The trials and tribulations of a San Diego State fan
"You've got a guy behind you," I screamed.
"Who? Where?" my panicked young daughter replied.
"Oh, sorry honey, I was yelling at that guy on the TV."
There was less than a minute left in the second overtime of the San Diego State game against Temple on Saturday, and the yelling was warranted. The Aztecs had the lead and the ball, but some Owl was trying to poke it. It had been too close for too long and the optimism and the pessimism had as many lead changes as the game. I had watched San Diego State guard Chase Tapley hit two three-pointers in the second half and then tug at his uniform, obviously gassed. They didn't appear to have a double overtime in them.
But they endured, and prevailed, and so here they are, going from zero wins in a NCAA Division I basketball tournament to the Sweet 16 in about 50 hours. It's San Diego State representing Southern California as the tournament goes forward, with UCLA knocked out Saturday. The Aztecs will face Connecticut on Thursday at Honda Center at Anaheim, just a jaunt up Interstate 5 for the faithful, who will undoubtedly make their arrival known.
There isn't a visible presence of San Diego State fans in Orange and Los Angeles counties, as they haven't had much cause to fly their colors over the years, unlike USC and UCLA alums. A trip on the Newport Beach bike path last week revealed banners for Pitt, Penn State, North Carolina and of course USC, but nothing for the Aztecs. "San Diego State types can't afford this," my fellow Aztecer husband said dryly.
San Diego State is the fifth largest university in California, so the math alone suggests how many Aztecs fans are out there. They have hoped and endured the jokes about the partying (many told by the Aztecers as a preemptive strike and/or because it's true) and watched friends from USC, UCLA and many points east savor their successes.
Then this year, the San Diego State football team made some noise and got a little national attention en route to a Poinsettia Bowl win. And then people started talking about the basketball team, and how it might do something, and that they play this great inside game but they can go outside well too. And there's this Kawhi Leonard and D.J. Gay and they're really putting together this nice winning streak to start. Then it's the longest in the nation until Brigham Young, as usual, throws a pail of cold water on the proceedings for the Aztecs. But then they beat everyone else, really, EVERYONE else and they finally defeat BYU for the Mountain West title.
And now ... this. Two hard-fought NCAA victories and they are one of 16. This is beyond unfamiliar territory -- it's like finding the perfect, undiscovered beach on Kauai, complete with satellite to watch the game. When you attend a school that has never been anywhere, this is some kind of somewhere.
Butler can be the Cinderellas and Ohio State can be the favorites, but the Aztecs, these Aztecs, they get to be the savorers.
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Photo: Billy White of the San Diego State Aztecs and Juan Fernandez of the Temple Owls look for a rebound on March 19. Credit: Harry How / Getty Images