In the giddy wake of the Cal* game, I’ve been thinking a lot about the kids that packed the student section at the Q on Saturday. And not in a creepy way!
I really wonder what their perception of Aztecs football is. None of them have ever experienced a season that didn’t end in a bowl berth. A berth in a pre-Christmas trash bowl game, sure, but a bowl berth. The freshmen in the crowd? They now think every game is either a fireworks bonanza or a thrilling Power Five epic.
Let’s just say that’s not a mindset I relate to, exactly.
As a dude who no longer gets carded while buying boxed wine, expecting the worst was drilled into me long ago. I was honest-to-god terrified of that New Hampshire game, and the only reason I didn’t have a nervous breakdown during Cal-SDSU was that I came into it pre-convinced of a loss.
It’s a shitty mentality, I admit, but I can’t help it. I’ve had too many expectations dashed by garbage football in my formative years. Far too much for even six-plus years of a pretty decent-to-good Aztecs program to erase.
It’s a schism that exists in our fanbase, between the young Millennials who expect to win and everyone else who expects to get pantsed by Ty Detmer the second we start to feel anything approaching happiness. That schism is laid bare this week in the afterglow of the Cal game, as the Aztecs get set to take on a very beatable and banged up Northern Illinois squad.
The younger Aztecs are full of swagger, expecting the convincing win that by all rights should happen.
The older Aztecs are hiding in our couch forts muttering shit about Peter Holt. Right now, we are scared shitless of a let-down game.
And not without reason! That 1996 gag against UNLV I linked up there? That came one week after a massive win over No. 16 Wyoming that had the Aztecs thinking WAC title and Holiday Bowl. Or who could forget the UNLV gag in 2005 that probably cost Tom Craft his job? That came a week after SDSU trounced BYU at home in a game that felt like a turning point to better things.
Perhaps the real lesson here is that UNLV, as an institution, should be shuttered and turned into the world’s largest vape shop (note for later: write letter to Sen. Harry Reid about UNLV vape shop proposal). Instead the lesson we take is that a big victory means DOOOOOOOM the following week.
Of course, none of this past history means anything to the current student-athlete Aztecs. There are players on this roster who weren’t even born when Holt shanked that kick. And I’m willing to bet not a single current Aztecs footballer could tell you whether or not Craft had a super sexy mustache.**
But maybe there’s something we can glean from recent history that will be more instructive? Let’s take a look at how Rocky Long’s Aztecs teams have fared the week after a significant emotionally-charged win.
September 24, 2011: Aztecs at Michigan
Why it was emotional: SDSU was riding high after beating a BCS conference team for the first time since “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire” was considered a huge cultural phenomena.
How did we do: The Aztecs lost 28-7 and I got heckled by a street performer walking out of Michigan Stadium. This is a true story that will appear in my upcoming memoir, “Killing Him Softly: Learning to Live, Laugh and Love While Blogging About Mountain West Mayhem.”
Should this worry or comfort us: Neither, actually. The Michigan/Brady Hoke game was FAR more highly-anticipated than the Wazzu game at home the week prior, so it wasn’t a true let down. It was just a run-of-the-mill depressing ass kicking. This really shouldn’t be on the list. I’m sure we can edit it out later.
October 27, 2012: Aztecs vs. UNLV
Why it was emotional: SDSU had just beaten Nevada in a stirring comeback led by backup quarterback Adam Dingwell. You know what, I’ve made fun of Dingwell a few times in this space, but that game was legit awesome. Let us now raise a glass to Adam Dingwell and remember that, indeed, scared money don’t make no money.
How did we do: The Aztecs beat UNLV 24-13.
Should this worry or comfort us: Not gonna lie: A little concerning! The 11-loss Rebels were total dogshit that year, so turning the ball over three times and leading by only one score well into the fourth quarter is not the most inspiring performance ever.
Nov. 10, 2012: Aztecs vs. Air Force
Why it was emotional: The Aztecs had just beaten Boise State on The Blue, which – in terms of changing the perception of the program – was probably an even bigger win than Cal. I liked that game. It was neat.
How did we do: The Aztecs beat Air Force 28-7.
Should this worry or comfort us: Put this one in the comfort column. It wasn’t as much of a blowout as the score indicated (SDSU was outgained substantially) and this wasn’t a very good Falcons team, but 21-point wins are 21-point wins.
Nov. 30, 2013: Aztecs at UNLV
Why it was emotional: The Aztecs had just beaten Boise State again, this time on a dramatic Quinn Kaehler to Colin Lockett touchdown pass. Say, that sounds like a cool game that we should all watch highlights of right now.
How did we do: The Aztecs were clobbered by UNLV 45-19.
Should this worry or comfort us:
Note that in the past two years, SDSU didn’t have a single chance for a let-down game. The Aztecs didn’t beat anyone good at all in 2014, and last year didn’t have a win that wasn’t a blowout of a Mountain West nobody until the conference title game. So for much of the current squad, this is their first time playing amid the immediate afterglow of a big regular-season win.
Much like the games above, you can derive whatever meaning from that you wish. Cherry-pick away, my friends! If you need me I’ll be huddling in my couch fort.
*The San Diego State Aztecs defeated the University of California at Berkeley Golden Bears of the Pac-12 Conference, a Power Five school, 45-40.
**Oh, he most certainly did. He most certainly did.