Column: Fair-weather ‘faithful’ flee Fresno failure


Photo by Kelly Smiley

Two lively SDSU fans hold up signs and yell through their megaphones during SDSU’s 34-28 win over Northern Illinois on Sept. 30.

by Mary York, Digital Sports Editor

San Diego football fans do not deserve the Aztecs.

Despite “One City, One Team” billboards speckling highways all summer as part of an immense marketing move to engender affection for San Diego State University football, no one seemed to care about the historic athletic program from the Mesa until it started winning.

The Aztecs Fan Fest in August had an embarrassingly low turnout. Even their opening night Sky Show had lower numbers than expected, especially given the very recent and still festering breakup with the Chargers that has left a football-shaped vacuum in the hearts of the city’s spurned sports fans.

One would assume, following the graceless and insulting departure of Dean Spanos and his Lighting Bolts, that San Diegans would realize the importance of loving a sports team that actually loves them back.

But it was not until the Aztecs proved they could put wins on the board that seats started to fill up. It took a victory against Stanford University for people to begin paying attention, and an incredible comeback win on the road at the Air Force Academy for the excitement to really take root. Fans finally started filling out the stadium with home colors and high spirits. For six weeks, it was a great time to be an Aztec.

But a loss on home turf against Boise, 31-14, followed by a crushing defeat at the hands of Fresno State the next week during the homecoming game on Saturday, Oct. 21, has left fans disillusioned.

When Bulldogs sophomore running back Josh Hokit punched in his third touchdown of the night against SDSU with just under two minutes left in the third quarter, leaving the Aztecs to trail 27-3, Aztec faithful decided enough was enough. In 10 minutes, nearly the entire stadium had emptied and the Aztecs played out the rest of the game in echoing stands.

This is the very definition of a fair-weather fan.

For a city that stood behind the Chargers for fifty years, one might expect them to know how to root for a team that consistently disappoints.

But the Aztecs do not disappoint often. Sure, Boise was a tough loss and the game against Fresno was flat-out ugly football.

In the game against the Boise  St. Broncos, quarterback Christian Chapman could not seem to let go of the ball, and when he did, it rarely made a successful landing.

And the Aztecs must have left their run game in lockers, because it certainly was not on the field – Fresno made sure of that.

Despite the last two games, the Scarlet and Black are having a good season. They have several major victories under their belt, a winning record, a guaranteed spot in a bowl game for the eighth consecutive season and a running back who has garnered national attention. That is more than the Chargers gave San Diego in one year in recent memory.

More than that, the Aztecs have been doing well for years.

They have been a Division I team for almost as long as the Chargers have been disappointing San Diegans. They have seen 16 conference championships since 1936 and, in more recent history, have played seven consecutive bowl games under Rocky Long.

And this season they were the last college team in California to be undefeated.

Have the fans who rushed the field after Stanford’s game forgotten the achievements of their team this season after just two losses?

West down Interstate 8 from SDCCU Stadium, presumably many of the same San Diegans are sitting through Padres baseball games. The Padres will never have to worry about fair weather fans because they never have fair weather.

And yet members of the “Pad Squad” will sit in the bleachers until the last painful inning is over. Why?

Inherent in baseball culture is something unique in the world of sports: hope.

No matter how far the home team is trailing at the bottom of the ninth, they can turn the tide and win the game because the game is not over until the very last out is played. And so baseball fans will wait till that very last out.

Football does not have the advantage of the miracle ninth-inning comeback. Playing against a clock can be merciless. But maybe football fans could learn something from their baseball counterparts.

Sure, if fans stick out a tough game, the odds of catching a magical comeback win are still low. But leaving makes that win nearly impossible.

Fans are not just there to fill seats, they are part of the experience and have been proven to influence a game’s outcome.

Home field loses a huge aspect of its advantage if the fans do not show up – or worse, leave mid-way through the game.

No athlete is perfect, nor is any program. Even Long has said that perfect seasons are hard to come by.

Some days, nothing comes together, which is the only way to describe how the Aztecs played against Fresno. And even though those days can last a long time, the comeback will always, always be worth it.

Raiders fans – disliked though they may be in these regions – are especially good at playing the role of the undaunted fan. Win, lose or tie, Raider Nation never seems to die.

It behooves those calling themselves Aztec football fans right now to accept their role in this sports drama.

Fans should be rooting for SDSU every Saturday in full colors, not because they are winning but because they are San Diego’s team now.

No one should be allowed to call themselves an “Aztec for Life” if they bail on the home team in the third quarter.

Maybe this is it for the Aztecs. Maybe their season is over and they drift back off into obscurity.

Maybe the Aztecs are not the football team San Diego needed after the Chargers left, but they are certainly no worse than the team this city deserves.