If ever I am afforded the opportunity to pen an autobiography, there will inescapably be a chapter dedicated to my 2009-10 year as sports editor, a year that, synopsized, witnessed equal amounts of spanking and stroking.
Yet few remember the stroking, just the spanking.
From Mike Locksley to Elizabeth Lambert, it was a year that brought just as much infamy to the University as illustriousness, all of it exacerbated by top University officials’ unwillingness to be forthcoming with information.
Sure, Locksley allegedly harassed a former administrative assistant, costing the University thousands of dollars in legal fees, only to follow that up by allegedly punching and choking former wide receivers coach J.B. Gerald.
But, when all was said and done, Locksley became a subplot in an entangled, never-ending soap opera, the likes of which Albuquerque hadn’t witnessed since Norm Ellenberger was disgracefully dismissed from his duties as head basketball coach for academic fraud in the late 1970s.
The stage was set by egomaniac Athletics Director Paul Krebs acting as an authoritarian dictator in a mystifying exhibition of “The Muppets,” what with Helen “Gonzo” Gonzales reading off a teleprompter and performing a predetermined, only-in-the-police-report investigation juxtaposed alongside the backsplash of the Lobos’ 1-11, on-the-field mortification.
Neither Krebs nor anyone in the Athletics Department had the mental wherewithal or fortitude to offer all the information, instead allowing Athletics’ not-so-secret secrets to leak drop by drop like Chinese water torture. And here we are, months removed from the incident, awaiting the next tidbit of information to become available for public consumption.
Then there was the estranged and seemingly indefensible Elizabeth Lambert, the soccer player who is perhaps more ruggedly suited to engage in football after her beat down of BYU’s Kassidy Shumway. Beyond issuing the carefully crafted statement, everybody associated with Lambert, including her head coach Kit Vela, was compelled to remain as tightly sealed as a Ziploc freezer bag.
No one other than Shannon Adragna, one of Lambert’s former teammates, spoke out on Lambert’s behalf, a far cry from the “Beaches of Normandy” strategy drafted by Athletics to insulate “Iron Mike” from an unrelenting artillery of criticism.
And to think, where would Athletics be without golden boy Steve Alford, who in the midst of all the madness, somehow led us to a second Mountain West Conference regular-season championship and onto the second round of the NCAA tournament.
From it, Darington Hobson benefitted most, morphing from a basketball vagabond into a Lobo mainstay. Now, Hobson, likely a late
first-round pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, will soon join fellow Lobos Danny Granger and J.R. Giddens.
Swept up in all of this, Roman Martinez enjoyed one of the most savory senior seasons, even though it was ended by Washington. Forever ingrained in UNM basketball aficionados’ memories will be the clip of Martinez trotting to the bench on his way to the locker room, bloodied and bruised, only to re-emerge and check back in to the game.
It wouldn’t be fair to forget noting Alford’s only indiscretion. No doubt, there was Alford’s casual slip of the tongue, the heat-of-the-moment, caught-on-tape episode of Alford calling BYU’s Jonathan Tavernari an “a-hole.” But forgiveness in athletics is a rather uncomplicated formula. Winning is the great elixir, cough, Locksley.
Within the same confines, but quantifiably without the same support as Alford, Don Flanagan was hardly given the Cherry-and-Silver carpet treatment this year. UNM’s head women’s basketball coach, without a medical degree, was handed the impossible task of diagnosing and nursing his bipolar, contender-we-surrender Lobos to health.
Along the way, there was the embarrassing home loss to San Diego State, followed by a three-game stretch of redemption, in which UNM toppled the conference’s top adversaries. Then came the tailspin to the crash-and-burn season, Flanagan yielding much of the criticism.
Through all this, we learned Flanagan might be a Rocky Long typecast — his better years behind him. But legends are, or should be, irreplaceable. On the occasion that legends are replaced, they are sometimes succeeded by legendary flops.
Cut from this same mythical cloth, 2009-10 brought about stories about athletes who overcame long odds and are now impossible to bet against. The above description is what Lobo track star Lee Emanuel has come to embody. In the end, Emanuel became the first Lobo to repeat as indoor mile champion, cementing his status in Lobo lore — a place the UNM ski team consistently occupies.
This year was no different, as Malin Hemmingsson won her third individual NCAA slalom title, coupled with the team finishing third at the NCAA Ski Championships, after rising to No. 1 in the NCAA power rankings in January as selected by Skiracing.com.
Above all, as the sports season winds to a conclusion and summer looms large, UNM head baseball coach “Ray-J” Birmingham is on the cusp of having his “One Wish” granted — a trip to NCAA regional — after the Lobos defeated No. 8 TCU on Saturday.
All in all, 2009-10 should not be remembered for being awash in negativity because of the administration’s “bungling” of the Locksley matter. Nor should it be for Lambert lashing out and bullying her opponent.
In the presence of all the dunce-cap acts of the University’s white-collar higher-ups, let’s not forget that it’s the student-athletes who run Athletics. And for all the spanking Krebs and his posse deserve, the student-athletes deserve to be coddled and stroked.