So, there we were in Tucson, down three points late in overtime number two and a picture ran through my head which included team despondency, alumni depression and an avalanche of Aztec angst.
I willed that scene away and dwelled on the fact that despite all the day’s unfortunate rolls, Malcolm’s last shot had nestled in as the whistle sounded.
I recalled that Kodak moment of just two weeks ago as proud Papa, Malcolm Thomas, carried his baby girl—in all her one-year- old Aztec splendor, onto the court for senior night, I knew that Malcolm had attributed his mid-season free throw improvement to “thinking about Mikeala.”
So I was thinking about Mikeala too. That led to thinking about my baby girl, now 18, and while her interests were generally focused elsewhere, the modern realities of social media informed and inspired her to text me after all the big Aztec victories. “YEAH AZTECS!!!!” That led me to thinking about my stepson who did care about Aztec basketball and how he repeatedly texted me every time our senior point guard made a game-winning play: “DEEE JAY GAAAAY!!” Then I thought about my wife who was no doubt listening to Ted Leitner as she did her Saturday chauffeuring duties, and how as a citizen of the community, she, along with nearly everyone else, truly cared about the Aztecs.
The referee bounced the ball to Malcolm.
The thoughts of my family morphed into thoughts of the Aztec basketball team family. I relaxed momentarily in the comforting memory of the reception at the hotel the night before and the joy in the eyes of the cluster of coaches’ wives and their friends. I worried about Angie Fisher’s cough, undoubtedly caught from Coach Fisher. Steve had told us he’d had the cough for eight weeks. I remembered his brush with mortality just 2 years ago (Know your scores!), but then I erased that thought by replaying the genuine display of happiness I’d absorbed that evening from the original Aztec basketball group of super boosters called “Hoopla” and how they so reveled in the lifetime friendships they’d made with Aztec basketball as the theme and how they exuded pure euphoria at our preposterously fantastic season. Like all of our fans.
And though our collective voices were still at this moment, there were certainly a couple of thousand hoarse throats from an afternoon of constant exhortations. “S D S U Aztecs fight” was impressively loud at tip. So was the 1000-strong Aztec choir’s rendition of Muse’s “We….. will ……be……… VICTOOOOORIOUS.” And, of course, The Show’s trademark “I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN” chant was a dominant display of Aztec Nation’s collective will.
Malcolm bounced the ball, spun it, and bent his knees.
“Bend your Knees” the close knit boosters would yell at our Aztecs during the dog-decades past as they urged our usual under-manned squad to make their free throws, I reminisced. Images of 700 die-hards in Peterson Gym caring so hard for a win or 1100 at the San Diego Sports Arena fully vested in Aztec success only to vaguely remember a meager handful of NCAA first-round eliminations in ’75, ’76 and ’85.
Malcolm eyed the basket and breathed.
I studied him with absolute concentration.
It occurred to me that Malcolm Thomas had some Bill Russell in him. Russell’s book “Go Up for Glory” had inspired my youth. The memory triggered the further recollection of a hundred winter nights in New England listening to the Celtics of Bill Russell on the transistor radio along with my 6’8” father. How I thought I would be 6’8” and play for the Celtics and defend and block shots and grab rebounds and win championships just like Russ. My father constantly praised Russell’s unselfish play. Now 95 and willing himself to walk a half a mile daily, I knew he was at that moment in his Florida townhome willing on Malcolm.
And then the vision passed through my mind that 2,000 Aztec fans attending, and 100,000 students and alumni and friends watching, and a community of San Diegans interwoven with SDSU and now drawn together for this powerfully magnetic moment were determinedly focused on psychically willing Malcolm Thomas to make that free throw because, well…………..IT IS OUR TIME!
On to Anaheim!
Jim Erkenbeck always said of San Diego State that he felt the university had prepared him well to face the challenges of life and that’s why he gave so much back to SDSU. Yesterday, Jim passed away due to complications after suffering a stroke, leaving many of us with a deep sense of loss.
An Aztec through and through, Jim was both a former Aztec football player and coach. He earned two degrees from San Diego State from which he went on to enjoy a 15-year NFL career as an assistant coach.
But it was his 20 years in the United States Marine Corps Reserve and strong commitment to honoring the memories of friends and classmates that sustained his involvement with the Alumni Association’s War Memorial committee. Serving as the committee’s chair, Jim was instrumental in organizing the annual homecoming War Memorial Ceremony, for which he received a 2008 Monty Award.
According to his friend and football teammate, Leon Parma, Jim "lived an action-packed life." Still, he always found time to honor the sacrifices and memories of two close friends whose names are on the War Memorial.
“I owe them something and I’m trying to pay them back” he once said of his War Memorial committee involvement. As we mourn his passing, we owe Jim our appreciation and gratitude for his leadership, his service, and most of all, his friendship.
Classes resumed Monday at San Diego State despite rumors that our 114-year-old institution would implode with grief after losing a basketball game of unprecedented hype.
The parking lots filled quickly as students strove to "catch up" from last week's distraction.
The “Aztec for Life” mantra, which has been a consistent and constant drumbeat for several years, continues to gain traction. In the past five years, unprecedented numbers of alumni have begun to declare their pride in San Diego State. While we are ecstatic to have so many alums say it, the proof is in actually becoming a Lifetime Member. We are proud that these numbers have doubled to 5,500 over the past few years, but there is a long way to go. So the alumni association continues to push harder on the throttle of persuading Aztecs to officially become "Aztecs for Life" by joining as Lifetime Members
SDSU Month kicked off for the 9th consecutive year in which the university has celebrated the greatness of the institution. (For a list of events visit sdsumonth.com
San Diego State University has an abundance of programs and disciplines with extraordinarily high rankings. I wanted to share some of these; however, the list was too long so look for yourself:http://newscenter.sdsu.edu/marcomm/rankings.aspx#national
One factoid that jumps out a bit is that we have attracted a billion dollars worth of research grants since 2000.
Oh, one more factoid: the Aztecs clobbered Wyoming last night in Basketball to set yet another new record of 28 wins against only two losses. Now we head toward March Madness secure in the knowledge that win or lose, San Diego State is still a great institution where alumni support is growing every day.