Road Trip: New Mexico State – From the Bird’s Nest
Time for the first plane trip of the season.
Football road trips are interesting. You have to transport an entire football team, coaches, trainers, cheerleaders, equipment managers, administration….you get the picture. You don’t fly out of the main airport, rather a private aviation company.
Friday Richie Falgout and I arrived at Signature Flight Services (formerly Landmark Aviation) adjacent to the Lafayette Regional Airport. And, as we pulled up to unload equipment, we also noticed there would be a different airline transporting us.
The past few years, Sun Country Airlines had done a superb job transporting the Cajuns from one place to another. Trust me, I could tell you stories about other trips on other airlines when budgets were rock bottom. This time, it was on XTRA Airlines and, well, you know how we all are about change.
Here’s something that had not changed. We still got our choice of ham or turkey po boys from Olde Tyme Grocery. Richie had remarked he had not eaten (It was about 12:30) and he attacked the sandwich.
Loading the plane is much easier with a charter. Only about ten percent of the passengers are screened and those are chosen at random. While waiting for the team to arrive, the other passengers walked out toward the plane to get checked in. That went pretty quickly and soon after, the buses pulled up with the players.
Wheels up was scheduled for 2:00pm. And, at about 1:55, we were told by the captain we’d be leaving in about ten minutes. But it was almost 2:40 by the time we were airborne. The flight went smoothly and it was a beautiful day to fly. We landed in El Paso and reset to Mountain time. The buses were right on the tarmac waiting. Of course, all of the bags had to be unloaded from the plane and put on the buses so it was a bit before we were ready to leave. Our hotel, however, was right at the entrance to the airport so it wasn’t long before we were checked in.
Athletic Director Scott Farmer always has a reception in his suite after arrival for the guests on the trip. Light munchies and beverages are served. Those who contribute a certain amount to the RCAF get a road trip with the team and some of those were on this trip. Scott and Rob Stewart from athletics, Jim Harris and Danika Arenibas from development and the RCAF were on hand. I like these get togethers. Beer is always cold.
Then it was time for dinner. The travel party was headed to one restaurant, but the media had other ideas.
I don’t think I”ve ever stayed in El Paso without eating at Carlos and Mickey’s. It’s one really festive Mexican restaurant. Southwest Mexican is very different from Tex Mex in tat it’s considerably spicier. Chili peppers are much more a part of the cooking. The food at Carlos and Mickey’s is terrific, but you better be prepared to wait for a table. We had a table for eight and so the wait was going to be interesting. Matt Sullivan and Jeff Schneider from sports information, photographer Brad Kemp, TV3’s ( and our sideline reporter) Travis Webb, Tim Buckley from the Advertiser, state trooper Jeffrey Mitchell (I’m telling you again, NEVER shake hands with that man, a former Cajuns’ linebacker) joined Richie and me.
Since we were going to be waiting a while, margaritas were called for. Big margaritas. (I personally don’t drink margaritas because the citrus doesn’t agree with me). But most of the other folks (with exception of Sully, who was the designated driver) partook. Those things were so big you could almost take a bath in them.
The wait, as always, was worth it. I had a combination plate. Richie chose the fajitas. The food was terrific and so was the company. And, it wasn’t expensive. No one felt like doing anything afterward to it was back to the hotel. Jeff Schneider informed me on the elevator about his excitement for baseball and how good the Cajuns were going to be in 2017. But he was SO enthusiastic, I knew he had a second margarita.
A beautiful Saturday dawned (they only get about five inches of rain per year in El Paso) and we made plans for lunch at 12:30. It was a pretty uneventful morning. Now, you should always ask hotel employees for recommendations for meals. They are usually spot on. The crew wanted a burger place (I was up for more Mexican) and the concierge suggested El Toro, which was close by. This place had about twenty different burgers on the menu. But they were also doing brunch and I opted for French Toast. Sully’s burger was the most interesting. It had a big fried pepper on the top. He said it was great. I burped twice just thinking about it.
We made plans to leave for the stadium at 2:15. Las Cruces is a little less than an hour’s drive from El Paso. This was Richie’s first trip west of Dallas and he got to see a part of the country that was new to him. There is a section of Interstate 10 that runs right next to the border. Cuidad Juarez is right there. It’s a city of about 1.5 million and I’ve never had an inkling to go across the border, especially after seeing the movie “Traffic.” Seeing some of those houses made me glad I live on this side of the Rio Grande. By the way, there is a wall there…but it isn’t very tall. I do not know whether Mexico paid for it.
We got to Las Cruces and made our way to the stadium. While we were headed toward our parking lot, we saw a small crowd and some people who were dressed in medieval costumes, complete with facial armor. It looked like the crowd was dispersing with a little help from police. Travis Webb then had the line of the trip.
(singing) “You can joust if you want to…you can leave your swords behind…” Men Without Hats would be proud of the new hit “The Safety Joust.”
Now, I’ve mentioned many times over the years the New Mexico State fight song was one of the most unique in all of sports. Basically it says they’re going to kick your butt and then get drunk. No political correctness with this bunch. There actually was a movement a few years ago to change the words, but they decided not to. As we walked into the stadium from the parking lot, there was proof I wasn’t joking about the lyrics.
There is no elevator to the press box at Aggie Memorial Stadium. Rather, there is a ramp. A very steep ramp. A ramp that can be pretty taxing when wheeling lots of pounds of equipment. Thinking about Richie hauling all of that up the ramp prompted us to ask Sully if they’d send down a golf cart we saw at the top of the ramp.
They couldn’t find the keys.
So Richie got a workout on his hamstrings and quads pulling and pushing the cargo up the ramp. And, that is why you should always have a color man under the age of 35.
The view from the press box in Las Cruces is one of the best I’ve experienced. The Organ Mountains are about ten miles away and it’s a beautiful backdrop if you’re on the west side of the stadium. Equipment setup was relatively easy (no, we don’t travel an engineer) and within twenty minutes we were technically set to go.
That gave me a chance to walk down and visit with Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Nixon. Jack is in his 37th season doing Aggies football and is one of the nicer guys in our profession. Now, we are professionals, but face it, we want our team to win. Jack has persevered through some dark seasons at NMSU. They’ve only had three or four winning seasons during his tenure and no bowl games. Now, on top of that NMSU will be a football independent after the 2017 season. Jack has had plenty of basketball success, however. We visited for about ten minutes or so and then I headed back to my booth to finish getting ready.
We were happy to see the bomb sniffing dogs had already done their jobs. Having the dogs come in is standard procedure at FBS schools. Two years ago we had to evacuate the press box in Las Cruces DURING THE PRE GAME SHOW. (We did two hours on site back then…now pre game is done at a restaurant back in Lafayette and we don’t actually go on air until about twenty minutes before kickoff. In Lafayette, the dogs are brought up the day before or morning of the game. Evidently they changed some things since our last trip to New Mexico. That’s a good thing.
Kickoff was at 6:00 MDT. It was homecoming so the halftime was an extra five minutes and the game went double overtime, so it was the better part of four hours by the time postgame began. Usually the team and travel party will head to the airport on the three buses before the media van, since writers have to get their stories done before leaving the stadium. And, of course, we had to pack up as well. This time, the buses were late in leaving so we all got to El Paso about the same time. Three buses and a 15 passenger van had to be unloaded with all the baggage and reloaded on the plane. Then check in and screening. The team loaded first, the travel party last. Again, we sat on the tarmac for another half hour before taxing for another ten minutes. Then, finally, we were in the air.
It was another uneventful flight and we “lost” an hour going back into the Central Time Zone. We landed at the FBO and sat there for an extra fifteen minutes while they properly lined up the stairs. The equipment managers got off first to begin the process of unloading luggage. Richie and I had to get our bags, plus all the equipment and, as always, were two of the last people to leave. And, a latch to the big equipment case was broken so we’ll need to get another lid before the next road trip on the 21st.
I checked the time as I got into bed. It was 5:00 am.