LAS CRUCES, N.M. — The last time New Mexico State played in a bowl game, Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, gas ran around 29 cents a gallon, and Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” was the nation’s No. 1 song.
The long-struggling Aggies this weekend ended their nearly six-decade bowl drought — the longest in the nation.
After New Mexico State (6-6) defeated South Alabama 22-17 Saturday to become bowl eligible, Las Cruces, New Mexico, erupted in excitement with fans rushing on the field of Aggie Memorial Stadium and motorists honking horns throughout this small city near the U.S.-Mexico border. Coaches were seen hugging each other and fans who didn’t charge the field wiped away tears.
Emotional fans had seen their hometown team suffer through years of losing seasons, and more recently, come to terms with the fact that no conference wanted them.
“It reminds me of my Cubbies — Chicago Cubs baseball,” Frank Gomez, a season ticket holder, told KTSM-TV. “We waited 108 years — we’re only 60 years away here but we did it.”
A day after their late win, the Aggies accepted an invitation to the Arizona Bowl in Tucson, Arizona, on Dec. 29 to face Utah State (6-6) — a school New Mexico State defeated in its last bowl appearance.
Tim Chappell said he was alive the last time New Mexico State made it to a bowl game but he doesn’t remember it. “I was 2 years old the last time they went, so this is great,” said Chappell, a Dona Ana Community College professor.
“I wasn’t even born the last time we played in a bowl game,” New Mexico State coach Doug Martin said at a press conference. “The most moving and probably emotional conversations I have are with former players I haven’t even met before.”
The postseason appearance will come just as New Mexico State is preparing to leave the Sun Belt Conference. The conference told New Mexico State that this would be its last season as a football-only member.
The Aggies will play as a Football Bowl Subdivision independent next year.
It’s been so long since New Mexico State had been to a bowl game, athletic director Mario Moccia admitted he didn’t even know when in 1960 the Aggies played their last bowl game.
Led by coach Warren Woodson, the Aggies finished 11-0 in 1960. New Mexico State flirted with accepting a Sugar Bowl invitation but opted to go to the Sun Bowl, where they defeated Utah State 20-13 on Dec. 31. Aggies quarterback Charley Johnson was game MVP and later played in the NFL for the St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Oilers, and Denver Broncos.