Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Tom Ables Celebration of Life

Thomas E. Ables, native San Diegan, loyal husband, father, grandfather and Aztec fan, passed away peacefully on October 16, 2017, at Mercy Hospital, the same hospital where he was born 91 years prior, on February 2, 1926.

Tom was a proud Navy veteran and alumnus of San Diego State. Tom enlisted in the Navy near the end of World War II and served aboard the USS Alabama in Main Engine Room #1, a self-described “bilge rat.”

He was honorably discharged in August of 1946. A series of events the next month laid out the framework for the next 71 years of his life.

In September 1946, he started his freshman year at San Diego State and became the sports editor of the school newspaper; met Nancy McKean, who would become his wife of 69 years; and saw his first Aztec football game, the first of 788 games he attended over the following 71 years.

In the spring of 1947 he was named the school’s first Sports Publicity Director, and that was the start of his 70-year career in publicity, advertising and marketing. He never retired, working all the way into October 2017.

Tom missed only a handful of football games the Aztecs played on the road. Between 1964 and 2015 he attended exactly 600 consecutive Aztec games, home and away. After that first game in September 1946, he never missed a home Aztec football game the rest of his life. His last game was October 14, two days before his passing. And he attended more than 1,000 Aztec basketball games as well.

Tom adapted to modern technology. More than 1,000 Aztec fans – including NFL players, hall-of-famers, college students and alumni – follow Tom on Twitter, Facebook and email. He regaled his followers with stories from the past 71 years. He blogged. He podcasted.

Professionally, he created groundbreaking advertising and marketing programs for his clients, including the first large-scale introduction of ATMs in the nation with San Diego Trust, the introduction of drive-thru restaurants with Jack-In-the-Box, the development of Rancho Bernardo, San Diego Zoo, Buck Knives, PahaQue Wilderness, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and many others. 

Tom was active with Del Mar for 57 seasons, originally involved with its advertising, and in later years switched to race photography. At 91 he was at the track photographing the horses from his favorite spot on the outside rail in the final turn. On Wednesdays he was a fixture at his regular table in the Turf Club.

Tom worked at Phillips-Ramsey, a local advertising agency, from the early 1950s to 1977. He wanted to work at his own, smaller agency where decisions could be made quickly, so in 1977, Tom and Glenn Collins left Phillips-Ramsey and opened Venture, their two-man shop that offered their clients a fast response and no red tape. Glenn retired several years ago, but Tom worked there for the next 40 years, most of those with his trusted assistant Jill Fisher, and more recently, his son Ken.

Tom has written two books: “The Story of Buck Knives…a Family Business,” and “GO AZTECS!,” now in its fourth edition. He was working on a third book that highlighted his 70 years in publicity and marketing.

Tom is survived by Nancy, his wife of 69 years, son Tom K. and his wife Debbie, son Ken and his wife Charlene, grandkids Thom and his wife Amy, Rick and his fiancée Beth, Steve and Michelle. Tom was preceded in death by his parents Charles and Pearl Ables, brother Chuck and sister-in-law Martha.

A celebration of Tom’s life will be held at 2:00 on Saturday, November 11, at:

Point Loma Community Presbyterian Church
2128 Chatsworth Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92107
Wear red and black!

Tom will be inurned in a private ceremony at Miramar National Cemetery on another day. In lieu of flowers, Tom’s family is suggesting a donation in Tom’s name to either:

The Aztec Club
San Diego State Athletics
5500 Campanile Drive
San Diego, CA 92182-4313
(619) 594-6444

USS Alabama Battleship Foundation
PO Box 6

Mobile, AL 36601
(251) 428-2834
Attention Lynne Price

Some of the tributes to Tom from local and national media:

The Daily Aztec Tom was sports editor 1946-47

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Tom Ables Final Blog

On Saturday, Tom attended the Boise State game. It was his 788th Aztec football game. He had been released from the hospital that afternoon, but would not be denied seeing his Aztecs. On Sunday we discussed blog content from the game the night before, as well as the upcoming Homecoming game with Fresno State. The next day he went to the hospital and passed away peacefully that morning. The Fresno game will be the first home Aztec game without Tom Ables in the stands since November 3, 1945. Here’s what he wanted to say...

All is not lost! The good news is that we are no longer in the BCS era where an undefeated season was required to get a New Year’s bowl invite. But there’s no margin for error either. One of the New Year’s bowls has to take the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion, which will most likely be from either the Mountain West or the American Athletic Conference. They have to take one of us.

I still like our chances. But we have to take care of business starting tonight against Fresno. South Florida and Central Florida are both undefeated right now. They play each other in the regular season finale, so at least one will have a loss and no chance at the ACC championship. Chances are they will each lose a game before season’s end. A 12-1 Aztec team with wins over Stanford and Arizona State should be ranked higher than a 12-1 USF or UCF. If Memphis wins out, they would also be in contention, as would Navy.

It was great to see Rashaad Penny rush for 1,000 for the second year in a row. I look for a good game from Rashaad against the Bulldogs. On to Fresno State…

Saturday’s game will be the 57th game in the series – the most versus any opponent – dating back to 1923 (Aztecs won 12-2). The Aztecs have won 29, the Bulldogs 23, and there have been 4 ties. I have been to 48 of those games; the first a 7-0 win at Aztec Bowl in 1946.

Rashaad Penny 1,000 yards, 2017 (Ernie Anderson); Miles Burris sacks Fresno QB David Carr, 2011 (Ken Ables)
 There have been some great games in the series, including the two “Fog Games” played in Aztec Bowl in the early ‘60s, the Aztecs beating the Bulldogs in Jim Sweeney’s and Pat Hill’s last games as Fresno coach. I have seen 26 of the 29 victories.

The Aztecs and Bulldogs played nearly every year through the ‘70s. After the Aztecs joined the WAC in the late ‘70s, the game became harder to schedule. The two teams did not meet at all in the ‘80s. The Bulldogs joined the WAC in 1992 and they played every year. In 1999 the Aztecs left for the MW and the teams played only two non-conference games until the Bulldogs joined the MW in 2012. The 2011 game was the debut of the Old Oil Can trophy. The Bulldogs were still in the WAC and the MW did not have a playoff game yet. After spotting Fresno a 21-0 lead, the Aztecs outscored the Bulldogs 35-7 for a 35-28 win.

Keep the Oil Can in San Diego!


(Ernie Anderson)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Great Win In Vegas – Penny Continues to Impress

I had every intention of going to the UNLV game. Flying is no longer an option for me, but road games within driving distance are still on my schedule. An unexpected trip to the hospital late Friday evening changed that plan and kept me in San Diego.

After a poignant, emotional pregame ceremony honoring the victims of the tragedy in Las Vegas earlier in the week, and a 3-3 first quarter, the Aztecs took control and dominated the final three quarters to a 41-10 victory. The Aztecs are now 2-0 in MW games, 6-0 overall and bowl eligible for the eighth consecutive season.

Rashaad Penny had another tremendous night – during and after the game. In addition to rushing for 170 yards, 2 TDs and a flattened Rebel DB, he gave one of the better post-game interviews I’ve ever seen:

Untitled Document
I’ve worked in public relations for 70 years and have seen every type of interview response imaginable. The way he turned the interviewer’s question about the Heisman into a thoughtful, sincere tribute to Las Vegas was masterful. And when he got to answering about the game, it was all about the team. Impressive young man.

Christian Chapman scored his first career rushing TD and completed 14 of 24, with 9 of the catches by Mikah Holder, back from a questionable targeting call in the NIU game. 

The hallmark of a Rocky Long-coached team is toughness, and no one personifies that more than Dakota Turner. He tore his ACL in August and played in the NIU game, a little over a month later. Against the Rebels he recorded 2 tackles and a sack.

Christian Chapman, Mikah Holder, Dakota Turner (Ernie Anderson)

The MW flagship football program is playing in San Diego on Saturday
Their opponent: Boise State. 

One thing that really annoys me is hearing broadcasters refer to the Broncos as the dominant program in the MW. That’s not true, and never has been. The dominant program is the Aztecs.

Yes, the Broncos have won some big bowl and non-conference games, but that was in the past, and most came when they were in the WAC. The Oklahoma/Statue of Liberty/proposal Fiesta Bowl win that made the Broncos famous was the 2006 season. They have not dominated the MW. Of the current MW members, no team has won more championships than the Aztecs. We have three: 2012, 2016 and 2017. Boise State has the same number of MW championships as Fresno State, and fewer championship game appearances than the Bulldogs.

The Aztecs and Broncos have only met four times – each team has won twice – but it has developed into a great rivalry. I’ll never forget our first game at Boise when Colin Lockett returned the opening kickoff for a TD and the Aztecs won 21-19. The next year, Colin did it again, catching a TD pass from Quinn Kaehler in OT to give the Aztecs a 34-31 win at the Q. The teams haven’t met since 2014 in Boise. They could have met in the MW Championship games the last two seasons, but the Broncos came up short in the Mountain Division each year. Shouldn’t the “dominant” team win at least their division each year?

Colin Lockett: Bronco Killer (Ernie Anderson)

Kickoff Saturday is 7:30, and a big crowd is expected. Marshall Faulk will be honored for his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. It’s a Code Red game – wear your red Aztec gear.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Games at UNLV No Automatic Win for Aztecs

Looking ahead to Saturday’s game at UNLV, you might be tempted to assume a win. They aren’t bad, and they are a threat. Certainly not like Stanford. They are 2-2, losing to Howard in a game they were favored by 45 points and Ohio State; and beating Idaho and San Jose State.

The Rebels are balanced on offense with an average of 305.9 rushing, and 176.0 passing, and scoring 31.5 points a game. But their defense yields 192.3 rushing; 297.5 passing and 31.5 points. They had expected more by now and there are reports Coach Tony Sanchez, now in his third season at 9-19, is on the hot seat.

Maybe a reminder of past performance there would help the Aztecs and their fans to be prepared. Big upsets and other unexpected losses. It started in 1996, when a very good Aztec team went into Vegas expecting a fairly easy win. The Aztecs were fresh from an impressive 28-24 win over nationally ranked Wyoming (16/15). Surprise! The Rebels broke loose to win 44-42 – the only loss the Aztecs suffered in the final five games of that 8-3 season.

Four other unexpected losses at UNLV in recent years include 45-13 in 2013, 28-24 in 2009, 13-10 in 2005, and 31-3 in 2001. And, yes, Rocky remembers the 2013 loss. It was his third year and the Aztecs were on a 4-game win streak, expecting a sure win to top what had been good season, right off a thrilling 34-31 OT win over Boise State.

Tariq Thompson (Ernie Anderson)
So let’s concentrate on UNLV, yes, but hard to forget the emotional win over NIU, marked sadly by the vicious injury to Rashaad Penny’s eyes. He has since been very sportsmanlike in accepting their apologies. But in the heat of the game I think it led to some penalties on angry Aztecs, plus some very questionable calls by officials. Highlights of the defense were three Aztec INTs – two of them by true Freshman DB Tariq Thompson, a local star from St. Augustine. Looking far more polished than you’d expect, Tariq took one back 83 yards for a TD, the other stopped an NIU drive, ending the game!

Most important, it was a WIN. I’m convinced they will carry over this toughness and determination – and come home 6-0, ready for a home game with Boise State. Happily, I will be there for this road game.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Saturday Could Be Toughest Test

Arizona State: good win, Pac12 opponent, on the road. Stanford: even better win, ranked opponent. Air Force: to me, best of the three, horrible conditions, come from behind, more than once, hold on at the end. Upped our rankings to 19 and 22.

Now Northern Illinois right here in our own stadium. We are 11-point favorites. We beat the Huskies solidly last year in DeKalb. But they are a good football team, offensively and defensively. They beat Nebraska in Lincoln. They’d love to upset Aztecs, a team with a target on their back.

So, be ready to see a close, hard-fought game. I’m convinced this year’s Aztecs team will win. What would make the win even better would be a huge crowd. Be sure you are there. Get others to go.

Rashaad Penny (Ernie Anderson)
Even with focus on Saturday’s Northern Illinois game, it’s hard not to keep thinking back to the Air Force game. And, of course, Rashaad Penny, the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week – again, and again, and again. His runs, his touchdowns, of course. But, to me, his play of the game was his spectacular one-hand catch of a pass on 3rd and 3 for a first down at a crucial point in the game. Also, you have to give credit to the defense – they held the Falcons to far below their yardage average.

You can bet Rocky will have our Aztecs up and ready for what I think will be the toughest test so far.

To clarify my missing the Air Force game, I wasn’t “sick.” Appreciated well-wishes, but it was more a question of oxygen shortage, both flying and at Air Force 7,000-foot-elevation. They tell me 91-year-olds have to be careful. I will be at our game here, of course, and at UNLV a week later!


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Memorable Games Highlight Coryell and Rocky Aztec Eras

Rashaad Penny carries vs. Stanford, 2017
(Ernie Anderson)
Frank Aronoff (whose Aztec files have proved so helpful to me), my son Ken and I got together to single out special games played under Coaches Don Coryell and Rocky Long. Games that were upsets, were milestones, created national awareness and respect, or provided special features.

Start with the 20-17 upset win over Stanford last Saturday: a last-minute come-from-behind victory, after a 22-minute blackout. Or just back to last year’s Vegas Bowl upset of highly regarded Houston. We think you will agree with these, orchestrated by Rocky, along with others.

Craig Scoggins vs. North Dakota State
(San Diego State)
Going back half a century, we found these in the Coryell Era, all in one season, 1966. The 25-0 upset of San Jose State that resulted in a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED feature; a come-from-behind win at Weber State, when coaches installed a new offense at halftime, an offense QB Don Horn says was forerunner to the “West Coast” offense; and topped by the 36-0 win over North Dakota State, before the all-time record crowd in Balboa Stadium, to capture small-college National Championship (also featured in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED).

27 total. In his 12 years here, Don racked up 14; and still in his 7th year, Rocky has 13. Of special meaning to me, 11 games have been on the road, which makes me glad I’ve traveled a lot.

These are our choices. You may have your own. Let us hear from you.

Don Coryell
1961 Aztecs 18, MCRD 13, Aztec Bowl: Aztecs win final game to finish 7-2-1
1962 Aztecs 29, Fresno State 26, Aztec Bowl: Aztecs beat Bulldogs in first "Fog Bowl"
1962 Aztecs 32, Pacific 18, Aztec Bowl: Aztecs score 32 on D1 #8 defense
1966 Aztecs 38, Weber State 34, Ogden, UT: birth of Air Coryell
1966 Aztecs 25, San Jose State 0, San Jose: Aztec D shuts out D1 offense leader on the road
1966 Aztecs 36, North Dakota State 0, Balboa Stadium: Aztecs ranked #1 after beating Bison
1967 Aztecs 16, Tennessee State 8, San Diego Stadium: first game in new stadium
1968 Aztecs 68, Southern Miss 7, San Diego Stadium: Alabama had only scored 17 on the Golden Eagles that season
1969 Aztecs 70, New Mexico State 21, San Diego Stadium: 3 NCAA records set, 2 still stand
1969 Aztecs 28, Boston U. 7, Pasadena Bowl: Aztecs win bowl and end 1st season in D1 11-0
1970 Aztecs 31, BYU 11, San Diego Stadium: Aztecs dominate Cougars in first game since 1948
1971 Aztecs 39, Arizona 10, San Diego Stadium: Aztecs dominate Wildcats in first game since 1948
1972 Aztecs 17, Oregon State 8, San Diego Stadium: 1st win vs. a member of the PAC-8/10/12
1972 Aztecs 27, Iowa State 14, San Diego Stadium: Aztecs win Coryell’s last game as coach

Rocky Long
2011 Aztecs 23, Army 20, West Point, NY: Aztec D makes last-minute stand to preserve win 
2011 Aztecs 42, Washington State 24, Qualcomm Stadium: first win over a Power 5 team since 1999
2012 Aztecs 39, Nevada 38, Reno, NV: Aztecs go for 2 in OT and win
2012 Aztecs 21, Boise State 19, Boise, ID: Aztecs let Broncos know they aren't impressed by their WAC success or their ugly blue rug
2012 Aztecs 42, Wyoming 28, Laramie, WY: Aztecs first MW championship

2013 Aztecs 34, Boise State 21, Qualcomm Stadium: come-from-behind OT win
2015 Aztecs 27, Air Force 24, MW Championship Game, Qualcomm Stadium: Aztecs win 1st MW Championship game
2015 Aztecs 42, Cincinnati 7, Hawaii Bowl: Rashaad Penny returns opening kick for TD and Aztecs dominate favored Bearcats
2016 Aztecs 45, Cal 40, Qualcomm Stadium: Aztecs beat a Power 5 team for first time since 2011
2016 Aztecs 27, Wyoming 24, MW Championship Game, Laramie, WY: Aztecs become first team to win back-to-back MW championship games
2016 Aztecs 34, Houston 10, Las Vegas Bowl: DJ Pumphrey sets NCAA rushing record; Aztecs become first team in history with a 2,000- and 1,000-yard rusher
2017 Aztecs 30, Arizona State 20, Tempe, AZ: first Power 5 road win since 1975
2017 Aztecs 20, Stanford 17, San Diego Stadium: 1st win over ranked Power 5 since 1981, 3 in a row vs. Pac-12

Meanwhile, Rocky, add some more!


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Stanford Win Was Great, But Tough Air Force Awaits on the Road

Rocky might not approve, but let me continue to savor the 20-17 victory over Stanford. Late as it was, it still got the nation’s attention. It boosted the Aztecs to #22 in the AP Poll; #25 in Coaches Poll.

Our game-winning drive at the end deserves review. Aztecs, trailing 17-13, took over on their own 25 with 6:15 left. From there they launched an almost perfect drive to the winning touchdown. Five plays (with just one incomplete pass) carried them to the Cardinal 42. Moving well. Good momentum.

And then the stadium lights went out! A momentum changer? Maybe, but 22 minutes later, the lights are back, and so were our Aztecs. 6 successful plays.

Blackout in the stands and on the field (Ken Ables)

Rashaad Penny ran 3 times for 11 yards; Christian Chapman completed 3 of 3 passes. The final one, a classic play-action pass from the 8. While the Cardinal concentrated on Penny, David Wells broke clear, Chapman hit him clean and Wells barreled his way over a defender for the winning touchdown.

Rashaad Penny, Christian Chapman (Ernie Anderson)

With 54 seconds left, Stanford still had a shot. But on first down a long pass was intercepted by Kameron Kelly.

In the Holder Twins battle, our Mikah did great, with 7 catches for 85 yards, but not always covered by Alijah. Looking at scores so far, here’s an oddity: in losing to the Aztecs, UC Davis and Stanford each scored 17 points. If they played each other, do you think it would be a tie?

David Wells game-winning TD; Mikah Holder has bragging rights for life (Ernie Anderson)

Now, let’s get serious about this week’s tough MW Conference game at Air Force. The Falcons are good this year. And they share the advantage Wyoming has at home, with nearly 7,000 feet elevation.

The Falcons rely on the run, averaging 320.5 yards per game, 7th best in the NCAA after two games (Rashaad Penny, by the way, is leading the nation with 588 rushing yards; no Falcon is in the top 10). They played Michigan tough for three quarters in Ann Arbor on Saturday, losing to the Wolverines 29-13.

As Coach emphasizes, the key is to forget Stanford, play tough and make sure we beat Air Force. Early betting line: Aztecs favored by 3-1/2 points.