My Trip to 0-2

It all started 50 years ago...well sort of... .

Labor Day weekend of 2010 was going to be the closest and most convenient time to celebrate my Mom and Dad's 50th wedding anniversary. Those of us, who had to travel, had time to get there and back over the long weekend. We drove in Friday for the party the next day. Easy drive, 900 miles in 13 hours.

The big party started at 5pm and the Lobos kicked off at 1pm, there's a chance to see the game. We are staying in Rio Rancho, no Comcast, but Rudy C has invited me over to his pad and watch the game. (Nice Man-Cave, Rudy, A Sports Museum and amazing green chile chicken enchiladas).

Get up early Saturday for breakfast at Conseula's in Rio, with Dad and brother for best chiccarones breakfast burrito in the world, (green, hot, smothered). Then over to do a few last minute things before the party. Got them knocked out and headed over to Rudy's.

Arrive just in time for kickoff. I know Oregon is good. Real good. The Pac 10 isn't the SEC, but who is? Each year conferences change, but the Pac 10 is always in the top 3 or 4 and Oregon has been the best team in there recently. I thought the Lobos could maybe hang around a bit before Oregon would pull away and win by about the spread.

Well the Lobo wagon started down the hill and the handle fell off. The brakes too. Special teams breakdowns and the difference in team speed on offense and defense were too much for the Lobos to overcome. The lamb was lead to slaughter the knives were sharp. Not a scrap wasted. 59-0 at the half. The "mercy game" was back in play at UNM.

The fans haven't had to face those games since the Franchione Era began. The nine win 50 loss era before Mr. "It's a marathon, not a sprint". Fran wanted to do one thing at his stop between Pittsburgh State and TCU-win as many games as possible, for UNM and his resume.

When a coach gets to make his own schedule, as they did at UNM up until Rocky Long's second to last year, he will tend to make it a little easier at the beginning of the schedule so his young team avoids a confidence-busting defeat. No such luck for Mike Locksley's Lobos. Right into the fire.

Didn't see much of the second half, had to head out to the party. At which, I was reminded by most how bad the Lobos did that day and asked when will they fire that coach, repeatedly. All night long. Ah yes. The rites of fall in New Mexico. Green chile roasting. Pinion is for sale. Lobo football bashing is in season.

What can you say? 13 games in, most of the Lobo nation is ready for the next victim, er, head coach. Everyday we move further from Rocky Long, the better he gets. But the same fans that now hate Locksley, were the same fans that did not supports Long's team when they needed it. Couldn't win the MWC title they said. New Mexico Bowl win...who cares? Rocky lost control of scheduling and, he thought, support of the fans, and left before getting nuked. Now they talk about him like he's Bobby Bowden.

After a little golf in the morning, I went out to the weekly Lobo Press Conference, at the "Tow", Tuesday afternoon. Locksley had another luncheon to attend so he held his group questioning session and he had to leave. The sound bites from those questions you saw on the news all week when the local stations were focusing their attention why there has been so few tickets sold for the up coming Texas Tech home opener. I did ask the head coach a couple of questions-"What did you say to them at halftime?" (Well, I didn't want to scream at them, we needed to fix things.) and about that play that the RB lined up too deep, allowing the D-linemen to make the play, (We have run that play a million times...). He was a calm, young coach, with a lot to figure out about his team and no time, or games to do it.

The first three of this schedule are a 1-2-3 punch that would have knocked Tyson on his ass. The middle six are ones to be ready for. Jim Valvano's plan in the NCAA tournament was "survive and advance". For UNM in 2010, it's survive, survive, survive, compete, compete, four more times. UNLV, UTEP, NMSU, SDSU, CSU and Wyoming. Heck even add Air Force for the seven game in that stretch in which the Lobos will be on a much more level playing field. Just have to survive the first three.

Went to practice on Thursday. The last practice of the week that was open. They were in game plan mode, with the first team offense and defense squaring off against the scout teams. I thought they looked pretty good. I was mostly in familiarization mode, being this was the first time I had seen this team live, but there were some future play-makers on the team. Ty Kirk and Lucas Reed are special. Martize Barr is gonna be good. Kasey Carrier and Demond Dennis will pile up yards. BR Holbrook, Tarean Austin and Stump Mitchell are as about as deep the Lobos have ever gone at QB since Jeremy Leach and Stoney Case were on the team. The defensive line is HUGE! The special teams coach was on them, but, it didn't seem to help vs. Tech. I heard wholesale changes have been made after that game.

Locksley took the time to come over and chat, sorry no recording device, so I'll have to paraphrase. Actually, no other media type was present, at least, that I could see. I found that to be kind of amazing at the last practice open to the media before the home opener. I guess they didn't want to ask Anthony Hooks about ticket sales being low.

An interesting thing Locksley told me was that he was waiting to see which of his star players, mostly young players, would step up to take over the leadership roles. He said when things get tough, someone has to step up and make a play, a tackle and catch, whatever. Those guys are still being defined.

Friday began with the prep of the brisket to make the Kansas City favorite "Burnt Ends". Burnt Ends are to KC what Salsa is to New Mexico. Every BBQ joint in KC has what they call "the best" burnt ends in town. Just like everyone's salsa is the best in NM.

Basically you slow cook the point end of a brisket (opposed to the flat part) to about 190 degrees, about 6-7 hours at 250-275 degrees. Pull it off and let it rest at least 15-30 min. trim off fat cut into 1 inch chunks and put into foil roasting pan. Re-season with some more rub and coat with favorite sweet BBQ sauce (Blue's Hog if you can find it). Cover pan with foil and put in oven for an hour at 400. Pull foil at 30 mins. and add a little more sauce. After an hour, remove from oven and re-cover with foil until you are ready to eat.

The Red Menace crew plowed through two pans of that stuff in about 20 minutes at Saturday's tailgate. Get yourself some tortillas and spoon them in....think smoky-sweet chiccarones, but made out of beef.

The tailgate Saturday was great. Tailgating with that crew was special to me. Serious, face painted, no shirt-wearing Lobos fans. Everybody brings something to eat or drink and all of them bring passion for Lobo football.

The game experience is what I missed to most. Close enough to almost touch the bright yellow goalposts. The Lobo Marching Band playing music for us, twice! Once, in the stands behind us, once, on the field, in front of the front row. The wave of player bursting out of the south end and sprinting directly to the front row of the Red Menace Section for high fives with all the hands coming out of the stands.

Some of the same faces, like those twins, whose families grow bigger each season to new faces whose first time in the section was right there. The Red Menace row of Hell in the front reminding the other team that we're here. The give and take before the game during warm-ups is worth the price of admission. That goes back with Texas Tech. Mike Leach was "aware" of us when he came to NM.

The game had all the usual elements of a home Lobos football game. The home team hurting itself with mistakes far worse that the damage done by the visiting team. Special teams are killing us. A questionable call by a ref that killed a TD that would have pulled the Lobos to 31-24 at the half. An amazing thought when you consider the final was 52-17.

The Lobos fell behind 21-0 and pulled back into it. They could overcome their mistakes in the second half to make it a game to the end. The offense was better-gained over 400 yards. the defense was hitting the whole game. No give up there. Carman Messina played a lot for a guy who really didn't practice with the team that week.

I left the stadium thinking this team has the chance to improve, but will Locksley survive the Lobos fan "love" to see it through. New Mexico should fully support Locksley for at least three years before turning on him. I know that's a joke. Will never happen, but it should.

Here's what I think of Locksley. He is a good communicator and relates well to his players. They respect him and will play hard for him. He is recruiting some pretty good players. Better than we have ever seen here at UNM. After next season the Lobos will be on equal footing with any MWC team, talent-wise and able to keep up with most mid-majors. I think he got caught in office politics that was twisted into a "more juicy" sexual harassment suit. The ordeal with the assistant coach
probably happens more than you would think. It's rare that one of the coaches makes it public because once you break the trust you will probably never coach again.

Even if Locksley is at fault in both of these incidents, don't forget he is making first time mistakes just like the rest of us. Do you learn from mistakes and get better? That's the key. That's what makes you better.

The icing on the cake...I even got a call into Stig's Postgame Show of Horror's that night on the way home. Everybody brings their sledge-hammers to that show. Brutal.

I left NM the next morning at 5am for the long ride back to Kansas, thinking from 70-million to nothing to 52-17 in two weeks. They seem to have gotten better. But how can that be? Look at the score...

Get off Locksley people of the Lobo Nation. Give the man his fair shot. Support the team on the way up not just when they are on top. It will speed up the process of building a good college football team you can be proud of. Give the man his time, let's see what he can build. Then judge his work.

The other thing I was thinking...why are they so tough on coaches in the New Mexico bubble? It's like "Hoosiers" for the new guy. It's not that way everywhere, it's not that way in Kansas. That's for sure. I didn't know that until I moved here though.

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