On October 16 of this past year, a great friend we made over the course of this great, fun adventure of ours now going into our 40th year, passed away – Tom Ables, Mr. San Diego State! Tom leaves us a target to catch up with having seen his beloved San Diego State Aztecs play in 788 games. We figured rather just write a memorial to him in the middle of our fast-moving, hectic football season when he passed on, we wanted to pay tribute to him after the course of our 2017 season to leave it on our site when there is a lull in the college football action.
Below we’ve included the excerpt from our book, “Tales from the Tailgate”, when we first met Tom at our first Aztec game. After that, we kept in touch each season exchanging information and stories about games we’ve attended since. My son Eric and I visited him at his place of business he still operated all these years when we attended the Holiday Bowl near his home in San Diego in 2010. And in 2015, Tom ventured out with his son Ken to see his Aztecs play Penn State at Beaver Stadium. With a cane and slightly hunched over then, he proudly stood along the sideline with his team where we got to greet him. We were thrilled to see him at a game once again.
The following year, I could hear the excitement in his voice on a phone call telling me that he was going to see his Aztecs visit South Alabama in Mobile. He could not wait as he would have the chance to go visit his old WWII ship, the USS Alabama close by in Mobile Bay. Soon after his discharge from the Navy after the war, Tom Ables went back home to San Diego, matriculated at San Diego State , became sports editor for his school paper, married Nancy, started a family, and the rest is history following Aztec football as you will read below.
Tom was always a positive, forward thinking guy since I first met him despite his age in 2006. He was also proud of his past as a Navy vet, a dedicated family man, a successful business man, and of course as San Diego State’s most dedicated fan. It was an honor to become his friend. I think more than anything else, to me meeting great people like Tom Ables along the way is the greatest reason for going to all these college games all over the country. We’ve met a lot of great new friends along the way, and he is one of them. We will never forget him. As is the title of his book, we say, “Go Aztecs!”
(106) Texas- El Paso at (107) San Diego State
August 31, 2006
San Diego – Several years before the 2006 season, I read a Sports Illustrated article about a San Diego State fan by the name of Tom Ables who had attended almost every Aztec game since 1945! I decided that if I ever went out there to watch the Aztecs play, I would have to meet him. SDSU seldom ventured out to play games on the east coast. They play from Hawaii to the Rocky Mountains and sometimes foray into the Midwest. When the 2006 SDSU slate became final, the Aztecs announced their season home-opener against Texas-El Paso. Perfect! I needed both teams.
I contacted San Diego State by e-mail to see if I could get in touch with their greatest fan when I came out to see them play. They forwarded my message to Tom and he contacted me the very next day. He enjoyed hearing about my quest to see every team play. He also said that he had 20 season tickets for his family, and if any weren’t being used, my brother Chris and I were invited as his guests. Of course, going to a Thursday night opener in California also opened up the opportunity for me to attend a game on Saturday. As I would be staying with Chris in Long Beach, I could join him and Jill, a UCLA grad, along with their kids Emily and Nick, who’d never been to a Bruins game at the Rose Bowl before. On Saturday, UCLA would host Utah for my left-coast weekend double-header.
In San Diego, Chris and I kicked off the season having the honor and privilege of sitting with Tom, who cheered his Aztecs on in person for the 646th time. We shared a great time exchanging stories with Tom and rooting for his Aztecs. For instance, I’d seen coaching legends Paul “Bear” Bryant, Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden, and Harold “Tubby” Raymond. Tom’s history went back even further. In one of his early SDSU games covering for the school paper as a student, his team played the University of the Pacific, coached by none other then Amos Alonzo Stagg. Talk about a great connection to college football history! Tom still writes articles for the program Aztec Game Day. Under “Looking Back” in this game’s edition, he gave a history of all the head coaching debuts at San Diego State. Chuck Long, former Oklahoma offensive coordinator and former Iowa Hawkeye QB I’d seen against Penn State, made his head coaching debut for the Aztecs in this game. In an editor’s note, it stated Tom had seen 645 games in 61 seasons. He missed a trip to Cal Poly in 1964, but has been to 475 Aztec games in a row since! He also missed the 1951 trek to the Pineapple Bowl in Hawaii because he couldn’t afford it.
Denny Fallon, president of the SDSU Alumni Association and rabid Aztec fan, of course, stopped by to welcome my brother and me and presented me with “vintage” Aztec sportswear featuring “Monty,” as in Montezuma, the Aztec chieftain. During halftime, we conversed with Tom about some of the stadiums where I’d like to attend games in the future. He provided us with his insights to the ones he’d been to: Wisconsin’s Camp Randall—“Great atmosphere!” Ohio State’s Ohio Stadium—“Loved the stadium and the fans there.” After a 16-13 loss, the Buckeye fans gave his Aztecs a standing ovation. The Big House at Michigan—unimpressed. His wife, Nancy, veteran of 411 games as of this date, says that the one place she will not go to again is Laramie, Wyoming. “Too cold!” Tom told how the Aztecs almost didn’t make it to the game there on October 6, 1984, because the team traveled through a blizzard to get there. Wyoming pushed for a no-show forfeit while the Aztecs were enroute. SDSU showed up an hour late, and they went on to defeat the Cowboys in the snow, 21-0.
As for action on the field this evening, UTEP was led by Jordan Palmer, brother of USC star Carson. He led them to a 14-3 lead at the half. Tyler Campbell, son of Pro Hall of Famer Earl, returned the ball for SDSU to start the second half. Things didn’t look good for the Aztecs trailing 27-3 in the third quarter. A quarterback switch and a couple of big plays by the Aztecs defense helped SDSU get back into it. With 4:38 remaining, the Miners were up, 34-24, and there was no sign quitting from Tom’s Aztecs. Starting the next drive, the replacement, Dan Mougey, completed four straight passes to bring State to the UTEP 10. The Aztecs settled for Garrett Palmer’s 34-yard FG. With 1:59 left in the game trailing 34-27, their onsides kick went out of bounds. The Miners took over, but the suspense didn’t end there. UTEP Coach Mike Price decided to hand off to a runner three times rather than take a knee to avoid risking a fumble back to the Aztecs. “Didn’t he ever hear of The Miracle at the Meadowlands?” I asked Tom. He smiled and said, “Herman Edwards played for San Diego State!”
There was no miracle at Qualcomm today as time expired for a final of 34-27 in favor of the Miners. SDSU fans told me they often have to look for a silver lining. Tom Ables said that he was proud that his team never quit. We think he had every right to feel that way. Take it from the guy who just attended his 646th Aztec game.
Extra point: In 2010, Tom and his wife Nancy, despite her previous experience, went back to Laramie, Wyoming. She had no choice. Tom attended his 700th Aztec game. A week later at halftime against Colorado State at Qualcomm, San Diego State presented Tom with the ball from that game commemorating his record. By the end of the season, Tom was up to game 705 and planning for the 2011 San Diego State season. I hope to catch up with him again some time.
Below is an article by Kirk Kenny in a tribute to Tom Ables in his hometown paper, The San Diego Union
San Diego State has lost its No. 1 fan.
Tom Ables attended nearly 800 SDSU football games and more than 1,000 SDSU basketball games over seven decades. He literally wrote the book on SDSU football, “Go Aztecs!” chronicling the team’s most memorable games through the years and highlighting the Aztecs’ best players and coaches.
When the Aztecs played Boise State on Saturday night at SDCCU Stadium, Ables was there — announcing in a pregame video posted on his Twitter account that he was attending his 788th SDSU football game.
Ables died Monday morning at Scripps Mercy Hospital, the same place he was born 91 years ago.
“Obviously, he was as good a fan as there ever was,” SDSU head coach Rocky Long said. “He was close to our program and with us most the time, a lot of time spent on the sidelines. He was in our locker room a lot and meant a lot to everybody.”
Asked what it meant to the players to have such a dedicated fan, Long said: “Every year you explain to the players who he is when you introduce him, because most of the new guys don’t know who he is, the older guys do, and they know his record for how many games he’s seen and that kind of stuff. I don’t know if they relate, but, obviously they honor him and they respect what he did supporting this football team.”
When Ables enrolled at then San Diego State College in 1946 after serving in the Navy during World War II, little did he know that it would start him down a path as the Aztecs’ biggest fan. He began going to football games while sports editor of the school newspaper, continued as the school’s first sports information director and never stopped going over seven decades.
In 1993, Ables was an honorary inductee to the Aztec Hall of Fame.Ables celebrated his 69th wedding anniversary over the summer with his wife Nancy, an SDSU alum who was by his side most of the time at games. Their son Ken, a 1980 SDSU graduate, has joined his father at home and on the road for years as well.
Ables, owner of his own PR and marketing firm the past 34 years, celebrated game No. 700 in Laramie, Wyo., in 2010, when SDSU defeated Wyoming 48-38 to become bowl eligible for the first time in more than a decade.
The Aztecs’ bowl streak stretched to six straight years with a 42-7 win over Cincinnati in the 2015 Hawaii Bowl victory over Cincinnati. That was the first SDSU game Ables ever watched on television. He had seen every game in person since TV was invented. An ear infection grounded Ables, preventing him from flying to Honolulu for the game.
Ables had attended his 600th straight SDSU game just a few weeks earlier when the Aztecs defeated Air Force 27-24 in the Mountain West Championship Game at Qualcomm Stadium.
Last year, Ables joined the Aztecs for their 34-10 victory over Houston in the 2016 Las Vegas Bowl. The victory sparked him to update his book for a fourth time to highlight SDSU’s second straight 11-win season as well as recognize running back D.J. Pumphrey’s NCAA-record rushing performance.
Weeks earlier, Ables was touched when Pumphrey presented him with the game ball following SDSU’s 42-28 victory at Northern Illinois. A more poignant moment came two weeks later when he joined the team at South Alabama.
Ables completed a circle of sorts while on the road trip, visiting the ship he served on during World War II. The USS Alabama is a ship museum now in Mobile Bay, located just five miles from South Alabama’s Ladd–Peebles Stadium.
“I can’t tell you how emotional I get when you stop to think what the odds are of something like that happening in anybody’s life,” Ables said a couple days before making the trip. “Almost 70 years to the day I’ll be back on the ship. … And to have it happen the same day I’m with my Aztecs is unbelievable.
“I’m looking forward to it and very excited about it. I’d like to go on, go down to my old engine room and quietly be emotional.”
Tom Ables got just as emotional when it came to SDSU, although he was never quiet about it. He was an “Aztec for Life” long before the expression was put to words.