January 6 riot adds strange undercurrent to Lobos road trip | Local columns
On a good day, the five-plus hours it takes to drive from Santa Fe to Lubbock, TX is a challenge.
The scenery isn’t much to see, the towns are painfully distant from each other, and there is just enough traffic on the two-lane stretches to make it maddening.
On that date a year ago, it was a different trip than anything I’ve ever done.
As the rest of the country watched the January 6 insurgency / peaceful protest / political protest unfold at the United States Capitol, I left the cozy confines of 202 East Marcy Street in downtown Santa Fe in road to the opening of a two-game series between the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team and the State of Utah at the Rip Griffin Center in Lubbock Christian.
It was the height of the early-winter wave of COVID-19, a time when the number of daily cases was all the rage and sports of all skill levels had been put on the back burner. It was also a time when the vaccine rollout was just beginning to light up at the end of the tunnel; within two months we would see the state relax its restrictions and allow a measured return to sport.
On January 6, 2021, however, college sports were all the state had to hang its hat. The hashtag “#LetThemPlay” was all over social media for high school sports, but colleges – they could play as long as they caught their show on the road.
UNM had just wrapped up a nomadic seven-game football season, and now its men’s and women’s basketball teams (along with the State of New Mexico) have been forced out of our borders to keep the season going. life. The Lobo men made their home in Lubbock, with the women near Canyon, Texas.
For the men, it was the midpoint of what was quickly turning out to be a disastrous and forgettable season that will go down in history as one of the worst in modern program history.
With no prep sports and youth leagues to keep us busy or no gyms to give us a dose of fitness, watching UNM and NMSU fight from afar was all we had – even with the pieces they both took.
From my perspective, it was a welcome road trip to keep the sport in the news. I jumped at the chance to see the life of the Lobos inside the so-called Lubble, their isolated coronavirus-free area five hours from my house and, that day, a million miles from reality .
It was a weird trip from the start. As I left town on the morning of January 6, the rally that led to the march that led to the uprising on Capitol Hill was just gathering momentum. By the time I reached Clines Corners it had overflowed as crowds of people had passed through the barricades and up the steps.
As the commotion grew, the miles on New Mexico’s freeways passed without much information entering the cockpit of my 6 year old car. Aside from the occasional texts I received from home, the only reports were of squeaky radio updates coming and going. A stop at a Fort Sumner gas station revealed some details, and a radio station in Muleshoe, TX offered a glimpse, but not enough to tell the whole story.
Not far from the New Mexico-Texas state border (on their side, not ours) was a house along Highway 70, a fortress that proudly displayed several Confederate flags and signage. for the outgoing administration. A man stood by the shoulder near this house, holding a sign and urging people to honk their horns.
As the smoke cleared in Washington and the nation faced the shock of what had transpired, college basketball business at the Rip Griffin Center continued as planned. A UNM administrator said the team didn’t pay much attention to the news that day, that they were completely focused on that night’s game.
During the day, the small gym also served as a COVID-19 in-car test site. At night it became the temporary home of the UNM, blocked off from fans and outsiders but open to live TV broadcast and the only member of the local media present – me.
The Lobos were completely destroyed, losing 32 points to a team that would drop them 36 points two days later. The lasting impression of that night was sure to be the way the team handled news from a country in crisis.
The point is, no one seemed to really have a clue of what was going on. The question still had to be asked. What was their reaction? What were they feeling? And did anyone else see the Confederate flags flying over their faces as they entered Texas?
With COVID-19 restrictions being what they are (or were), it allowed for a post-game Twilight Zone experience. The players were not made available to the media and then head coach Paul Weir held a Zoom press conference – 30 feet away in an office with a glass window that gave us let both look in the direction of the other. He literally had to walk past my workstation to get in, but neither of us were allowed to speak until the Zoom call started.
The answers were the dry, dry response one would expect from a coach after a game as ugly as this. His goal was to get hammered and know what to do about the team’s chemistry, not the events in Washington or the crisis the country was facing.
A day later, no one from the program was available, and the practice that day was closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. The game ended two nights later without a single answer about January 6, wrapping up one of the strangest and most closed road trips in a career devoted to chasing stories and spreading news.
Of course, a few weeks later a new administration was sworn in. In early February, preparation sports were allowed to return, and seven weeks after the insurgency, Weir was fired. In the summer, things seemed to be returning to normal, memories of January 6 lost to a slew of reports on trials, jail terms, charges and denials.
A year later, it’s just a memory, but impossible to forget. Some dates leave us with memories of where we were when the story happened – the Challenger disaster, January 9-11, January 6.
While most of the world was glued to a screen watching it unfold, some of us with a built-in attachment to UNM hoops made a five-hour drive through the brown grass and pump jacks. scattered across West Texas with little access to anything other than the task at hand.