Dear Mr. Football: Can you get to El Paso from here?
A: From 1920 to 1964, Arizona took the train to football games in El Paso. Then the Wildcats flew to UTEP until the regular home-and-home series ended in 1977. This time, the Wildcats took a bus. (They’ll fly home in the wee hours Saturday morning.)
You may think it’s a cost containment issue, but there is no dedicated cost containment in college football. Not in the Power 5 conferences, or at Arizona, a school that has five full-time “analysts” on Rich Rodriguez’s staff.
It’s more difficult than ever to book charter jets in both the college and NFL. ProFootballTalk recently reported that six NFL teams had their charter jet arrangements canceled in the last year, and 20 were scrambling to find available aircraft. To combat the lack of available charters, the New England Patriots bought two jumbo jets.
It can cost as much as $300,000 to charter a jet for a long football trip, and probably close to $175,000 to go to and from El Paso. The Wildcats stopped in the middle of nowhere — Lordsburg, New Mexico — for lunch Thursday. If you’ve ever stopped in Lordsburg, you know there is no place that can hustle up lunch for a traveling party of close to 150 people.
So the UA hired a Tucson firm, Sutter’s Catering, to meet them in Lordsburg for lunch.
The UA doesn’t spend money excessively on sports travel; last week, Arizona’s nationally ranked women’s golf team drove to a tournament in Albuquerque, as will the UA men’s golf team for an invitational in Albuquerque next week. Last April, Mike Candrea’s softball team took a bus to Las Cruces — 46 miles from El Paso — rather than fly.
Besides, by the time a football team goes to the airport, clears security, loads the plane and flies to El Paso, it would take about three or four hours. In that time, a bus from Tucson is almost to the Rio Grande.
Dear Mr. Football: Is Friday Night Lights a real thing in Texas football?
A: Arizona has only played one Friday regular-season road game in history, a 2005 season opener at Utah. But the Wildcats have played a Monday game in Texas.
In 1935, Arizona agreed to play Texas Tech in Lubbock on Monday, Nov. 11 — Armistice Day. It was also the 10th anniversary of the founding of Texas Tech. The Wildcats of ’35 left Tucson via train on a Saturday, arrived in Lubbock, and then observed the Sabbath and did not work out on Sunday.
And then it snowed. Arizona beat Texas Tech 7-6 on an icy field, got back on the train and arrived in Tucson on Tuesday afternoon. By comparison, a one-way bus ride to El Paso is cake.
Dear Mr. Football: Who’s the best football player in UTEP history?
A: It’s got to be Don Maynard, who became a legendary receiver for Joe Namath when the New York Jets won Super Bowl III. Maynard was an Arizona killer of note; the Miners swept Arizona in 1956 and 1957 and Maynard only caught four total passes — but they went for 197 yards and three touchdowns.
Runner-up: Three-time NFL All-Pro linebacker Fred Carr. Carr, who played 10 seasons for the Green Bay Packers, starred at Phoenix Union and was probably the top high school player in Arizona in 1962-63 — or 1-A with Yuma’s Curley Culp. Carr was recruited by Arizona coach Jim LaRue, but didn’t qualify academically. He instead enrolled at Phoenix College and, two years later, at UTEP.
Dear Mr. Football: UTEP has an overload, 26 players from El Paso on its roster; has it ever recruited Tucson?
A: The two leading Tucsonans ever to play football at UTEP were CDO’s Ed Hochuli and Rincon’s Alex Solot.
Hochuli, who is probably the most high-profile referee in the NFL, was a star running back at CDO but became a linebacker at UTEP. In a 1972 game at Arizona Stadium, Hochuli had the top game of his college career, leading the Miners with 12 tackles and intercepting a pass. It was the only time he ever led UTEP in tackles in a game.
Solot started 24 games for the Miners in 2009 and 2010, earned his degree, married his college sweetheart Tiffany; together, they had a baby, Liam, this summer. Solot has become a success off the field, too. He is general manager of Merchants Metals, a Dallas-area firm that manufactures wholesale fencing materials. Solot’s family and his father, Alan, a Tucson attorney, will be at the game outfitted in UTEP orange.
Dear Mr. Football: Is it time for Arizona to give Rhett Rodriguez an extended look at quarterback?
A: If that time comes, if Brandon Dawkins and Khalil Tate are either injured or so ineffective that RhettRod becomes the starter, it will be an all-consuming crisis.
Two things: Dawkins isn’t likely to suddenly become an accurate passer. It’s not unlike a baseball pitcher who can’t find the strike zone. That’s usually a career burden. But Randy Johnson, the “Big Unit,” fixed his mechanics after leading the American League in walks in 1990, 1991 and 1992, and by 1995 he walked just 65 men in a full season. He walked 152 four years earlier.
Unfortunately, Arizona can’t be as patient with Dawkins as the Mariners were with the Unit.
Dear Mr. Football: Do coaches’ sons get the benefit of the doubt?
A: There are only eight coaches’ sons playing in FBS this season. The only full-time starter is center Patrick Kugler of Michigan, who, ironically, is the son of UTEP coach Sean Kugler. Patrick signed with the Wolverines when his father was the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach.
Colorado receiver Jay MacIntyre, son of CU coach Mike MacIntyre is a starting rotation player with the Buffaloes and has caught two passes this season. UAB’s Jacob Clark, son of head coach Bill Clark, is the Blazers’ starting long-snapper.
More interesting, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo has two sons playing college football, but neither for the Midshipmen: Va’a is a substitute linebacker at BYU and Ali’i is a walk-on linebacker at Utah who has not played.
The only reason I mention Ken Niumatalolo is because I believe he would be on the short list of any potential head coaching opening in the Pac-12 this season.
If Arizona loses in El Paso, that UA job might be open by Sunday morning. But UTEP has about as much chance to beat the Wildcats as the Wildcats would to beat Alabama.
Arizona 45, UTEP 17