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Rocky’s return met with silence

Maybe Rocky Long had a point.

Judging by the crowd – and its reaction – during San Diego State’s 24-14 win against New Mexico on Friday night at University Stadium, it’s certainly hard to argue with him.

The longtime former Lobo football coach drew the ire of a few Lobo faithful when he resigned following the 2008 season, calling out “the damn fans” among other things he said were keeping the Lobos from having a big-time football program.

Apparently, it didn’t draw the ire of many.

The crowd was listed at 19,497 and was quiet on Friday night – outside of the occasional boos for the home team – in front of a national television audience for Long’s first game in Albuquerque as head coach at San Diego State, where he is in his fourth season. He was also defensive coordinator for the Aztecs for two seasons prior to his current stint.

Sure, it might be a case of time healing all wounds. But more likely, it’s because those wounds – if they were there at all – weren’t very deep.

“So where are the damn fans?” said Lee Roy Lucero, founder of the Lobo fan website The Red Menace, who was one of about 20 from the group seated in the north end zone. “Rocky said, ‘Where are the damn fans?’ He called out the damn fans when he got let go, fired, slash, whatever it’s called. Where are the damn fans? That’s what I want to know.”

Long’s Aztecs defeated his alma mater and former team 24-14. Long has been on the winning side of the Aztecs-Lobos rivalry for 13 consecutive seasons.

Following a 4-8 season in 2008, Long resigned and received a payoff of $677,500 after 11 years, a 65-69 record and four losses in his five bowl games.

There were those who thought Long was forced out. But Paul Krebs, New Mexico’s athletic director then and now, says Long told him early in that 2008 season he felt the program needed a change. Long reiterated as much at his final news conference at UNM, where he took his departing shot at the fans.

The Lobos are now 12-55 and 5-36 in the Mountain West Conference in the post-Rocky era – not that a whole lot of folks have been around for the home part of those games.

While that crowd figure was so inflated it would have competed for a prize at this weekend’s Balloon Fiesta finale, it wasn’t just a case of how few showed. It was also how little they seemed to care – for the game or their former coach.

There were no taunting chants of “Rock-y Rock-y.”

There were no cheers for him.

There were no posters of support for him – or anger against him.

“I expected a lot more of a reaction from the crowd,” said Albuquerque attorney Mike Danoff, a longtime friend of Long’s who was on the Aztecs’ sideline. “There was no reaction at all, and I really believe this crowd owes it to him. He did help this place. We had our high attendance records when he was here (average of 38,341 fans a game in 2005) and he did a lot for the university, both as a coach and a player. But it was like Easter sunrise services.”

Long, also a star QB for the Lobos from 1969-71, coached against the Lobos once before, when he was SDSU’s defensive coordinator in 2010.

Fan Wes Henderson said Long talked to some fans prior to that game, but not this time.

“We thought there was a possibility, but you can understand him not coming over,” Henderson said. “It would have been nice to see him … but he was defensive coordinator then and he has other things to do now as (head coach). Looking back now, I wish he was still here.”

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