Decades ago, long before smart phones and tablets joined television in the conspiracy to keep fannies in warm, soft recliners and out of cold, hard stadium seats on football weekends, Sports Illustrated ran a fanciful story that still could turn out to be prophetic.
The day will come, the SI story postulated, when no one will actually come to football games. All the games will be watched exclusively from homes, bars, etc.
So, then. Regarding University of New Mexico football, that’s it, right? Everybody’s watching Lobo games on TV, or on their electronic devices.
Otherwise, this season’s sagging attendance figures, paired against a 9-4 season record, make no sense.
That puzzling phenomenon – rising success on the field vs. declining attendance in the stands – leads off this review of New Mexico sports 2016.
There was, as always, competition for the top spot.
One can never go wrong with UNM men’s basketball as No. 1, even if the team itself isn’t going quite right. Before the year is out, the Lobos (7-5) have one more chance (Fresno State, Wednesday at the Pit) to assuage the memory of that 31-point drubbing at Arizona on Tuesday.
Major Leaguers Alex Bregman (Albuquerque) and Matt Moore (Moriarty) and distance runner Courtney Frerichs (UNM, see page C4 ) made big news on the big stage.
Albuquerque MMA fighter Holly Holm lost two fights in a row for the first time in her 15-year combat sports career. Her Jackson-Wink teammate, Jon Jones, continued to make news of the wrong kind.
Cullen Neal, son of Lobos men’s basketball coach Craig Neal, decided to transfer from UNM after enduring taunts and threats from a pathetic few who call themselves fans. He wound up at Ole Miss, where, so far, he’s having an outstanding junior season.
On the high school scene, there was plenty to write about – and Journal prep writer James Yodice will, in a later edition.
Now, back to our lead story.
On Dec. 17, New Mexico beat UTSA 23-20 in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl – completing a 9-4 season, UNM’s best since 2007 and only the fourth with nine or more victories in the program’s history.
Yet, the average attendance for the Lobos’ six regular-season home games was 18,708, less than half the stadium’s capacity and the lowest since 1991.
For this phenomenon, there can be no one explanation.
Late-season, late-night kickoffs for TV purposes certainly didn’t help. Every home game was aired on one TV platform or another.
There’s nothing to be gained, Lobos coach Bob Davie said, from over-analysis and even less to be gained by criticizing those who don’t come to the games.
“I’ve said it many times,” Davie said after the New Mexico Bowl. ” A lot of times we want to blame everybody, pick whose fault it is that there are not more people there. I think what we really ought to do is really appreciate the people that are there and start building with that.”
Davie also has said, though, that he believes he, his staff and his players have done their part to make UNM football viable in the community.
The rest is up to you, the public.
“If we really want (college football success) here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, then let’s collectively all work together to try to make it as good as we can make it,” Davie said in October.
“It’s not perfect. It’s not there yet. But it’s hard to have expectations for anybody without commitment. … I think all of us ought to keep that in mind as we move forward.”
A month-by-month look at the highs and lows of 2016:
A head of hair for Brian Urlacher … Utah State men’s basketball coach Tim Duryea
says the Lobos (3-0 in the Mountain West) are good enough to win the league … Davie gets a two-year contract extension through 2021 … UNM football pays an emotional tribute to the late Markel Byrd.
Young Albuquerquean Austin Denton makes the rounds at Super Bowl media night … Craig Neal tells the media that Cullen has received death threats but makes no mention of them to UNM police … the Lobo men lose to Air Force in Colorado Springs after having beaten the Falcons by 29 at home … UNM is investigating more than $50,000 in withdrawals from men’s basketball operations director Cody Hopkins’ “P-card.”
A crazy month. The UNM men lose to San Diego State by 27 points at the Pit …
Holm loses her title to Miesha Tate by fifth-round rear naked choke … Nevada ousts the Lobos from the Mountain West tournament in the first round … UNM opts not to enter the pay-for-play CBI postseason tournament … New Mexico State loses in the finals of the Western Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament, ending the Aggies’ run of four straight WAC titles and four straight NCAA Tournament bids … Moore pitches six innings of shutout ball for Tampa Bay in its 4-1 win over the Cuban national team in Havana … Cullen Neal announces he’ll transfer … UNM athletic director Paul Krebs fires Yvonne Sanchez as UNM women’s basketball
coach, … Jones spends a night in jail for a possible probation violation after being cited for drag racing and other violations, five days after pleading no contest to not having his driver’s license, car registration and proof of insurance with him in a separate incident. … Mike Bradbury is named UNM’s women’s basketball coach.
Jones must complete an anger management course, a driver improvement course and an additional 60 hours of community service after having been issued five traffic citations late March 24. … Cullen Neal will finish his college basketball career at Ole Miss … NMSU men’s basketball coach Marvin Menzies gets the UNLV job. Assistant Paul Weir is named to replace him … Jones decisions Ovince St. Preux in what will prove to be his only fight of 2016.
An audit report indicates Hopkins committed fraud in his misuse of his UNM P-card … Beer and wine sales are on tap for University Stadium in the fall.
Lobo men’s basketball alumni beat their Aggie counterparts 102-97 in a frenetic game at the Pit.
Jones is pulled from his light heavyweight title fight against champion Daniel
Cormier after being flagged for a potential doping violation … Holm wins an ESPY for her upset victory over Rousey but loses to Valentina Shevchenko in Chicago … Bregman gets the call-up from the Astros.
UNM athletics faces its largest budget deficit in a decade … Albuquerque attorney Turner Branch, a longtime supporter of UNM athletics, dies at age 77 …
Moore, now a San Francisco Giant, comes within one out of a no-hitter against the Dodgers.
The Albuquerque Isotopes finish 71-72 on the season … The Aggie football team upsets the Lobos, 32-31, in Las Cruces … Mike Roberts, the iconic voice of the Lobos, dies at age 83 … Krebs is appointed to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament selection committee … young Denton interviews Broncos coach Gary Kubiak, gets air time on NFL Today … after a 2-for-38 start, Bregman hits .313 for the Astros the rest of the way.
Boise State routs the Lobos on a Friday night at University Stadium, dropping them to 2-3 … Krebs to the UNM Regents: ‘We need (financial) help’ … UNM men’s basketball is picked to finish third in the Mountain West in 2016-17 … The Lobos beat Air Force in a thriller at the Cotton Bowl, 45-40 … Hopkins claims UNM has violated his rights in its investigation of his P-Card use … the UNM basketball women are picked to finish sixth in the Mountain West … the Lobo women win their ninth straight MWC cross-country title.
The Lobos overcome Nevada and a 1-hour, 50-minute delay to become bowl-eligible for the second straight year … Jones is handed a one-year suspension for his use of a sex-enhancement product that contained a banned substance … The Lobos beat Wyoming, 56-35, to claim a tie for the Mountain West Mountain Division title.
The late Johnny Tapia, perhaps the greatest super flyweight boxer of all time, is selected for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame … The Aggies beat the Lobos 84-71 to gain a season split of the annual men’s basketball series … fighters Michelle Waterson, Donald Cerrone, Cub Swanson and Landon Vannata, teammates at Jackson-Wink, take impressive, high-profile victories.