El Paso’s Fan Base: The True Losers on Saturday Night Against OU [OPINION]
UTEP's season opener against the No.4 ranked Oklahoma Sooners was the talk of the town. Having such a highly ranked team to kickoff the season should have sold out way before the Miners stepped onto the field. Regardless of the predictions, it was like a New Year's bowl game in September and a chance to see a Big XII powerhouse in the our house.
Things turned out much differently. At the start of the game, there were still a few thousand tickets left to be sold. Sure, there was excitement in the air from tailgate to tailgate all the way until you entered the Sun Bowl. It was a mixture of football making it's return, those having fun tailgating and some who were ready to see the Miners attempt an upset. But it wasn't just Orange and Blue that filled the bowl, but a speckled crowd with silver. A whole lot of bleacher space.
Since I was away for 10 years, I hadn't been to very many UTEP games. Last one being, the Texas Tech game in 2006, which is still deemed a debatable "W" for the Miners. It was a nail-biting game that went toe-to-toe in stats and into overtime. A game deciphering field goal gave the No. 24 ranked Red Raiders the edge in a 38-35 victory over the Miners.
Aside from the talents of Jordan Palmer, Johnnie Lee Higgins, Graham Harrell, Danny Amendola and even though suited up in Red and Black, El Paso's own, Edward Britton -- it was the fans that made that game. At the time, it was the largest crowd to see a UTEP home opener at 51,827 in attendance and the fourth largest crowd in school history.
Despite the loss, it was enough to make Palmer say, "If we can get a crowd like that every week, it keeps us in the game."
That's exactly my point. Where did El Paso's fan base go and does home field advantage still exist at the Sun Bowl?
Since I've returned, talks of Triple-A baseball were in full effect. I thought it was a great opportunity for El Paso to upgrade it's sports scene and inch it's way closer to being sought as a sports city. But with the back-and-fourth debate about revamping downtown, who's footing the bill and so on, it's become more of an unnecessary headache. The heart of the city needs this "defibrillator" so-to-speak, to get things pumping again in the old town of El Paso.
El Paso has a lot to say when it comes to sports. However, much of the mumble never seems to materialize into actions. That's why it doesn't get the respect it deserves in Texas or nationally. There's a whole lot of complaining - but not enough support.
In order to be able to even be taken seriously, El Paso needs to support every team here. From high school athletics, El Paso Diablos to the UTEP Miners and everything in between. Now that Triple-A has showed it's face, people back down and break down any potential opportunity to prosper as a city.
Going back to my point with OU. I even said it on-air. I call it like I see it. I saw stats and I looked at the history of the teams. UTEP was 0-11 against Big XII opponents and outscored 123-14 in two meetings with the Sooners. It didn't look good. As a Miner fan, I cheer for the underdog, but as a sports journalist my prediction was set at 45-7, Sooners. A guest on Sports Spin, Chris Lincoln, a seasoned Oklahoma broadcaster said it best, "Preparing for the team of last year is not always the case." This went for both UTEP and OU in this game.
On Icetime, with Brandon Cohn, we discussed this very topic. Cohn mentioned El Paso needs to sell out games and big sporting events if they want to see big teams in the future or quite simply -- stop complaining.
For the Miners to hold the Sooners back going to the half with a 7-7 tie, was enough to make me proud and gave me chills to be back at the Sun Bowl. It could have easily been over in the first quarter -- but the Miners defense played strong and were the first on the board.
Bottom line, I saw so many people leaving, I was hoping hundreds just happened to need a bathroom break at the same time during the game. Nope. They never came back. Really? It was the end of the third and UTEP was down three points, 10-7.
It was unfortunate the Miners missed three field goals that could have significantly impacted the game. People got up and left. Soon after, UTEP began to unravel making mistakes that turned into Sooner TD's. When the Miners failed to go for it on the fourth down with three-yards to go - more silver filled the Sun Bowl.
Nonetheless, I waited 'till the clock ran out in the fourth and gave the Miners a standing ovation with the few thousand that remained. There was a 31-point spread. The final score OU: 24, UTEP: 7, Fans: Forfeited.
"When it's 50-thousand people, it's a whole different ball game," Mike Price said in reference to UTEP's performance on Saturday night.