Utah State Aggies vs NMSU Aggies, Sat, 11/6/2021, 2:07pm
Final Score: Utah State 35 – New Mexico State 13; Attendance: 7,802
Weather: Sunny, 76; Ticket: $15 from NMSU; Parking: Free!
“A very pleasant surprise” by Tree
New Mexico State University is in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The largest and closest airport is in El Paso, about an hour away. Excluding my visit to the stadium, I saw nothing of New Mexico other than what I saw from the highway. Most of the things to do are outdoors in nature, with sledding down White Sands National Park the most well-known. Las Cruces is a military town with a burgeoning space industry. The climate is dry and temperate. If I had done some more research, I would have probably stayed a day or two in Las Cruces. Instead, I squeezed this game in as part of a double weekend with UTEP at the last minute when the Miners game was moved to a night game.
New Mexico State is a land grant university and Aggie Memorial Stadium is on the campus. It is a small stadium and pedestrian. However, what it lacks in sophistication, it makes up with small town charm starting with the tailgating. Not being familiar with New Mexico State, I stopped at the first policeman I saw as I exited the freeway to ask where the best tailgating lot was. He pointed to a quiet lot. I asked if I could pay cash and he shook his head no, and then added that was free. That was a first. Once in the lot, it was wide open with some very light tailgating. However, the tailgaters I met could not have been nicer, offering me great Mexican food and free beer. It was a laid-back scene and I enjoyed it quite a bit. From a visitor perspective, you can’t beat it. No advance planning required, just pick up food and refreshments on the way to the game. Bob’s your uncle and you are tailgating with the locals.
The stadium is small. I bought my ticket at the gate for $15 which put me at the lower level on the 20-yard line. To be honest, you could probably buy the cheapest ticket and then do the walk down to wherever you wanted sit. That’s what I did when some of the folks I tailgated with waved me over to their seats on the fifty-yard line. There was, after all, plenty of room. There is one video score board and has the quality of an old rec room bubble tv. It might look better at night, but the screen was faint in the mid-afternoon sun. The concessions were standard, but I could not resist getting a Frito Pie to go with my souvenir soda. Not surprisingly given the military presence in Las Cruces, there was a stirring flyover prior to the kickoff. The Aggies were lead in the stadium with mascot Piston Pete on horseback. New Mexico State’s Pete is a real guy, not the frightening, big headed mascot of Oklahoma State. The Aggie faithful also do a guns up gesture. Other traditions were cowbells, but no Mississippi State-like guidance of “Put down your bell and just yell”. Either the crowds aren’t big enough or they are generally responsible enough to not disrupt the visiting team when they are on offense. The football fashion at New Mexico State is very relaxed, mostly t-shirts and blue jeans. There is also Wave the Wonder Dog who collects the kicking tee after every kickoff. Wave is popular enough that he/she has his/her own sponsorship. Despite the small crowd, the fans were vocal. My notes say they have a coordinated cheer after every score, but I can’t remember what it is. Maybe it was the fight song, which for my money is one of the best of college football.
New Mexico State was an 18.5-point underdog against Utah State. Given that, I felt comfortable that Utah State would have the game well in hand by half-time and I could leave with no regrets. New Mexico State had other thoughts in mind. On the first drive, the NMS Aggies drove right down to the USU 8 yard-line before the drive stalled. Unfortunately, the chip shot field goal was blocked. However, Utah State was held to a three and out. New Mexico State then drove down and scored. Utah State’s next drive went backwards and again New Mexico State responded. This time with a field goal. Utah State finally got their act together and scored a touchdown. However, New Mexico State hit another field before the half. Despite the lead, I did have a sinking feeling that NMS need to score touchdowns and not field goals. Worse yet, I now had a dilemma. I had folks waiting on me at a UTEP tailgate for their marquee game against undefeated UTSA. I hated to leave such a close game and possible big upset. Plus, I was having a good time.
Nonetheless, I bailed right after I heard the band play (they were good). I hopped in my car, tuned the radio to the game, and drove off. Turns out that was the right decision. I am not exactly sure what the motivational speech was in the Utah State locker room, but whatever it was, it worked in spades. Utah State scored in 55 seconds, held New Mexico State to a three and out, scored again, held New Mexico State to another three and out, and scored one more time. Roughly ten minutes into the third quarter and the score was now 28 -13 Utah State. USU would take one more score to make the rout official. Apparently, my decision to leave coincided with Utah State’s coach channeling his best Vince Lombardi.
I met a member of the faculty while tailgating. He relayed the story of his arrival from his former school, Nebraska. He wanted to buy season tickets but based on his previous experience of FBS football, he steeled himself for a substantial investment. He called the ticket office and asked what the best deal was for season tickets. He was quoted $150. As he was doing the mental math, $300 per pair of game day tickets for six games, ~$2,000, he cautiously asked “And what about a parking pass?” The response: $150. All this felt steep, but it is D1, so he asks again about the price. The answer, “Yes, sir, $150 for two season tickets and, well, the parking is free.”
That, folks, about sums up New Mexico State football – so cheap you really can’t go wrong. Don’t get it twisted, they have played bad football for a long time. If your team is visiting, however, this only sweetens the pot. You are very likely to see your team win. The fans are extremely nice, the weather is fine, and the tailgating is hassle free. To me, with all the hiking and White Sands National Park nearby, it easily makes this a stadium to visit. It definitely is not a must see, but I can think of a lot places that are worse to visit, particularly the Sun Bowl right down the road.