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Joe Santoro: Beating Aztecs boosts Pack’s confidence

Nevada beat San Diego State, 75-66, on Jan. 31, 2023 at Lawlor Events Center.

Nevada beat San Diego State, 75-66, on Jan. 31, 2023 at Lawlor Events Center.
Nevada Athletics

Don’t underestimate the importance of the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 75-66 victory over the San Diego State Aztecs at Lawlor Events Center on Tuesday. It might be the most important in the Steve Alford era as coach so far.

The biggest Lawlor crowd (9,357) in nearly three years showed up Tuesday. The Aztecs were ranked No. 22 in the nation. The Pack had lost nine games in a row to the Aztecs and 12 of the last 13. It was put up or pack-it-in time for Nevada. The victory lifted the Pack to 17-6 overall and 7-3 in the Mountain West and kept them in the conference title race. It also kept the Pack perfect at home at 11-0.

San Diego State is the Mountain West men’s basketball standard. They are the only team to beat sacred Pack coach Eric Musselman in the Mountain West tournament (three times). The Pack, trailing by two at halftime on Tuesday, came out after the break and slapped the cocky Aztecs around and protected their home court. You can’t overestimate what that means to a basketball team, to do that against your conference’s standard of excellence on demand. Tuesday night was when this Pack basketball team grew up before our eyes.


San Diego State, even with Tuesday’s loss, has beaten the Pack 25-of-32 times in the one-sided rivalry. It all began with back-to-back games at the Pack’s Old Gym on Dec. 14-15, 1956. You know, before the internet and cell phones. The Aztecs won both games (80-72 and 74-64) against the Pack and coach Jake Lawlor despite Stan Summers setting a Pack scoring record of 40 points in the first game. It would be the Pack’s only two losses at home that season.

The Aztecs won the first four games of the rivalry. The first Pack win over the Aztecs wasn’t until Dec. 27, 1975 when former Carson Senators’ legend Mike Longero tipped-in a shot in the final seconds for a 90-89 Pack win at the Centennial Coliseum. Edgar Jones had 24 points and 17 rebounds to go along with 22 points from Mike Mardian and 15 points and 10 rebounds from Pete Padgett. Beating the Aztecs is always meaningful.


Of course, beating San Diego State at home doesn’t mean the Pack will beat the Aztecs in Las Vegas in the conference tournament next month. Just ask Musselman. His Pack destroyed the Aztecs 81-53 at Lawlor on March 9, 2019 and then lost to the Aztecs six days later in the Mountain West tournament in Las Vegas.

Yes, the Aztecs win when they want to win. They will want to win against the Pack next month in Las Vegas. But the Pack’s win on Tuesday was critical for the Pack confidence. Without it, the Pack would have headed to Las Vegas next month hoping and praying never to even see the Aztecs.

Tuesday’s win also was equally important for the psyche of Pack fans. When 9,000-plus fans show up at Lawlor, it is important for the Pack to win. Many of those same fans will show up in Las Vegas next month. Many of those fans and some of their friends and neighbors will show up for the final four home games this season.


Jalen Hurts and Patrick Mahomes becoming the first two black quarterbacks to ever meet in a Super Bowl next week is important. It is a significant moment, certainly significant enough to be recognized and celebrated and not ignored. But it is also comforting on some level that the significance of two black starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl isn’t overwhelming the discussion around this year’s game, much like it did when Doug Williams became the first black quarterback to ever start (and then win) the big game in Super Bowl 22.

Since then black quarterbacks Mahomes and Russell Wilson have also won a Super Bowl. Black quarterbacks Mahomes, Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Steve McNair, Cam Newton and Donovan McNabb have all lost a Super Bowl. A black starting quarterback in the NFL is certainly no longer a rarity. So, yes, it is actually more surprising than anything else that two black quarterbacks haven’t already met in the Super Bowl.


The San Francisco 49ers likely wouldn’t have beaten the Philadelphia Eagles even if Brock Purdy didn’t get injured last weekend. But that is sort of like saying the Titanic likely would have arrived safely in New York if it hadn’t hit an iceberg.

What happened in Philadelphia was merely the Bye Bye Purdy moment we all felt was bound to happen. Fairytales, after all, don’t last forever. And don’t blame the 49ers for not having a better backup than Josh Johnson. Purdy, after all, was already their third starting quarterback of the season. How many quality starting quarterbacks can one team expect to have in a year? Half the teams in the league this year didn’t even have one.


The 49ers, it is now almost certain, sold their red-and-gold soul for so many decades of good-to-great quarterbacks. Y.A. Tittle, Frankie Albert, John Brodie, Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jeff Garcia, Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick. But since then it is a miracle when a 49er quarterback (namely Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance, Purdy) gets through a season in one piece. Can this franchise go three weeks in a row without losing a quality skill position player to injury? Obviously not.

What do the 49ers do now at quarterback? Well, Tom Brady has retired. So don‘t plan on that fairytale taking place. The 49ers, though, need to hope Lance learned something watching Garoppolo and Purdy lead the team to the NFC title game and they better cross their fingers and hope Purdy hasn’t played his last game in the NFL. Purdy, after all, doesn’t have that many miles an hour on his fastball to spare.

Should the 49ers keep Garoppolo as insurance in case Lance and Purdy aren’t ready or healthy? Garoppolo won’t allow that, not the way the 49ers have treated him. It is time for the Niners to move on. It is time to find out if Lance, a high first-round pick, can actually play in the league. And if all else fails the 49ers can always just draft a quarterback in the seventh round this April and get back to the NFC title game, right?


The NFL thinks you are a mindless football idiot robot. The league thinks you will watch anything with the NFL brand attached to it. How else can you explain this Sunday’s so-called Pro Bowl? A flag football game? Really? A 7-on-7 flag football game?

It’s fitting the game is in Las Vegas, where they put up a fake Eiffel Tower and call it Paris and a fake city skyline and call it New York. It might also be fitting that the Pro Bowl is a flag football game. That’s what the league wants, right? You can’t hit anybody in the NFL anymore. It was hitting, after all, that left the 49ers without a quarterback in the NFC title game and caused America to turn off its television sets. The NBA no longer plays defense. It won’t be long before the NFL outlaws tackling.


The league even went so far as to turn the Pro Bowl into a joke by naming quarterback Tyler Huntley to the AFC team. Tyler Huntley passed for two touchdowns and 658 yards this year. He was intercepted three times. Even Josh Johnson laughed at those numbers.

Why would Huntley want to be known as the biggest joke to ever play in a Pro Bowl? He should have told the league “thanks but no thanks. Make some other quarterback a joke. Russell Wilson isn’t doing anything this week. How about putting him on the roster?”

Putting Huntley in the Pro Bowl is further proof the NFL firmly believes it can do whatever it wants to do whenever it wants to do it because you, the robot fans, will buy anything it sells. Football on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Thursday. Football in Europe. How about football on a Tuesday morning in Ukraine? You’d watch, right?

Derek Carr is also on the AFC Pro Bowl roster. Yes, the same Derek Carr that the Las Vegas Raiders threw in the trash as if he was a five-day-old piece of pizza they found in the couch cushions this year. And now Carr gets to come back to Allegiant Stadium and play with a flag on his hip. Fitting.


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