ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As New Mexico Stars coach Dominic Bramante reflected on his first season as a head coach Wednesday and looked ahead to today’s Lone Star Football League championship game in San Angelo, Texas, he shared a text he received two days earlier from a good friend.
“It’s a big stage and a big opportunity, but the same size field. Nothing changes. Make it about football.”
Those words came from John Harbaugh, coach of the Baltimore Ravens.
“John is like a brother. He sent me great advice because he keeps up with what we do,” said Bramante, who said he talks with Harbaugh regularly and assists with the NFL team’s summer camp for about a week each season “to help out wherever I’m needed.”
Bramante even was on the sideline as a guest of the Ravens for their Super Bowl victory against San Francisco two seasons ago in New Orleans. Bramante and his family soaked in the team’s postgame Super Bowl party, too.
So, the Stars’ sideline boss has had a front-row seat to see what it takes to win a championship. He just doesn’t know what it’s like to coach a team to a crown.
“I’ve been involved in arena ball for seven years (as an assistant coach) and never been involved with a championship before,” Bramante said. “But whether we win a championship or not, these players are champions for overcoming adversity. There is no quit in them.”
Among the setbacks for the team were the abrupt departure of the general manager in the offseason and the new ownership group bailing a week before the season started. Not to mention assorted injuries, players who didn’t report as promised and road-game hardships.
“We’re the only team in the (five-team) league that travels the way we do in that we get on a bus, play a game, get back on the bus and come back,” Bramante said. “In any sport, that’s tough. And with this team, the amazing thing is there hasn’t been one complaint from the players. Not one.”
Those travel arrangements changed this week thanks to newly minted owner Michael McKernan, who made sure the team had lodging Friday night in San Angelo after their roughly six-hour trip.
Stars linebacker/fullback Roosevelt Falls, one of the leaders in the locker room and on the field, explained the team’s success in a season in which New Mexico rallied from a 1-3 start to win six of its final eight games and surge into the playoffs.
“We all bought into what coach was preaching,” Falls said. “We all had that trust and belief in each other throughout.”
Today’s game wasn’t originally supposed to be for the league title. It was scheduled as a first-round matchup between the second-seeded Bandits (8-4) and the Stars (7-5). But when top-seeded Rio Grande Valley was ruled ineligible by the LSFL last week for not meeting league obligations, New Mexico’s game was elevated to the title match.
“I had called a couple of the players to let then know about this,” Bramante said after receiving the news. “(Ex-Lobo) Landrick Brody started screaming. When I called Roosevelt, he started crying. These guys deserve this.”
PREVIOUS MEETINGS: The teams split their two-game season series. The Bandits, who were 6-0 in San Angelo this season, won at home 56-34 on April 12. The Stars won at the Santa Ana Star Center 54-47 on May 31 after rallying from a 47-33 deficit in the final 6 minutes.
Bramante said it’s going to be an extremely tough atmosphere for the Stars today.
“I told them we’re trained for this,” Bramante said. “We’re going into a hostile environment, we’re facing a very good San Angelo team. And not only them, but the officials. But no matter what adversity this team has run into, they’ve overcome it.”
The San Angelo ticket manager estimates a crowd in excess of 2,000 will be in attendance.