I couldn’t sit down to write this right away.
I sat on the couch at lemonverbena‘s pad for about an hour, re-watching highlights and trying to convince myself that what we’d watched in real time wasn’t some sort of mirage conjured by the windswept Nevada desert. As I drove home, past the crowds of Santa-hat wearing revelers packing trendy North Park watering holes, I still couldn’t shake the feeling of disbelief.
San Diego State had a moment to shine in the national spotlight today. It responded by shrugging off an early gut punch to blast one of the most hyped college football teams of 2016 into the stratosphere.
Oh, and the best Aztec football player in a generation broke a hallowed record and got drooled over on national network television. That happened too.
It was all enough to make me wonder:
What if everything we thought we knew about being an SDSU fan was wrong?
Before I go on any further about the Aztecs’ 34-10 dismantling of Houston, I’ll acknowledge the haterz for a moment on a couple of points:
Yes, this was the Las Vegas Bowl, not the Cotton Bowl. Yes it was another Group of Five opponent and not some big-name national power on the other sideline. But let’s dive a little deeper into the context. The Houston Cougars, slayers of Oklahoma and Louisville, spent much of the season as the nation’s G5 underdog darling. They have legit stars, particularly on their defensive line and in their passing game.
Plus this game was on ABC – the best game on the first day of bowl season, before everybody is completely sick to death of the glut of meaningless games. The legendary Brent Musburger and his pocket full of parlay slips and scotch was up in the booth gushing about the Aztecs’ program. He was calling us “San Diego” half the time, but whatever.
This was the best three-plus hours of advertising this program has received since, well, possibly ever.
And yeah, Donnel Pumphrey’s all-time NCAA rushing record* comes with an asterisk. Technically – and by technically we mean, in real life – Ron Dayne rushed for 720 more yards during his college football career. We at Kabeer Thirty have led the charge at pointing this out. But you know what? Fuck it. Seriously.
As a shat-upon Group of Five school, we are consistently held down by the moneyed powers of this stupid sport. So yeah, the NCAA made a dumb decision a decade ago that worked out in our guy’s favor. You know what? Good!
Fuck you and your pile of TV cash, Wisconsin. When people look at the NCAA’s all time rushing list, they will see D.J. Pumphrey of San Diego State, a school in the Mountain West Conference. By all means, cry about it.
OK, enough caveats.
D.J. gave us a lot of unforgettable visuals in this game. The one-handed catch that set up the touchdown run that gave the Aztecs their first lead. The record-breaking scamper down the sideline. Seeing him getting dap from Tom Ables on the bench. The pride and jubilation in the eyes of his family as he hoisted the MVP trophy.
I still can’t believe it happened. It sure didn’t look like it was going to.
When the Aztecs went down 10-0 in this game, with man-beast Ed Oliver and Houston’s defensive front going through SDSU’s line quicker than some bad Los Panchos, I started formulating the recap in my head. “Yeah, it sucks to get blown out in a bowl, but Houston was really good,” I’d write. “Ten wins is still a good season, despite what all our grander aspirations were,” I’d offer as sad consolation.
I’d probably talk myself into believing that crap, too. It was all a very defeatist. A very “Aztecs fan” way to think.
Maybe, just maybe, we don’t need to think like that anymore?
It’s been an emotional day. Would you like a happy cry now? You would! Well do I have just the thing …
So not to be kinda petty after such a wonderful photo, but let’s take one last look at this classic:
Heh. OK, maybe it’s time to be a little petty.
Since the top local sports columnist called for Rocky Long’s head (a take he backhandedly reiterated three weeks ago), the Aztecs have:
- Gone 21-4
- Won two MWC Championship Games
- Beaten Cal
- Destroyed Power Five waiting room rivals Cincinnati and Houston in bowl games.
This game might have been Rocky’s opus – a swarming, hard-hitting, sure-tackling defensive masterpiece of beautiful chaos and destruction.
Facing a dangerous passing offense led by dual-threat QB Greg Ward Jr., the 3-3-5 turned in the best performance I’ve ever seen from an SDSU defense. Ward was picked four times and pressured all day (seven sacks!). It certainly helped that the Cougars could not run on the Tecs. Like, at all.
What does that look like when you put it all together?
It couldn’t be more fitting that senior stalwarts Calvin Munson (pick and a sack) and Alex Barrett (2 TFL and a sideline scuffle) were constantly in the middle of everything.
There’s hope for the future, too. In fact, a freshman corner turned in the play that actually convinced me the Aztecs were going to win the damn game.
Fun fact: Rocky Long is very likely going to coach the San Diego State Aztecs for as long as he damn well pleases. We are uniformly pleased by this.
We’ll have more on this game later. We’ll break down big plays and give the heroes another laurel and hearty handshake. This recap, for me, is more of an acknowledgement that something significant happened in our little universe of Aztec fandom.
A while back, there was a great tweet going around that I thought summed up what it meant to be One Of Us.
This still resurfaces from time to time, but maybe, after what we just witnessed, it should be officially retired.
Also due for retirement at some future point: No. 19.
Donnel Pumphrey and the San Diego State Aztecs just got a storybook finish to the 2016 season. And it happened in the national spotlight. Mere hours ago, not even the most optimistic among us saw it going down like this.
Seriously: What if everything we thought we knew about being an SDSU fan was wrong?