The 2016 Las Vegas Bowl was an emotional game to watch as an Aztecs fan. It was a coronation of sorts — a convincing bowl victory against a hyped opponent — but it was more than that. It was also the day when Donnel Pumphrey broke the NCAA rushing mark. In the wake of the record breaking run, the ABC cameras captured a shot of D.J., on the bench, sharing a moment with super fan Tom Ables*.
*This shot is at 1:34:50 in this video if you’re in the mood for a cry.
Sitting on Lemonverbena’s couch that afternoon, I damn near lost it.
Just as I nearly have several times tonight, reading the obits and tributes marking the passing of Tom Ables at age 91.
If you want to know Tom Ables the man, not just the loyal supporter who attended an astounding 788 Aztecs football games, a good place to start is Kirk Kenney’s piece in the U-T. This Ed Graney story from over a decade ago is also worth your time. And if Nick Canepa chimes in in the next couple days, which I suspect he will, be sure to read every word of it.
I can’t offer as comprehensive a memorial to the man in this space. I met Mr. Ables only once, about 10 years ago. I’m sure you will be completely unsurprised to learn that he was extremely pleasant and eager to talk to a complete stranger about his beloved Aztecs.
Tom Ables figured out something he loved to do with his life, and he went as hard as he possibly could. That alone is worthy of praise. But the way he went about it stands out, too. In an age where fan culture is fueled by boorish behavior and blustery hot takes, Mr. Ables was an example to follow — a gentleman who truly cared about his alma mater and, more importantly, the young men who represent it on the field.
The love was mutual. A sampling of tonight’s outpouring:
There were also several messages from current and former athletes, with more to come I’m sure.
And allow me to share one last one, from earlier this year, from Mr. Ables himself.
Our thoughts go out to the Ables family. We are all with you.