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At its best, sports can provide lessons to help us in life.
At the New Mexico State University football celebration Jan. 21 Downtown at Plaza de Las Cruces, Aggie Coach Jerry Kill called his team a great example for any person or group who is down, but not yet out.
In a collaborative event between NMSU and the City of Las Cruces, hundreds of fans showed up to celebrate the team’s December Quick Lane Bowl championship. Fans heard from Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima, NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu, Aggie Athletic Director Mario Moccia and others before Kill took the microphone.
“This team started off the season zero and four,” Kill said. “A lot of us in our lives have been zero and four. You’ve been there. I’ve been there. But this team didn’t stay there.”
Indeed, they didn’t.
The Aggies’ fourth game of the season was a 66-7 blowout defeat in a road game at the University of Wisconsin. They returned home a week later for their first victory, beating Hawaii 45-26. But then they lost again, falling 21-7 in a close home game Oct. 1 against Florida International to drop to 1-5.
What better way to right the ship, though, than defeating an arch-rival at home, which is what the Aggies did Oct. 15, beating the University of New Mexico Lobos, 21-9. From there, NMSU went 5-1, culminating the season with a 24-19 win over Bowling Green in Detroit at the Quick Lane Bowl, and finishing 7-6 on the year.
“This group of young men came from all different backgrounds,” Kill told the Plaza crowd. “They came from all different races. All different beliefs. But they came together to accomplish this mission. I wish our damn country could learn that lesson.”
From where I was standing, that line drew the biggest applause from a crowd that was loudly cheering from the start of the event to the finish. I thought it was a great line, too, and demonstrates Kill’s straight-forward, focus-on-what-really-matters approach.
Another big crowd-pleaser was the team singing the Aggie fight song.
For much of the event, the football players sat in chairs on the Plaza just below the stage. But at the end of his remarks, Kill brought one of the team captains forward, and he queued the Aggies, now all standing, to sing … “Aggies, oh Aggies, the hills send back the cry …” The players knew all the words and enjoyed singing the song more than many longtime Aggie supporters.
This Aggie team reflects its coach in a number of ways.
Kill’s always been a bit of an underdog. He’s a little, unassuming guy with a hint of country in his accent, left over from growing up in Kansas. His health struggles with epilepsy are well documented, but he keeps coming back, and he keeps winning.
He’s also very unpretentious. He’s just who he is.
After the Aggies beat the Lobos, a fan gave Kill a big, Southwestern style poncho, not unlike the one Clint Eastwood wore in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Kinda cool, but also kinda gaudy.
Kill has worn it proudly since, particularly to fight the chill in Detroit during the Quick Lane Bowl visit.
Kill, his coaches and his players have learned it doesn’t matter how you look or what people think of you.
If you work hard and give it your best effort, you’re not guaranteed victory.
But you’ll almost always be in the game.