We all have thousands of reasons why we love our sports teams. Perhaps we don’t know any other way or it’s a way to remember a more innocent time. Family is a big part of it—how many stories are out there about how a parent took their kid to a game? A lot of these are true for me, but my favorite teams make it easy to connect the dots.
Jim Forbes graduated from Bel Air High School in El Paso and played basketball at UTEP from 1971-1974 under Don Haskins. Forbes was on the 1972 US Olympic men’s basketball team that got screwed in Munich. He never played professionally and was an assistant coach from 1981-84 under the Great Man at UTEP. Forbes has been a boys’ basketball coach in town for a long time, at Riverside for many years and currently at my alma mater, Andress High School. He’s taken the Golden Eagles to one state tournament and a few other deep runs in the playoffs. I always say rooting for Andress basketball is just like rooting for UTEP basketball—it connects my childhood (AHS was my first love in sports) to my upbringing and into the present. I hear about Coach Forbes’ squads and it reminds me of going to Andress games as a boy and some of those great football teams Allan Sepkowitz coached in the 80s and 90s.
One of my first memories as a football fan was going to a game with my dad in the late 1970s. It was a rainy Friday night game, with the good guys hosting El Paso High. We stayed for the duration, largely because I could get $1 off football tickets at my elementary school which was adjacent to the stadium. $3 for adults and $2 for students if you got them before Friday. I remember getting swept up in football fever as a junior high student in the mid-80s when we lorded over El Paso football.
Jim Forbes’ teams also connect me to Coach Haskins, who coached the Miners for 37 years (1961-1999). My brother and I would always watch the Miner games from Laramie, Provo, Albuquerque, or wherever, since we didn’t go to the games and there weren’t very many televised home games. Some were local broadcasts (Bob Nitzburg and the CBS affiliate) and some were regional telecasts. It was always fun to watch and good to know that while we might not win we sure as hell wouldn’t be outcoached.
We watched the famous paper cup game at New Mexico in the mid-1980s when Wayne Campbell missed a free throw late in the game but got another try because a fan had thrown a paper cup onto the court. Campbell makes good on his second chance and the good guys snuck out of University Arena with a crucial conference win.
I like that Forbes learned under Coach Haskins and is passing those lessons forward as a coach at Andress, a place that means a lot to me.
There’s another layer to this connection—Jeff Woodruff coached as UTEP football assistant under Mike Price from 2004-2011 and has been the head coach at AHS for the last three seasons. So UTEP athletics has also made it to the Andress football sideline, although through the years my Eagles have had significantly better seasons than have my Miners. So rooting for Andress football is just like rooting for UTEP football. Well, kind of, anyway.
It’s in that vein that I welcome Dana Dimel as coach of the UTEP football program. Dimel is a former mid-major head coach at Wyoming and Houston, and comes to El Paso following his second stint under Bill Snyder at Kansas State.
KSU is one of my absolute favorite teams. I learned so much, made so many friends, and even met my bride while living in Clay Center, 45 minutes outside Manhattan, Kansas. I attended a lot of K-State games with these people, had so much fun, and fell in love with all things purple. While I never attended KSU (just as I never attended UTEP), I am still a loyal and dedicated fan who shows up when it’s raining and when the sun’s out. The only time I take sides against the Wildcats is when they play the Miners. They are my top two favorite teams.
I am also pleased that Coach Snyder is a good man. Not a perfect man, but a good man, who has won 200+ games as he completely reversed the fortunes of a downtrodden KSU program. I am able to connect Bill Snyder with Don Haskins in terms of both being good men who truly seem to want to do the right thing. Surely Coach Dimel will bring some of Uncle Bill’s lessons with him to the Sun Bowl-- 16 goals anyone? K-State people Mike Cox, Jeremy O’Hara, Keith Burns, and Jake Waters are a part of Dimel’s first coaching staff at UTEP. Jake was our QB when we went to Tempe and beat Michigan in the Wild Wings Bowl in 2014. That bowl trip has special memories for my wife and me.
Miner football, to put it mildly, is in a bit of a funk following an 0-12 season during which favorite son Sean Kugler stepped down as head coach. So with any luck watching UTEP football will become just like watching K-State football.
Go get 'em Coach Dimel, we're counting on you.