ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Before he was Lewis the mailman, Cliff Clavin’s sometime protector and sometime nemesis, Sam Scarber was a protector to Rocky Long and a nemesis to football defenses throughout the Rocky Mountain Southwest.
In 1970, the New Mexico Lobos averaged a dazzling 350 rushing yards per game out of a triple-option offense. Scarber, a swift, bruising transfer from Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colo., led the way with 961 yards on 184 carries.
With Long at quarterback, Fred Henry and Nate McCall at the halfback positions and Scarber at fullback, the Lobos went 7-3 — just two years removed from an 0-10 season in 1968.
“We helped turn the program around,” said Scarber, who was in Albuquerque on Saturday to play in coach Bob Davie’s and the UNM Alumni Lettermen’s Association’s second annual football alumni golf tournament.
The tournament is a small part of Davie’s effort to effect a similar turnaround, building bridges from the past to the present. After consecutive 1-11 seasons from 2009-11, the Lobos went back to a form of the triple option last fall and went 4-9 in Davie’s first year.
Scarber said he hadn’t realized UNM was running the triple option but still loves the concept.
“It definitely keeps the defense on their toes,” he said. “… You don’t know who’s the blocker and who’s the runner, and you can pass off of it.
“Nobody could keep up with us (in 1970). … You try to stop one, there goes another, up the sidelines. And I loved to block for all of them.”
From UNM, after a brief pro football career, Scarber moved to Southern California and became an actor. He has worked in the business for some 32 years, appearing on series such as “Cheers” — where he alternately protected and terrorized Cliff, his fellow mailman — “CHiPs,” “Taxi,” “Fantasy Island,” “MacGyver,” “Cold Case,” “ER” and “The Shield.”
He recently appeared in “Shocker,” a horror movie, and just finished work in another scary film, “Cut!”
“I try to stay in the mix,” he said. “… I’ll do this until I get tired or there’s no more fun.
“Then, I guess, it’s time for Albuquerque. I’ll go kick it back and hang with all my good friends.”
Robin Cole (1973-76): Cole, among UNM’s all-time greats, went on to win two Super Bowl rings during a 12-year career as a linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Fully recovered from two recent major surgeries, Cole lives in the Pittsburgh area and works primarily as a motivational speaker.
“I spend most of my time speaking at schools, middle schools and high schools back East,” he said.
He’s excited that the Lobos will play at the University of Pittsburgh on Sept. 14.
He would love to give the Lobos a motivational speech before the game.
“I want to make sure I let (Davie) know that I’ll be available,” he said.
Buster Quist (1956-57): At UNM, Quist, an Albuquerque High grad, was better known as a javelin thrower than a football player; he won a Pan American Games gold medal in 1959 and twice came heartbreakingly close to an berth in the Olympics.
“Very few people remember that I played ball,” Quist said. “But I played end on offense, and outside and sometimes inside linebacker on defense.”
Quist has lived in Phoenix since 1972 but keeps a close watch on UNM’s football fortunes.
“It was such a welcome relief to see (last fall’s) turnaround,” he said, “and all indications are that it will be better this year.”
Don Woods (1973): Woods played only a single season at quarterback for UNM, coming to Albuquerque after New Mexico Highlands dropped football. After college, he was the Rookie of the Year as a running back for the San Diego Chargers on the front end a seven-year NFL career.
After football, he earned a Master’s in special education and worked 16 years at APS before retiring two years ago.
Despite his short stay at UNM, Woods said, he’s all Lobo. Of the state of the program, he said: “There’s a lot of enthusiasm, but I think they need to be a little bit more balanced. … You have to be able to do both, run to set up the pass and vice versa.”
Aaron Givens (1987-90): The Lobos have few more dedicated athletic alumni than Givens, a running back from Highland High and a United States probation officer for the state of New Mexico.
His message to current Lobos? Don’t ever give up.
Givens played sparingly his first two seasons, a bit more as a junior and finally got his chance as a senior. He led the team in rushing in 1990 and had his best rushing game ever — 126 yards against San Diego State — in his last game ever.
Despite his efforts, the Lobos lost that game 40-34. During Givens’ four years at UNM, the team was 6-41.
He sees far better days ahead.
“I’m excited,” he says. “What (the team is) doing, what they’ve moved onto from their foundation, I can’t wait.”