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Thursday, Aug. 31, 2006 | San Diego State football opens the Chuck Long era tonight against University of Texas, El Paso at Qualcomm Stadium, and Tom Ables will be there watching from his usual seat on the 50-yard line.
Big deal, you say?
Tom Ables has been to 475 straight Aztecs football games since 1964, home and away. He has only missed two of the Aztecs’ last 647 games, dating back to 1946, the year he enrolled at the university fresh out of San Diego High.
He laments missing both.
One was the Pineapple Bowl in Hawaii on New Year’s Day. It was 1952, and Ables was a young man who thought he couldn’t afford the trip. The other was in 1964 at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, when his doctor said he was too sick to travel. He now says he should have found the money and ignored his doctor.
Even Sports Illustrated noted Ables’ devotion to SDSU football with a picture and short story in the 2003 season.
Ables, 80, who still works daily in his public relations business, suffered through some lean years, most notably coach Paul Governali’s 11-27-4 record in five seasons from 1956 to 1960 – before the arrival of Don Coryell.
But he said he never considered not coming back for the next game. Until last December, when Tom Craft was fired, that is.
For the first time, Ables considered backing off on his devotion to SDSU football. He surely would have attended tonight’s UTEP game if SDSU had turned to a Dennis Erickson or a Rick Neuheisel – coaches with baggage to accompany their winning records – but his streak might have ended with the first road game at Wisconsin.
“I felt Tom wasn’t doing the job as fast as people wanted, but he was doing a good job of rebuilding the program that had been run downhill before him,” Ables said. “He did a good job of recruiting and building depth at all the positions. I felt he deserved to serve the final year of his contract. I felt he would have been a success this year. I felt he was doing a good job and I respected what he was doing.”
Ables, like other Aztecs fans, also believes Craft was the victim of agenda journalism by the San Diego Union-Tribune during his four seasons as SDSU’s head coach and that exacerbated his feelings.
Back in December, not many potential coaches would have changed Ables’ disappointment about Craft’s firing. But athletic director Jeff Schemmel’s surprise announcement that Oklahoma offensive coordinator Chuck Long would be SDSU’s next football coach ameliorated Ables’ enthusiasm for 2006.
“From the first time I met him, I could relate to him,” Ables said. “I liked how he was introduced at a basketball game and said ‘It’s great to be an Aztec’ and ‘I need to learn the words to the fight song.’ He’s very good in the role of talking to people and they like what he says.”
Ables also believes Long has found a way to fit into San Diego faster than some of his predecessors.
“Chuck is in love with San Diego already,” Ables said. “He reaches out to everybody. It takes guys like Denny Stolz (SDSU’s head coach from 1986 to 1988) and some of the Union-Tribune writers who come here from other places years to relate to the way things are done in this community. But Chuck has been an Aztec from the get-go.”
Despite his Midwestern roots, Ables said Long has embraced San Diego State’s history.
“I was afraid we might lose some of the tradition Tom was trying to bring back, but this guy is even more tradition-oriented,” Ables said. “He wants to bring back the brighter red uniforms. Everything looks positive, and Chuck is the first guy to say he didn’t inherit an empty cupboard.”
Tom Ables doesn’t seek attention. He said he’s afraid when he’s honored or recognized people will say, “Oh, that guy again.”
But I felt it was a story worth telling. Few fans have been as devoted to their school anywhere. The recognized record for a fan attending consecutive college football games is 797 by USC fan Giles Pellerin, who died at age 91 – during the 1998 USC-UCLA game played at the Rose Bowl. Ables likes to say, “That was scripted in heaven.”
Sitting among Ables’ 26 season ticket seats tonight he holds for family and friends – his wife Nancy has been 409 games and his son Ken to 311 – will be Steve Koreivo, a man on a mission to see all 119 Division I-A football teams. SDSU will be the 106th team he’s seen play. Koreivo learned about Ables from that Sports Illustrated article and wanted to meet SDSU’s most loyal fan on his trip to SDSU.
“I’m old fashioned,” Ables said. “I tend to have long-standing relationships. My wife and I have been married 58 years, this is my 46th straight year working with Del Mar (horse races) and I’ve been working with Buck Knives for 28 years. I want every Aztec team to win every game, but just because they don’t I’m not going to turn my back on them. I don’t claim everyone should be that way, but that’s the way I am.”
More of us should be that way about our schools and teams.