If you are an Aggie football fan in any age group you’ve not doubt at least heard about the Aggies’ 1960 football team. It was not only New Mexico State’s only undefeated squad but is also the last team to go to a bowl game. Magic in the Desert is a book written by Dan Perry that chronicles that 1960 team. Perry died in 2013 before the project could be completed but with the help of his friends and fellow New Mexico State alumni Frank Thayer, Mike Waldner and Charlie Rogers. In a press release from New Mexico State Thayer, a professor emeritus in the NMSU Department of Journalism and Mass Communications in the College of Arts and Sciences said, “The three of us embraced the task of creating this book with the goal of realizing Dan Perry’s dream.”
I received an advance copy of the text from good friend Charlie Rogers and after reading the book the one thing that truly stands out about this book is that it truly was a labor of love. The sheer amount of research necessary to complete this book is overwhelming. As someone who covers New Mexico State athletics, I have firsthand experience at how difficult it can often times be to get historical data on New Mexico State teams. In Magic in the Desert Perry has gone back to the beginnings of Aggie football — 1894 — and in great detail has provided Aggie fans with a look into what life was like on campus back in those early days. Perry doesn’t just cover the football side of campus life in those early days, he also provides a look into the social aspect of what was then New Mexico A&M. It is a fascinating look on the early years of what would eventually become New Mexico State University.
Another interesting aspect of the book are many of the quotes and anecdotes that relate to the Aggie football program in particular and the challenges that the program has faced throughout the years, many of which still plague the program today.
A couple that stood out in particular to me, “If something isn’t done to attract athletes to the school and to hold them once they are here, we’d better forget about intercollegiate athletes – it’s no fun to be a loser year after year, even if it does build character – or else reconcile ourselves to degenerating to the New Mexico Conference.” That quote from the March 15th, 1946 edition of The Round Up illustrates that facilities and conference affiliation are something that have plagued the Aggies throughout history.
Also, facilities have apparently always been an issue for New Mexico State as illustrated by this passage from that same article, “Foremost is the matter of a stadium. Quesenberry Field should be Qusenberry Stadium, and the sooner the better ... a stadium can be used to provide the means for taking care of the athletes needed for future football and basketball teams.”
Also, as someone who has spent a fair amount of time around Aggie coaches and staff, I’ve heard numerous stories of things just “going wrong”, like buses not showing up at airports as was the case two years ago after the Aggie men’s basketball team had lost in the NCAA Tournament in Spokane, or not having enough charter planes at the airport to take the entire team on a road trip which was the case one season under Coach Hal Mumme when the team was scheduled to play at Idaho. There are no doubt plenty more stories like that from each coach in each of NMSU’s athletic programs. This particular anecdote from the book shows that, well, things have been going wrong for New Mexico State for a long time, “As if rebuilding a program was not tough enough, it was necessary to postpone spring practice in 1947 because 60 pairs of football shoes did not arrive as scheduled.” Stories like this make you wonder if New Mexico State football had been cursed from the get go and if the “Curse of Warren Woodson” were just additional piling on of that original curse.
Another story from 1949 illustrates that Aggie football has apparently always struggled with being able to pay its staff accordingly. ““I hate to lose Marsh, but I could not stand in his way for this chance at a better salary then we can pay,” Corley said.” Perry so eloquently stated following that quote, “When a high school assistant coach is paid more than any member of a college staff it is clear the college is dealing with financial restraints.” Adequate assistant coaching salaries are clearly something that is still ongoing even to this day.
With the 2015 football season just having started and the Aggies being fresh off a 34-32 loss in which the team missed TWO extra points, this anecdote from the 1959 season seems apropos, “The easy cruising came to halt in the third game of the season, a 28-27 loss at Tulsa. The difference between defeat and a tie was senior third-string quarterback Danny Villanueva’s missed point after touchdown (PAT) kick.” As any one who has followed Aggie football for any amount of time knows, having good place kickers has never been the Aggies’ strong suite (Danny Villanueva’s career notwithstanding).
There are other interesting tidbits in the book, not all of them related to the Aggies including this nugget, “… replacing Marv Levy, a surprise hire by Cal at the age of 35 after going 14-6 in two years at UNM. Levy was early in a career that would take him to four Super Bowls with the Buffalo Bills…” I’m sure that somewhere along the line I’d been told that Marv Levy was once the coach at our rival UNM but it was still a little bit of a shock when I read that sentence.
In its entirety this book covers New Mexico State football from its beginnings in 1894 all the way through present day with plenty of history, backstory, stats, quotes and stories from many sources including The Round Up, The Las Cruces Sun-News and the El Paso Times and the book dedicates a significant portion obviously to the 1960 football team with each game from that season chronicled.
Overall it is a fascinating read for any Aggie football fan and really any New Mexico State alumnus. As we noted before, Perry not only touches on Aggie football’s early beginnings but also New Mexico State’s early beginnings as in 1894 the university was just six years old. Kudos to all involved in producing this book, as we mentioned before, it is clearly a labor of love by four Aggie alumni and well deserving of your time.
There will be a book signing this Saturday, September 19th at COAS Books located on 317 N Main Street in Las Cruces.
For more information, visit . All profits from the sale of “Magic in the Desert” will go to the Daniel Perry Endowment at NMSU.
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