While rivalries in college football are among the most heated in all of sports on the field — and before and after the games — the hatred tends to subside off the field, especially when real life interrupts.
Case in point? New Mexico-New Mexico State.
First, though, the back story.
In an attempt to drum up interest in what’s a really bad football team, New Mexico State announced a couple of weeks ago that they would select a random student as the winner of a $2,000 cash prize if he/she were in the stands after the third quarter of the late-September game against San Diego State. The student whose name happened to be called that day, Matthew Zajac, wasn’t in attendance and therefore forfeited the money. His reason for not being at the game? He has been caring for his 87-year-old grandmother since his father died and his “priorities were elsewhere.”
One more thing you should know about Zajac: he is a double amputee, having lost both of his legs in a 2007 IED explosion while serving our country in Iraq.
The fact that NMSU did not honor the $2K prize in spite of Zajac’s circumstances did not sit well with a large segment of the population, including a certain slice of their hated rivals’ fan base.
Upon hearing Zajac’s story, Lobo Lair, a New Mexico fan message board, took up the cause. Specifically, the curator of that board, Mark Chavez, took up the cause by posting that would be personally pledging the first $100 in an attempt to help Zajac “recoup” the $2000 on which he missed out. Other fans responded and, by late afternoon Wednesday, the site had raised more than $2,200 for Zajac.
“There’s definitely no love between Lobo fans and Aggie fans, other than the whole New Mexico connection,” Chavez told Deadspin by phone. “While we love to kick each other’s teeth in on the field, we still respect each other as New Mexicans. This wasn’t about cherry and silver vs. whatever colors they are. It’s more about New Mexicans helping New Mexicans.”
While the money was raised for Zajac, Deadspin writes that the war veteran “told Chavez he’d split the proceeds with the Fisher House Foundation, a charity that supports military families.”
Kudos to all involved for the heartfelt gestures on both sides.
And, to NMSU: you see what’s happening here, right? It’s time for you, like the Lobo fan base, to step up and do the right thing.