Let me preface this by saying I LOVE UTEP/ Texas Western. The things I’ve done, from applying to be the new Athletics Director, to attempting to be a PA person for every sport, to #BreakTheChains was all done from my love of UTEP and the City of El Paso. I am and always will be a UTEP Supporter, Alumni and Financial Backer. However, I am a Texas Tech Fan.
UTEP/ Texas Western are the same school, the same way the LA Lakers are the Minneapolis Lakers. A name change does nothing to the record books, UTEP won the 1966 National Championship with a legendary team and coach, “The Bear” Don Haskins, propelling the city of El Paso and the Miners into the record books, but history as well.
See, The 1966 Team had a little move about them made, “Glory Road”, they changed the way college and professional basketball were played and allowed people of color the opportunity to show they were more than what they had been given in the past. That team in 1966 broke down walls and opened doors.
However, since then Basketball Championships in Texas have only resided on the NBA side. Eight total Championships for Texas in the NBA, but one in Male College Hoops. For 53 years (and counting) UTEP has owned the title of one and only.
Texas Tech made a run at that title before ultimately coming up short against the University of Virginia in Overtime, in what was a classic of a game. The crowd and UTEP faithful here in El Paso were overwhelmingly cheering for UVA.
This was an odd occurrence to me, I had seen plenty of UTEP fans cheering for the Texas Longhorns in football, some cheering for Tech in football as well. As a Texan First, and everything else second, I felt like this was the normative practice of sports fans. Yet out came the “UTEP is the ONLY school to win a D-1 National Championship in Men’s Basketball in the State of Texas” talk and it made me wonder.
Where is this pride when the Miners are home, playing in front of crowds smaller than a Tuesday night Chihuahuas game? Where is this pride exemplified from the fans?
Soon the chatter began to arise from those who felt wronged by Texas Tech, who two decades ago threw tortillas onto the football field in Lubbock when the Red Raiders played host (somewhat poorly) to the Miners in 1999. A tactic I had seen from Tech before, being a long time fan of theirs and have seen numerous times since. That occurrence was considered racially charged. Easy to think of from a city that has long been majority “white”. Yet in the NCAA Championship game in 2019 vs. Virginia a tortilla made its way onto the court. Extending a long time practice of Texas Tech fans, one that is clearly not racially charged. The history of the Tortilla toss was revived and can be read here following the National Championship game, A Tech Fan hoping for an upset.
This argument of “Tortilla-Gate” was odd to me. High Schools on El Paso’s Westside threw tortillas at Socorro High School at numerous football games and it was considered an ok practice then, what changed other than location? The more I thought about this incident, the more people were coming out as anti Tech, even calling me an ugly idiot, which isn’t far off the truth, but not because of a team I cheer for.
Yet, the narrative was always the same. Emphasizing the exclusivity of UTEP being the only D-1 National Championship winner in Texas Men’s College Basketball history. The more I heard this, the more I grew frustrated. Not because I can’t take a little flack for my poor choice in fanhood, but because I felt the actual significance of that victory being over shadowed by something not nearly as important.
53 years (and counting) is a phenomenal feat, this streak goes up there with that of Babe Ruth, Cal Ripkin Jr., Patriots Championships, Kareem Abdul-Jabar’s scoring title and others! However, it doesn’t mean that it won’t one day fall. I hope it does, I hope that streak falls to a team in Texas next year, because the true historical significance of that game will NEVER fall.
UTEP fans holding onto the moniker of being the “Only Team in Texas…” is as significant as me holding on to being the “Only person from El Paso to have been on ESPN Radio’s National Airwaves”. It’s amazing, its cool, but I shouldn’t hang my hat on that one accomplishment alone.
If Texas Tech won this National Title and 10 more to surpass UCLA’s mark, it would never diminish or negate the accomplishment of UTEP in 1966. That is the true history we should proudly flaunt. Sure UTEP is the “Only…. blah blah blah”, but most importantly UTEP opened the doors for generations to come through to not only play Collegiate and Professional Basketball, but to gain an education, to better their life, and to change the life of others. Picks Up or Wreck Em, it should be Texas against the World.