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UNM staffer cared for more than equipment

Rudy Garcia, an Albuquerque native who worked in the equipment “cage” for University of New Mexico’s athletic programs, died recently at the age of 67.

By all accounts, Rudy Garcia was an outstanding athletic equipment manager at the University of New Mexico — dedicated, hard-working, knowledgeable in his craft.

Based on his job description, that’s all he needed to be.

Yet, say a legendary former Lobo athlete and a longtime athletic-department colleague, he was so much more.

Garcia, an Albuquerque native who worked in UNM’s equipment “cage” for 37 years, the last 19 as head equipment manager before retiring in 2010, has died. He was 67.

Terance Mathis, an All-America Lobos wide receiver of the late 1980s who went on to a 13-year career in the NFL, recalled Garcia as a dear friend and valued confidant.

Their relationship, Mathis said, lasted far beyond his playing days at UNM.

“You always wanted to come back and see Rudy, because you always knew you’d get love,” Mathis said in a phone interview from Georgia, where he’s a high school football coach. “To Rudy, I was always Terance Mathis the man, more than Terance Mathis the All-American or All-Pro football player. That was our relationship.”

Mathis came to UNM in 1985 but encountered academic problems after the 1987 season. He was forced to leave Albuquerque and enroll at a junior college to regain his eligibility.

Through it all, he said, Garcia was both a friend and a motivator.

“He made sure that I took care of business,” Mathis said. “He said, ‘You’ve got to come back. You can’t be another statistic. You have a great future ahead of you.’ He was always supportive in everything that I’ve done.”

Mathis returned to UNM for the 1989 season, caught 88 passes for 1,315 yards — the latter figure a school record that still stands — was a consensus first-team All-American and earned his college degree.

For all his kindness and support, Mathis said, Garcia’s shoulder was never there to cry on.

“Rudy never, ever, let me get what you’d call the big head,” he said. “He always kept me humble, always.

“He’d say, ‘You know you ain’t that good,’ or ‘That was an all-right game,’ or ‘You know you’ve got to keep doing that over and over and over again.’ He always kept me on an even keel.”

In a story written by the UNM sports information department after Garcia’s death, Garcia was quoted from a 2008 story saying how proud he was of what Mathis had accomplished and how pleased he was that Mathis had stayed in touch over the years.

“When I was reading that to my wife,” Mathis said, “I had tears in my eyes.

“I started to weep, because my mom (Carole) died about four weeks ago. To see those that have been a big influence in my life passing away, it’s hard.”

Dave Binder, UNM’s head athletic trainer from 1995-2013, didn’t arrive until after Mathis had left. But he said in a phone interview he was not at all surprised when told of the close relationship that Garcia and Mathis had forged.

“(Garcia’s job) wasn’t just about doing laundry and things like that,” Binder said “It had a lot to do with the welfare and the health of those kids.”

Toward that end, Binder said, he and Garcia often worked together.

“Sometimes Rudy and I would discuss an injury,” he said. “If it had to do with equipment, maybe shoulder pads, helmets or whatever it might be, Rudy would have an answer or a solution that we could use to help that kid, protect that kid, do things (within) his expertise with regard to equipment.”

Binder and Garcia were close personal friends who — often in the company of former Lobos football coach Rocky Long —played many rounds of golf together.

In recent years, Binder said, Garcia’s health had deteriorated. But Binder and several friends still took Garcia and his wife, Frances, to lunch almost every week.

Binder said his son, Kyle, once worked for Garcia as a student assistant. His son and others who worked for Garcia have gone to success in other walks of life.

“I’m so proud that my son worked for Rudy and got a lot of work ethic from him,” Binder said. “I know all those other kids did, too.

“I know they loved him and were proud of him.”

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