It was a toss and turn night. Dawn was distant. Nightmares gripped a restless slumber. The editors had assigned me, once again in my dreams as they did in real life back in the 1960s, to the police blotter.
What a way to start the day, sitting in a dreary station house sifting through reports of mayhem, the beatings, the drugs, the burglaries. It’s the family heartbreak stuff best relegated to the back pages of the newspaper under news of record.
Suddenly I sat bolt upright in a cold sweat, screaming. The nightmare had turned to pure horror. I had gone to work for the Albuquerque Journal, replacing Rick Wright. My steady assignment would be covering the UNM Lobo football team.
Time out. This is not a Lobo bashing piece. No penalties for piling on. No 15 yards for unnecessary roughness. Quite the contrary.
I have empathy for Rick Wright, an excellent sportswriter who each week has to go to Coach George Barlow and ask what happened. And for Coach Barlow who has to keep saying we didn’t do very good. And for fans who ache, and for a university whose hapless team has been ranked by some as the worst in the nation.
But mostly I feel sad for the players. I can’t put a face to the names I read in the paper. I know the Forrest boy to be a nice kid and a high school football stud. Fine family. Susan and Richard named him Bubba, maybe thinking the University of Alabama was in his future. I know Bubba told his folks, when now fired Coach Mike Locksley was getting blitzed like Tony Romo on a bad Sunday, “he’s my coach and I am sticking by him.” How can you not like a kid with that kind of loyalty?
The Lobos are welcome guests of Ruidoso for a 12-day preseason practice retreat and we would see them trudge along the golf cart path, making their way from hotel to practice field. As I gave a victory V “Go Lobos” greeting one morning, a youngster yelled back, “Thank you, sir.” You think I want that kid’s nose rubbed into the turf every Saturday afternoon?
New Mexico’s football teams have never been ones to earn national adulation or even capture much attention. But the fall and fall story of UNM is disturbing. The sadistic writer could gang tackle you with numbing statistics. Suffice to say the Lobos have won two of the last 33, none this season. Flip over to the sports page, fingers crossed, to check out the status of this Saturday’s tussle with UNLV.
Reading Rick Wright’s Sunday football story is about as uplifting as wading through Monday’s New Mexico bankruptcy list. Were I Rick, I would be on Prozac.
Here’s the point. The Lobo players are not goofy klutzes who stumble around UNM tripping over cracks in the sidewalk. They are good kids who were superior athletes in their hometowns. The athletic department has failed them, I think, and we should be collectively embarrassed by not providing an environment that provides at least a shot at success.
A crucial element is coaching. Supposition is the new coach might be some Big Time Name, maybe one with a problematic background like oddball Mike Leach who got fired at Texas Tech.
Wright tells us the quirky Leach seems to be the favorite of the Lobo faithful. He’s an intellectually curious fellow who has a passion for pirates. Sounds like a fit. One glaring challenge is that Leach and others UNM might court have shown little enthusiasm for our advances.
It is up to Athletic Director Paul Krebs to recruit a football savvy motivator to turn this thing around. Rick Wright has a tough enough job. You think I want to replace Krebs? In your dreams!