After a hearty chorus of boos, cheers and whatever comes in between, the crowd finally hushed in anticipation of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
A voice rang down from the concourse and split the silence:
Then, with 8:27 left in the first half of Nevada’s eventual 77-76 Tuesday night victory over New Mexico in the Pit, a chant slowly coming together:
“Alford … SUCKS! Alford … SUCKS! Alford … SUCKS! …”
Maybe the relationship between former UNM and current Nevada head coach Steve Alford isn’t that complicated. And maybe it’s much of the same for his top assistant Craig Neal, another former New Mexico head coach.
Maybe it’s as simple as the answer Curtis Chavez, a lifelong Lobo fan, gave when asked if he’d boo one of the most successful coaches in New Mexico history.
“Of course,” he said with a shrug.
Went live on Facebook/probably talked too loud into the mic while interviewing Lobo fans about tonight’s game and the return of Alford and Neal. Check it out though! https://t.co/jU9fGGkwMh
— Sean Reider (@lenaweereider) February 8, 2023
“He left for somewhere else and he’s on the opposite team.”
With Nevada in town, New Mexico fans had the opportunity to remember – and perhaps reconsider – what’s been an occasionally estranged relationship with their two former coaches.
Alford’s time in Albuquerque remains sharp in Tony Perea’s memory, as it does with many Lobo fans. He said he was thankful Alford helped put New Mexico “back on the map” after a dismal ending to the Ritchie McKay era in 2007.
“When Steve Alford was here, the Lobos brought a lot of energy, (a) lot of good play and hard work to the Pit,” he said. “With Pitino, the Lobos are basically representing that same thing: hard work and (playing) hard every game.”
Alford departed for UCLA in March 2013 after leading New Mexico to a 27-7 record and a stunning 68-62 loss to Harvard in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. After Alford agreed to a 10-year contract extension in the weeks prior to leaving, Perea said the memory still leaves a “sour taste.”
And yet, he gets it.
“He had a great opportunity to go out to UCLA,” Perea said. “Who would really pass up that?
“Hopefully, it’ll be a rivalry that’ll (continue) for a really long time.”
On the other hand, Chavez is just as understanding of the other side of the deal.
“He left,” he said. “There are bad feelings … so looking forward to the Lobos beating them.”
Not so complicated, after all.