In the pantheon of the college football world, the state of New Mexico is hardly a destination for hardcore aficionados of the sport. The remote schools spread throughout the Mountain West Athletic Conference don’t have quite the same allure as the bastions of the SEC and modest stadium sizes reflect only a passing interest in the game. But the levels of my college football depravity extend well beyond the norm, and the appeal of catching a doubleheader in the Land of Enchantment had me clicking away on Southwest.com a few weeks ago. With the New Mexico Lobos playing a Friday night tilt in Albuquerque, followed by a Saturday afternoon matinee at New Mexico State in Las Cruces, my dance card was quickly filled for the weekend. There would be just enough time in between to consume as much New Mexican cuisine as humanly possible.
Touching down on Friday afternoon after intentionally starving myself on the plane ride, I make a bee line for Mary & Tito’s, a classic New Mexican joint on 4th Street in Albuquerque. It’s here where I am first introduced to Carne Adovada – shredded pork slowly braised in New Mexican red chili sauce. I quickly conclude that there are two kinds of people in this world 1. people who have tried Carne Adovada and love it; and 2. people who NEED to try Carne Adovada.
I order mine in the form of a stuffed sopapilla, and the thick, rust colored sauce is earthy and smoky, with a rich depth of chili heat that pairs perfectly with sweet morsels of tender pork. Green chili enchiladas offset my formidable order, but the carne adovada steals the show. They take their craft seriously here at Mary & Tito’s too. When a girl at an adjacent table tries to customize her burrito off the menu, the waiter informs them that the kitchen guys are pretty surly – only making the food “the way it should be made”. They patently refuse to accommodate her prissy requests. After my mind blowing introduction to carne adovada, I can only salute their resolute hard headedness.
From there I make a quick visit to Petroglyph National Monument, situated on the outskirts of Albuquerque. Home to thousands of designs and symbols carved into the stone by the Pueblo Indians hundreds of years ago, the petroglyphs were chiseled into the black “desert varnish” of the stone to reveal the patterns in white below. A small trail winds through the rocky hillside amongst the more defined images, while great, vessicular black basalt boulders are strewn throughout the landscape, spewed by a massive volcano as recent as 150,000 years ago.
Later in the day, as the sun starts to fade in a brilliant coral New Mexican sunset, I walk towards the stadium. A faint echo of thumping bass whispers in the distance. Drawing nearer, the bass grows louder, and I assume it’s some annoying, chromed out, jalopy lowrider thumping out hip hop tunes a couple blocks away. Approaching the south end of the stadium, however, the acoustic culprit reveals himself – a full on student rave on the lawn next to the Lobos field house. A thousand or so solo cup clutching students bob away to the crashing tunes of DJ UWR pumping out of the loudspeakers, while lasers and colored lights flash over the crowd. I’m not sure who sponsors the raucous affair, but if it draws more students to the games and gets them fired up for the contest ahead, than it’s a clever way to instill more energy into University Stadium. They have my full endorsement.
Circling the stadium, there’s a noticeable lack of scalpers or ticket resellers of any kind. Given the plethora of tickets for sale at the ticket windows, there doesn’t appear to be a robust secondary market for Lobos football. After balking at the $37 price tag for a premium seat at the box office, I hustle around the streets with a finger raised in the air; determined to find something more affordable. Soon enough, a 10 year old kid approaches me with a fistful of tickets and offers me one on the 20 yard line – for FREE. I try pressing ten bucks into his hands on principle alone, but the youngster wouldn’t have it. I saunter into the stadium free of charge, bypassing the tempting $7.50 green chili cheese fries at the concession stands on my way to the seat. #44 Lobos jerseys fill the racks outside the memorabilia store, a nod to the most famous Lobo of them all – Brian Urlacher.
Unbeknownst to me, Urlacher is actually in attendance that evening. He is honored at midfield during halftime, while a short video plays highlights of his illustrious college career as a linebacker, receiver and kick returner at the University of New Mexico. Shortly after, his number 44 is retired high atop the concrete wall of the pressbox along with a few other Lobos Legends. The soft spoken Lovington, NM native, Urlacher mutters a few words of thanks into the microphone before a standing ovation erupts from his home state crowd.
On the field, a high desert chill sets in over the Albuquerque night. Over a mile in elevation, the aluminum benches at University Stadium offer little respite in the cold night air. The Lobos come out on the prowl, however, lumbering down the field on a methodical, modified option rushing attack. Quarterback Cole Gautsche, a 6’4” 230 lb juggernaut, barrels through the Air Force defensive line. Throwing only three passing attempts the entire night, he pounds the ball 20 times on the ground for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, the rest of the Lobos wild wolfpack amass over 450 yards of rushing offense, splitting the hapless Falcon defenders into disarray. It’s ironic to watch an academy team like Air Force (or Navy) – known for their traditional use of the option offense – to look so helpless in the face of that very same offense run by a “civilian” team. In the end, the Lobos run away with a 45-37 victory securing themselves amongst the middle of the Mountain West Athletic Conference pack.
Special thanks to Carmella and Audra, a couple of friendly ABQ residents that I met in the stands. Appreciate the hospitality and the invite, and next time I definitely won’t miss a chance at some home made carne adovada!
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