Magic can be a one-way street.
No one envisioned that Utah State football would end their season quite like that, with a 26-20 overtime loss to New Mexico State in the Arizona Bowl. The optimist in all of us pictured USU leaving Tucson with a victory, a bowl title, and hope for the future of Aggie football. Instead, Friday’s game left us with agony, bitterness, and despondency.
On just the other side of the field, however, euphoria. For the first time since 1960, New Mexico State won a bowl game. If distance truly makes the heart grow fonder, then perhaps no college football fanbase can enjoy a victory as much as NMSU’s.
I want to feel happy for New Mexico State, and deep down, I think part of me truly does. 57 years is a long time to spend in college football’s equivalent sports purgatory and not a fate I would wish on any team’s fanbase. Sports are supposed to be a source of happiness and memories for fans, and for the first time in a very long time, NMSU fans have that.
New Mexico State is one of the premier stories of college football this season. America loves an underdog, and very few teams can claim that role as thoroughly as the one from Las Cruces, New Mexico. Those Aggies completed a storybook ending to a magical season that will be remembered by those lucky fans for years and years to come.
New Mexico State won their final two games of the regular season simply to reach bowl eligibility. They scored a touchdown with 32 seconds left in their final game to beat South Alabama for their sixth victory. Even then, the university was quite vocal that the only bowl they could possibly go to was the Arizona Bowl.
NMSU gave up a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown after having their opening drive stall in the redzone and settling for a field goal. They fell behind 20-13, with 10 consecutive drives ending either in a 3-and-out or in a turnover. At nearly every turn of the game, and of the season, New Mexico State faced disheartening odds. Still, they persevered.
That’s an incredible story that would seem more at home in a Hallmark movie. I want to be able to enjoy that. I want to be an innocent bystander that can simply appreciate the success that New Mexico State finally grasped this season. But for every cliche storybook sports story, there has to be a loser, and sometimes that’s going to be you. Tonight, it was Utah State’s turn to fall on the sword for another fan’s joy.
That doesn’t remove any of the sting. It doesn’t help any USU fan to think about someone else’s joy at this point in time. If anything, that’s lemon juice on a paper cut, reminding Aggie nation of the Arizona Bowl-induced ecstasy that so easily could have been theirs.
I can assure you, however, that no Aggie fan’s misery comes close to matching that of any player inside USU’s locker room. Walking through that room post-game was a near-haunting experience. The heartbreak was palpable. For some players, that game will stand as their final time donning an Aggie uniform. That’s a stark reality to have to come to in the wake of such a devastating defeat.
But as William Faulkner said in The Wild Palms, “Given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain.” Utah State will rebound from this loss, and that rebound will be ever so sweet after emerging from whatever hellscape USU fell into in Tucson.
The future still looks bright for Utah State football. There’s still reason to be hopeful in Logan. 2017 may not be the storybook ending for USU, but new chapters are always yearning to be written. 2018 awaits.