in the Navy, serving in one of the four engine rooms of the battleship USS Alabama, BB-60. A month later he was a Freshman at San Diego State, sports editor of The Aztec student newspaper and saw his first Aztec football game. He had seen a few as a kid with his older brother, but doesn’t count those. 

Since then he has seen 773 games, missing just three road games in all those years. Ironically, he missed the Aztecs’ 42-7 win over the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Hawaii Bowl last year. Two serious ear infections prevented his flying. Prior to that he had been to 600 straight since 1964 when another doctor prevented his traveling. 

Making this trip far more than just another football game for Ables, his battleship Alabama is now a leading tourist attraction anchored in Mobile Bay as an interesting Naval Museum with World War II history. So he will be able to proudly take a reminiscent tour of his old ship that same day, in effect closing that 70-year loop. 

Already planning to resume his travel schedule, he began his efforts by seeking Head Coach Rocky Long’s OK. Ables, not as agile as he once was, wants to be sure he’s not a “nuisance.” The coach quickly gave him a thumbs-up, and his doctors have endorsed his travel plans. Ables has continued his routine of standing on the sideline with the team for the whole game except, as he admits, “I look for a place to sit during timeouts.” 

While there is no official count on college fans, and Ables makes no claims, some writers interested in his story have said he now ranks as the #1 college football fan in America in terms of games seen. For a 90-year-old who started going at age 20 and missed only three games, it might be hard to top his mark. 

Ables is the author of GO AZTECS!, a book covering Aztec football history since World War II as seen through the eyes of this fan who has seen 773 of the 776 games played in 71 seasons. Ables frequently blogs and Tweets about Aztec sports to more than 800 Twitter, Facebook and email followers, which include current and former San Diego State students, athletes and fans. Even a few Hall of Famers. 

Tom Ables aboard the USS Alabama, August 1946; getting the game ball from DJ Pumphrey after the Aztecs’ 42-28 win over Northern Illinois, September 2016. 70 years and 773 Aztec football games between photos.



Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Aztecs’ Bye Week Comes at Good Time

Usually, you think a good bye week is somewhere in the back-half of the season. It gives you a chance to get everybody healthy and ready. But somehow this seems like a good time for the Aztecs.

Sitting 3-0 and ranked #22 in the AP Poll, our Aztecs still would like to sharpen up their game, especially trying to cut way down on those costly penalties without losing their aggressive, tough style of play. As Rocky says, great teams are never satisfied. He wants to make sure we are ready for South Alabama, who beat us here last year, so we cannot take the Jaguars lightly at home.

The 42-28 win at NIU was important and, coupled with Cal’s upset of a ranked Texas team, earned the Aztecs a #22 ranking in this week’s AP Poll. Now the challenge is keep that ranking and go even higher if possible.

No real surprise that DJ Pumphrey had another big game – 220 yards rushing, with a 9.6-yard average, and three TDs of 33, 46 and 79 yards. OK, opponents know they have to stop DJ. Their game plan is based on that. Then they stop him for a yard or two for a while and they think, aha, we got ‘im! Not DJ! He’ll come right back and spring the long ones on them and it’s all over.

Blain Tanner was another big factor. I can’t remember ever seeing a precision punting job as effective as Blain’s at NIU. He dropped punts on the 2, 3, 4 and 6-yard lines. He shares credit with good coverage units who kept any from rolling on into the end zone. Sometimes that precise need cuts down your average, but Blain averaged 42.4 yards a punt.

No surprise: both DJ and Blain were named MW Players of the Week – offensive and special teams. Congratulations!

DJ Pumphrey and Tanner Blain were named MW Offensive and Special Teams Players of the Week (photos by Ernie Anderson)
Well, no game this week. But it cannot keep me from thinking with pride about my Aztecs, and dreaming about the October 1 game in Mobile against the University of South Alabama Jaguars. That one has a very special meaning for me, but more about that in my next blog.



Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Aztecs Need to Win This First Road Game

OK, we’re off to a 2-0 start, including the important 45-40 win over the Cal Bears. Now, can we win on the road? The Northern Illinois Huskies are the first test.

Referred to as the “superpower” of the MAC, the Huskies have been to a post-season bowl game each of the last 8 years. Injury-riddled, they lost badly to Boise State here in the Poinsettia Bowl last year.

Offensively, they have a very strong O-line, an injury-prone QB and very good RBs, headed by Joel Bouagnon. Last season they ran for 2,662 yards, and carriers for all but 28 of those yards are back! The defense is a question mark. They were both good and bad last year, and so far this season they are not too impressive. But that was on the road, with losses to Wyoming, 40-34, and South Florida, 48-17. Now they will be where they usually control things. Last year they were 5-1 at Huskie Stadium, losing only a close one to Ohio, 26-21.

Ready for the trip to Dekalb, but hard to get the Cal game out of our minds. Some lingering thoughts:

CONGRATULATIONS to DJ Pumphrey for breaking Marshall Faulk's career rushing record. With 281 yards against Cal, DJ has 4,651. Nice touch to DJ's record -- he set record before a big, boisterous crowd at home, not on the road in front of unappreciative fans at NIU! He also tied a Marshall Faulk record with his 23rd career 100-yard game. Well done, DJ! 

Rashaad Penny was another Aztec record breaker last Saturday with his 100-yard kick-off return; his fourth. He also tied the NCAA longest KOR record: 100 yards being all the NCAA recognizes. Penny actually covered about 103, starting his return from inside the end zone.

Both Pumphrey and Penny won MW honors for their great performances. DJ was named the MW Offensive Player of the Week, and Rashaad was named MW Special Teams Player of the Week. Well done; well deserved!

MW Players of the Week: DJ Pumphrey (Offense); Rashaad Penny (Special Teams) Photos by Ernie Anderson
Damontae Kazee lived up to his reputation by making game ending INT to preserve important win for Aztecs.
Our 45-40 win over Cal was important because it was the only chance our Aztecs have this year to beat a Power 5 team during the regular season. Let's see, Jared Goff Cal’s QB last year, was first pick in NFL draft. To me, Davis Webb looked almost as good, but a little erratic at times. Let’s watch to see how he does this week at home against Texas.

It was a great win for our Aztecs! But can't help worrying about the flood of penalties, 14 for 105 yards! Many affected the game.

Sorry, can’t blank out memories of the Cal game. But gotta listen to Rocky and concentrate on NIU. I hear you, Coach. I will be ready!