Mike Lopez has been the Aztec Warrior for the last three years. He graduated from SDSU in 2009.
I looked at Malcom as he covered his face with his jersey and barely put himself together to go back and shake hands. It hadn’t hit me yet.
I saw the glazed stares of Billy and D.J. – nothing. Then I glanced at the look of disappointment on the hurt faces of Tim, B.C. and Kawhi – still nothing. I was stuck in an observational mode of taking in information and not knowing what to do with it.
I took off my helmet as I walked from the court where the dream ended and off into the tunnel to the back of the arena. Seeing the Arizona guys, I asked Derek Williams and Co. to slap the east coast for us as I walked to the cheer squad and my designated prep area. I moved the curtain out of the way and stared at my bag as the curtain slowly closed behind me.
That’s when it hit freight-train hard – one of those moments when you feel all the wind sucked out of you and wonder how your legs are still holding you up.
It was over.
The incredible season that brought a city together – over. My Warrior career – over. I will never do another game for the remainder of my life.
WHAT DO YOU SAY WHEN IT’S OVER?
Still staring at my bag, I couldn’t do anything else. I couldn’t even talk to express what I felt and even if I could, I wouldn’t have been able to find words. There was too much going through my head: memories from games, my tryout in a hotel parking lot a few years ago, double overtime, road trips, the deafening sound of The Show, even the early morning news segments. There was only one word that can sum it up: over. Just what do you say when it’s over?
So I began to pack my bag and get ready to leave. Everyone had pretty much packed and left, so it was my turn. I just needed to collect myself so I didn’t lose it. I was in the process of failing when my friend, Jamie Lynn, seemed to take notice. She didn’t say much but gave me a hug. Simple as it may seem, it was enough to get me through, well, at least to the bus.
Obviously, there is much to celebrate from such an amazing few months that brought us to our feet and thrilled us and even more to be proud of as an Aztec. In time, and probably not much, whenever we look back at the Sweet 16 season there will be nothing but a beam of pride and smiles.
But right now it hurts. And it should. Anything that means as much as this season has meant should sting when it ends abruptly.
END OF THE RIDE
For some of us, however, more than just a season has ended. D.J., Billy, Malcom, Mehdi and possibly B.C. and Kawhi will never wear an Aztec uniform again. President Weber will never preside over another season. Some instrumental members of The Show will never dress up and hold up a big head again. As for me, my time has come to an end as well.
The past three years of my life as The Aztec Warrior have been absolutely unforgettable. It’s been fun, thrilling, sometimes a little crazy and, yes, at times heartbreaking. In all, it’s been more than I could have ever predicted it would be.
When I first started, I never could have seriously thought that I’d be in a commercial, have my face on the trolley and have write-ups in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times or be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. While all of those are fun things I can tell my grandkids one day, nothing will have meant as much to me as experiencing the beginning and rise of a new proud Aztec legacy.
But the experience isn’t just something for me to cherish. It is one you and I as Aztecs have been blessed with experiencing together. It has been for all of us. Whether you’re Vincent Brown, Kawhi Leonard or a little girl named Emma who sits in the U section at Viejas, we have all shared the past few years as one. And damn, it’s been one hell of a ride!
It is true that all rides do come to an end at sometime and for me it is that time to get off and, as they say, turn the page. Still, there’s nothing wrong with going back and reading it again every once in a while… and smiling.