With the loss to Michigan two weeks ago, the San Diego State football team didn’t get a revenge win against former SDSU head coach Brady Hoke.
SDSU didn’t get a season-defining victory on a national stage against the winningest program in NCAA history, or a 4-0 undefeated record and a possible spot in the national rankings heading into this weekend’s homecoming matchup with TCU.
The Aztecs may have fallen short of those things, but they got something better. Something more valuable for the long-term well-being of the team, for the identity and legacy of the 2011 San Diego State Aztecs, for the development of the football program for years to come: closure.
Just like your last breakup, when Hoke said goodbye via text message to his players almost a year ago, there were still loose ends that needed to be tied up, things that still needed to be said, feelings left unresolved.
So, naturally, fans and media alike drummed up the Michigan matchup to be SDSU versus Brady Hoke; a sweet chance for payback at the man who quite figuratively tooted and booted it, who transformed the team from a 2-10 laughingstock to the Poinsettia Bowl Champion, then left out the window for Ann Arbor while the team was on winter break.
The Brady Hoke storyline + a nationally ranked and prestigious opponent = the most hyped game in school history.
“The biggest point now is to move on,” head coach Rocky Long said. “I think that game took a life of its own. It was pushed way out of proportion and so the best thing to do is move on and get ready for the next one.”
Although he was gone for quite some time, Montezuma Mesa was still haunted by the ghost of Hoke.
He was no longer around, but the team still had to face countless questions about him week in and week out, still had to watch film and game plan for him, still had to wonder what it would be like to see the man who led them into battle every week on the opposite sideline, wearing the maize and blue.
But with one last game, one last emotional postgame embrace, the Aztecs can now officially end the Brady Hoke Era, and move forward.
About damn time, because the Rocky Long Regime has gotten off to one hell of a start.
Prior to the events in Ann Arbor, SDSU got off to its first 3-0 start since 1981, when Ronald Reagan was in office and the Rolling Stones was still tearing up the charts.
In his first year as head coach, Long was also able to do what Hoke — and the two other head coaches before him, for that matter — couldn’t: beat a team from a BCS Conference, when the Aztecs demolished Washington State 42-24.
Fans have taken notice of that, too. The WSU game was watched by a regular-season record 57,286 fans, and the crowds at Qualcomm Stadium gave SDSU its “first real home field advantage” in years, according to Long.
“It’s just really been awesome to see the way we kind have gotten the community to rally around us,” senior quarterback Ryan Lindley said. “I’ve been saying it since I was a freshman — people are going to rally around a winner. All we need to focus on is playing well as a team and putting the best team out on the field that we can every week. There’s not a whole lot we can do besides that, but when they’re out there, we love it. Washington State was one of the best atmospheres, probably the best since I’ve been here.”
But the biggest contribution Long has given is his no-nonsense, no-excuses personality, which has been ingrained in the team.
“From day one since I’ve become head coach, the whole process mentally has been that it doesn’t matter what the situation is,” Long said. “It doesn’t matter what the stadium is, it doesn’t matter what the weather is, it doesn’t matter what the travel problems are, it doesn’t make a difference. It doesn’t matter who we play or what conference they’re from, it doesn’t make a difference. You line up and play ball.”
The Aztecs are set to start their quest for a Mountain West Championship when TCU rolls into town in SDSU’s conference opener, in a game that very well might be even more difficult than the last.
“We didn’t play very well last week and we’re moving on and getting ready for probably a better football team,” Long said. “TCU is probably a better football team than Michigan.”
-Agustin Gonzalez is a journalsim senior.