Tonight we kick off a week of Poinsettia Bowl celebrations with President Weber’s Poinsettia Bowl Alumni Party at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center. As if the Aztecs’ first bowl appearance in 12 years weren’t reason enough to throw a party, there’s the added bonus of yet another new milestone for the men’s basketball team.
This week the Aztec roundballers are ranked #7 in both the AP and Coaches Polls – the highest ranking the men’s team has ever achieved. I still have to convince myself I’m wide awake when I pick up a paper or watch television and see our guys mentioned along with - and often ahead of – many of the traditionally powerful college basketball programs in the country!
I am especially pleased to see this team receiving recognition because I genuinely like these kids. They’re polite, engaging, they work very hard and they seem to understand how much their success means to our Aztec community. They give all of us alums reason to be proud.
Same with the football team.
As I write this I look out my office window from the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center and see the gridiron guys out on the practice field running drills in a driving rain. That’s dedication. It’s also indicative of the effort Coach Hoke and his players have expended to get this far. They’re still playing deep in December and that’s something to celebrate.
Which brings me back to tonight’s party and all the other events planned for this week. Right now, Aztec alumni and fans, I urge you to enjoy them all. This is our time to celebrate. We have a football team rediscovering relevance and a men’s basketball team now ranked among the nation’s elite.
So, savor the moment, Aztecs. Carpe diem!
Our phones are ringing incessantly at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center. Aztec alumni are making their Poinsettia Bowl plans and looking for information and tickets to the game and accompanying events. That’s no surprise after a 12-year bowl drought.
What’s more extraordinary is the interest we’re also seeing in Aztec basketball. The undefeated and 14th-ranked (AP) men’s team has sold out two games in a row for the first time at Viejas Arena and the streak just might continue with the USD game on Saturday.
Before the Aztecs’ game with the Saint Mary’s Gaels December 1, we had 150 alumni and fans show up for a pre-game party in our lobby. At the same time, hundreds of students were attending a basketball tailgate over at Aztec Center. The arena marquee was flashing a “sold out” message. Early basketball traffic was jamming the streets.
In a walk across campus a palpable excitement was evident – a “buzz” if you will. It’s the kind of thing we haven’t seen on The Mesa in quite a while, if ever.
There’s bowl gear at the bookstore. Students who have never attended a basketball game before are packing the arena to cheer on the Aztecs. We seem to be in the midst of a sort of renaissance of school spirit here and it’s an incredible thing to witness.
That football and basketball are so inextricably woven into the fabric of our country's higher education, a sage supervisor once told me, is not necessarily right, it just is.
So it is at the moment with Aztec Athletics. And while I will always be prouder of the meteoric rise of our school's academic output and reputation over the past 20 years than a spike in our sports rankings, it sure is fun. And when it comes to getting students, alumni and community fired up, nothing else comes close.
It isn't necessarily right, it just is.