Today’s practice had a special feel to it. It was the final practice of the season, in the Sun Bowl, and for the seniors it was the last time they would put on pads and helmets, and walk down the steps to practice together, and with their team.
It was kind of an odd mixture of hard hits, cheers, good natured ribbing, and just plain fun. The team wasn’t officially supposed to be tackling, as they didn’t have pads on below their waists, and the coaches didn’t want them to get injured a few days before their bowl game, but for many it was the last chance they would have to get to do what they have done for years.
Coaches were putting the final touches on the game plan, but they too were caught up in the mood of the practice. There were plenty of drills to keep the players physically tuned up. My favorite activity was when offensive linemen were allowed to rush against defensive linemen, in a reversal of the usual drill. Instead of being beat on, and being the one having to keep the defensive lineman from getting to the quarterback, it was they who got to do the beating, try their swim moves and spins. The defenders were just as fired up to prove that they could keep the bigger monsters from getting past them. Often the bigger, stronger offensive linemen used their brute force to move the smaller defensive linemen back. Both sides roared with pleasure as each of their men took the challenges. The biggest roars came when a smaller defensive lineman would out muscle one of the offensive linemen.
Perhaps the tone was set when the team arrived , in pads, ready for practice, and the marching band was on the field. I’m disappointed that I missed it, but the report was that Coach Patterson showed his dance moves, and left onlookers slack-jawed.
“Oh, my God, that man can move! He can move! I was impressed”, was Coach Price’s comment. “I wanted the TV station to turn around and get him. John(Teicher), did you see that one?”
“Oh, yeah!”, Teicher replied.
“Oh, man, he was movin’”, Coach Price said.
I have been writing for a long time that Coach Price has been trying to change the football culture that was entrenched here before he arrived, and that he is building a program and not just coaching the team. I asked him how important this bowl game is to that process, and where the program is in the progress towards that end.
“I think it’s real important to me that we win this game, and that we play well. We have been playing well. We haven’t won as many as we would have liked to, this year. But, I think with everyone healthy we’re going to give a great effort, and, gosh, you know, we’re going to be on national TV, it’s a chance to spotlight our program. I would be very disappointed if we weren’t playing at our very best. We’ll see how the ball, you never know how the ball bounces, or hits the goal post, or something like that, but I’m expecting us to play well.
As for the progress on changing the culture he responded this way;
“I think it’s changed. I think it’s changed. I think it’s changed in our community. People are expecting us to win now, and when I came here they just wanted us to play good for four quarters. That’s changed. Hasn’t it?” he asked, smiling.
“Yes it has”, I said.
“Sure they have. That’s the way we want ‘em to, the way we want it to be”, he finished, speaking seriously.
For many, in El Paso, and all over the country, this bowl game is seen as a match up of two teams, undeserving of continuing their seasons. For others, it is a chance to continue the season, and get a last chance to watch their teams play before the long stretch between the end of the bowl game and spring drills. For some Miners fans, this bowl game represents progress for a program that has seen so little in its history that even appearances in bowl games that others might deride, are welcomed with appreciating smiles.