She was a Las Cruces native who had moved to Las Angeles to start her career and was back in town for the show, The joke was, “Nobody in LA cares about anything as much as you guys care about that stupid football game.” Except she didn’t say “stupid.” It was the late-night show.
The joke got a huge laugh because we all knew she was right. She didn’t have to say which game. Obviously, it was Cruces-Mayfield.
When I moved here in 2002, reporter Steve Ramirez, who is a Las Cruces native, told me if I wanted to understand the community I needed to go see the Bulldawgs play the Trojans at Aggie Memorial Stadium. Both teams were in contention for a state championship, again. And, they would play for the title a few weeks later, with the Bulldawgs winning.
There was a buzz in town all week leading up to the game. The stadium was packed, and the rivalry seemed to be both spirited and respectful. Both sides were used to winning.
From 1995 to 2014, either the Bulldawgs or the Trijans played in 18 of the 20 state championship games. They played each other for the title in 2002, 2003 and 2013.
In 2010, filmmaker Charlie Minn made a movie extolling the rivalry called “Cruces Divided.” The poster declared, “30,000 fans, 43 years, 2 teams, 1 city.”
In 2018, USA Today ranked the rivalry as one of the top 10 in the nation. And, it was the winner in a readers’ poll.
All of which made the headline this week decaring, “Rivalry still means as much as ever,” sad to read. As a former sports editor, I realize the sports page allows for more optimism than the rest of the newspaper. But there is no objective measure by which that headline is true.
It was great while it lasted, but high schools don't exist to produce championship football teams. And, growing communities need new schools.
I’ve seen it happen in other towns. They opened a third high school when I was working in Manteca, Calif., and one of the primary concerns was what it would mean for the Buffaloes and Lancers. It meant they would both lose players and not be as good, but the overall educational experience for all high school students would be improved.
The Cruces-Mayfield rivalry essentially ended in the 2012-2013 school year, when Centennial High School opened its doors. The addition of a fourth high school meant that Mayfield would eventually drop into a lower classification for athletics. And, it meant that both teams would lose talent. Neither came into this year’s game with a winning record.
It is true that the game still means as much for the players and coaches, which is what really matters. For the vast majority of players, the final high school game will be the end of their football careers. Values and lessons learned through playing football, or any sport, do not require packed stadiums and universal adulation from the community.
And, as exciting as those glory days were, I did worry sometimes that we were losing our sense of proportion and turning a high school football game into something more important than it really was.
And so now, football doesn’t dominate the school campus each fall like it used to in previous years. That’s probably not such a bad thing.
Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel.com
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