Last week we brought you the smh-worthy tale of the cosmic nut-punt that went down at a New Mexico State football game. Tired of empty stands, university honchos had whipped up some cash awards to entice students to witness the (winless) Aggies, with a $2,000 prize reserved for a randomly selected student, to be awarded if said student were in the stands after the third quarter. Matthew Zajac was the student whose name was called, but he was absent. So too bad, Matthew Zajac, no $2,000 for you.
Normally everyone would do their best Nelson Muntz impression and at least consider him lucky for not having sat through three quarters of Aggies football. But it turned out Zajac had other matters to attend to, in the form of his sweet little 87-year-old grandmother, whom Zajac has cared for since his father died. Also, Zajac's lower legs blown off years ago by an I.E.D. in Iraq. Also, he just seems like a good sport and a humble guy. Justice had not been served.
Mark Chavez, who runs The Lobo Lair, a 6,000-member fan board for the New Mexico Lobos, saw the story (on Deadspin!). He decided to do one of those very nice things you sort of hope someone will do when you cover a story about a legless vet missing out on thousands of dollars because he was looking after his octogenarian nana. Chavez bristled, then tweeted:
What started as a bit of someone-oughtta ribbing got real, fast. "It stuck in my craw," Chavez told me by phone. "It's one of those tings that gets burned into your head and it resonates with you, for whatever reason. There's something that can be done here differently." He posted a call to his fellow Lobos fans:
I don't know why but this story really makes me sour. I think it's important for a man who sacrifice so much cannot give him his $2000. I will personally pledge the first hundred dollars to getting this done. It might be rivalry week but that doesn't mean you throw the human real-life element out of it.
Is anyone willing to help?
Turns out that even during the lead-up to the big Lobos-Aggies game, Lobos fans were willing to shell out for an Aggie. "I can throw down a little!! Pay that Mann his $$$$$," wrote jjgriego. LoboDen echoed: "I can donate 40." Ceph: "I'm good for a $100." Jeffinthe505: "I'll donate a hundy if NMSU doesn't step up." LoboCubs23 chimed in: "I'm in a much better position now so I can do 20 if that is OK with everyone who helped me when I needed it most!" Within a few hours, they had pledges for the full two thou, as Jeffinthe505 might say. As of this afternoon, the total was up to $2,222.
Now, this could be seen simply as some exquisite trolling by the Lobos fans. Cynics have suggested as much. Because that would be evil genius, and cynics have an eye for evil genius. Chavez insists that wasn't his motive.
"There's definitely no love between Lobo fans and Aggie fans, other than the whole New Mexico connection," he said. "While we love to kick each other's teeth in on the field, we still respect each other as New Mexicans. This wasn't about cherry and silver vs. whatever colors they are. [Note: NMSU's colors are a shade of shithouse brick, plus white.] It's more about New Mexicans helping New Mexicans."
When Chavez reached out to Zajac to tell him the good news, Zajac was hesitant. To Chavez, he seemed embarrassed at the windfall. After deliberating, Zajac told Chavez he'd split the proceeds with the Fisher House Foundation, a charity that supports military families. (If you're so moved: here's Zajac's tweet with donation instructions.)
The rest of the week went as expected. Lobos fans got some nice press (here and here) for their gesture. The Aggies rolled into Albuquerque and got pasted 66-17. Karma was realigned, and the septic-tank reputation of college sports fan boards got boost. "We have a pretty strict policy, we don't let people come on and call each other names," Chavez said. "We're pretty civilized, believe it or not."
Photo credit of a presumed high-five between Aggies and Lobos: AP