The Chavez family loves their Lobos. For a long time, it’s been this way.
The dedication and fanatical following of all things UNM Athletics from the Chavezes begins with the father, Benito, and mother, Connie, and their love that is seen these days at tailgating parties before Lobo football games at University Stadium.
The couple took their young family to the games when the stadium first opened in 1960. So they weren’t considered bandwagon or fair-weather fans when the Lobos started a Western Athletic Conference title run in 1962 and also won championships in ’63 and ’64.
UNM is honoring and celebrating the 1962 team, along with two other squads (1982, 1997) when the Lobos (1-1) play against UTEP (1-2) on Saturday.
Benito is now 96. Connie, 92, still drives to the games, as she did on Friday against Boise State. She tapes up her bothersome right knee to walk around with a bit more ease. Their tent is the one with the fun characters all beside them. They share stories about their week and grub on chips and salsa, while sipping on drinks.
The couple, along with their family, Ana, Rudy, David, Monica and Andy, all believed UNM would win against the Broncos. That’s the case every week. Rudy is the familiar one known as Rudy the Attorney, the faithful Lobo booster in the community.
He vaguely remembers as a young child going to games at Zimmerman Field, only that the bleachers were different than from what’s at most college football games. When University Stadium opened, Rudy, then 5, stood in what he said was a very long line to get into the game when the Lobos played against the University of Mexico.
Against Boise State while tailgating on Friday, he remained hopeful, even though the Broncos entered as a 17-point favorite.
“I just hope they play as hard as they did against Maine,” Rudy Chavez said of the Lobos, who beat up FCS Maine, 41-0, to open the season. UNM did play hard, but mostly through three quarters and the Lobos lost 31-14 after they had trailed by only 10-0 into the third quarter.
This week, UTEP is favored by 2½ points against the Lobos. UNM will win, Rudy Chavez says, and his mom and dad surely agree.
HOW THEY MET: Benito, Connie and Rudy said the couple met while young at St. Joseph on the Rio Grande Catholic Church in Albuquerque. Benito threw a basketball Connie’s way to get her attention. Later, they dated and found much in common, as they both wanted to become teachers.
When Connie went to study at USC in Los Angeles, Benito followed. He worked nights at Douglas Aircraft Company, on the assembly line, and they both went to classes in the morning.
“We came back to Albuquerque because I was teaching, and I had a contract to come back,” Connie said. “I was expecting our first child (Ana). I wanted to come home to family. One of our professors wanted us to stay and work on our doctorate because they didn’t have anyone who could speak Spanish and was bilingual.”
Connie eventually worked at Albuquerque Public Schools after she had taken time off to raise her children (and go to Lobo games). Benito worked for Albuquerque High for a long time, starting at the old building on Central Avenue and ended after the Bulldogs moved to Odelia Road. He also coached basketball and baseball.
He finished the latter years of his career as a counselor at Madison Middle School, where among his students were the children of Bob King, the former UNM men’s basketball coach.
Benito, and his wife and family, are excited about Saturday’s game and UNM’s coach Danny Gonzales, who has made it a point to remember the past and honor teams such as the 1962, 1982 and 1997 squads.
Rudy said the action on the field should be plenty good, too. UTEP has beaten UNM twice in a row and he feels a Lobo victory is coming in what he believes is a rivalry.
“We won the championship in 1964 and were invited to the Sun Bowl and we said no and we’ve never been invited back to that bowl game,” Chavez said. “(UNM President Tom) Popejoy was trying to save money to build the Pit. His vision was basketball would be the game, not football. That created a lot of bad blood between Albuquerque and El Paso. It’s still there.”