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Pervis Atkins, Aggie football All-American, dies

Pervis Atkins, who was an All-America running back on the last New Mexico State football teams to go to a bowl game, is shown during a visit to Albuquerque in 2008. He died on Friday at the age of 82. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal file)

Pervis Atkins, a first-team All-American running back on the last New Mexico State team to play in a bowl game, has died in the Los Angeles area.

Atkins’ death at age 82 on early Friday morning was confirmed by Albuquerque’s Charlie Rogers, a longtime close friend and former schoolmate, and Atkins’ family. No details on the death were announced, but Atkins was known to be dealing with dementia and its related symptoms in recent years, and he had resided in an assisted living facility.

Atkins was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009. He had played professionally with the Oakland Raiders, Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins, then went into the motion pictures business as an actor and producer.

Atkins played on the 1960 Aggies team that finished 11-0 and defeated Utah State 20-13 in the 1960 Sun Bowl. A seemingly interminable postseason drought that began that day when he and his New Mexico State teammates walked off the field at the Sun Bowl in El Paso ends next Friday. Two days short of 57 years later, it’s when the 2017 Aggies will play in the Arizona Bowl — also against Utah State.

Services are scheduled for 1 p.m. on Thursday at the North Hollywood Baptist Church (11210 Otsego St., North Hollywood, Calif.). The body will be cremated and there will be no graveside service. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, contributions should go to the Pervis Atkins Endowment Scholarship at the NMSU Foundation.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that NMSU plans to honor Atkins during their bowl appearance the next day.

The 1960 Aggies were the subject of a Sports Illustrated cover story famously (at least in Las Cruces) titled “The Team The Pros Watch” because of all the pro prospects that found their way to Las Cruces.

Atkins gets much of the credit for coining the term “Magic in the Desert” to describe the 1960 NMSU team. That also became the title of a book co-written by Rogers and three other classmates at NMSU.

Born in Ruston, La., and having grown up in Oakland, Calif., Atkins, a veteran of the U.S. Marines, played for the Aggies from 1958-1960. His first exposure to Las Cruces and the school came on a recruiting visit with Bob Gaiters, a much more heralded high school star from Ohio. Their night’s stay was in converted Army barracks moved on campus to help house an influx of students. At night, cows were let loose to roam right outside. They mooed all night, left their manure as calling cards for those walking out in the morning, and “boy, did it stink,” Atkins laughed in a 2008 interview with the Journal. “I said, ‘We can’t stay here.'”

But they did, and Atkins, who had been timed in the 100-yard dash in 9.7 seconds, thrived. In 1959, his 7.5 yards per carry, 107 points and 17.7 yards per punt return all led the nation. His 8.1 yards per carry for a career remains a school record, as does his career punt return average (15.1) and single-season punt return average (21.8 in 1960). He remains the lone NMSU football player to achieve first-team All-America status.

In 2009, New Mexico State retired Atkins’ No. 27 jersey, though the school symbolically “unretired” the number for Garrey Carruthers when Carruthers became the school’s 27th president.

Following his retirement from football, Atkins’ acting career included a recurring role in the 1970s TV series “Delvecchio,” starring Judd Hirsch. Atkins also appeared in the original “The Longest Yard” movie in 1974 and had roles in “Police Woman,” “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “Rich Man, Poor Man, Book II,” among other jobs.