Rooting problem: Without in-state team, NFL allegiances vary in eastern New Mexico

Kevin Wilson

You look at your fuel gauge, and you notice that you’ve dropped to seven-eighths of a gallon. You don’t rush to fill up, but you start to evaluate your driving. How could it go that quickly? Couldn’t I have just walked that four blocks?

We’re at a similar place with the National Football League season, now two games gone on a 16-game regular season. With seven-eighths of the tank to go, we’ve made a few evaluations.

We know who’s good (New England, Green Bay) and who might be a pleasant surprise (Redskins, Lions and Bills). We also know who’s bad (Kansas City, the entire NFC West), and we wonder who might be a shocking disappointment (the AFC North with four 1-1 teams).

But a question was posed in the Freedom New Mexico newsroom a few weeks ago — is there a team that’s more eastern New Mexico than another?

It was an easy decision about five years ago, when Clovis native Hank Baskett was on the rise with the Philadelphia Eagles. But now that Baskett is simply trying to catch on, including a workout with the Detroit Lions this week, the argument isn’t so cut-and-dry.

I was tasked to find the answer.

We asked the question on our Facebook site, to limited results. The request was to email a basic argument, with a way to be contacted so we could help flesh the argument from a few paragraphs into a reasoned case.

We received:

• Comments chastising us for writing about such a trivial endeavor.

• Comments supporting such a trivial endeavor.

• A total of 17 comment votes — four in support of the Cowboys; two each for the Broncos, Redskins, Steelers and Texans; and one vote each for the Colts, Falcons, 49ers, Packers and Raiders.

• A comment in support of Manchester United, which is technically a football team, and probably has more local fans than the Bengals.

Unfortunately, we didn’t receive any emails to make such a case, and other avenues fell through as well. So the arguments will come from me, and feel free to take them with a grain of salt. The author’s still trying to convince himself that Year Seven of Alex Smith will somehow work out for the San Francisco 49ers.

The finalists are the Dallas Cowboys, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Denver Broncos.

Dallas pros: The team has a history of success, with five Super Bowls. There’s always a guy who moves jerseys, whether it’s Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, or even Deion Sanders or Tony Romo.

The current roster, Clovis resident and lifelong fan Chris Tucker said, is solid with DeMarcus Ware and Jason Witten, who he considers to be one of his favorite Cowboys since Randy White.

“We will win a championship,” said Tucker, who first remembered watching the Cowboys beat the Broncos in Super Bowl XII. “Even if it’s not this year, I believe we will.”

It’s also the closest to the area. It’s a little more than 420 miles from Leon Williams Stadium in Clovis to Dallas Cowboys Stadium.

That helps build the infrastructure of fans, which hands it down to another set of fans.

“My grandmother would have disowned me,” said Vicki Reyes, a Clovis city administrative assistant who follows the team but freely mocks Romo when appropriate.

Dallas cons: The, “What have you done for me lately” factor. The team that won three Super Bowls in four seasons during the 1990s has won just one playoff game since 1996.

And last year’s 1-7 start didn’t make Dallas fandom easy. Reyes dreaded Mondays, as City Manager Joe Thomas always seemed to have a new joke.

“If you’re a true fan,” Reyes said, “you just take it and move on.”

Pittsburgh pros: Playoff success? The Steelers have it, with six Super Bowl victories. Plus, the Steelers seem to have presence in every NFL stadium, whether it means Pittsburgh residents traveled well or they just live everywhere.

Shane Nelson, director of the local YMCA, grew up in Chicago. But a family friend played for the Steelers in the 1970s, so it was an easy choice.

Nelson, making his argument, said the area has some things in common with the black and yellow.

“The Steelers used to lose, a lot,” Nelson said. “They decided to grow the Steelers as a long-term goal through the draft. They didn’t just sign the flashy free agent. I think it’s much like eastern New Mexico. In the long term, they don’t want a quick fix. It’s just doing the right thing over and over again.”

Pittsburgh cons: Distance is the big one. Nelson said his family tries to get to a game each year, but living in Clovis has made that a more difficult endeavor.

Another con is that while the Steelers do have presence in Clovis, they’re likely still outnumbered by Cowboys fans. Nelson notes that he has an office full of Steeler gear, but he has a staff that’s 90 percent Cowboy fans.

Philadelphia pros: Of the three teams Baskett, a 2001 Clovis High grad, has played for, he did his most prolific things with the Eagles. Dee Madrid, who owns the Sports Connection in Clovis, said if you had to pick one Baskett team, that’s the one.

Also, when a charity basketball game came to Rock Staubus Gymnasium, it was members of the Eagles that filled the rosters. The Dallas Cowboys have never hooped it in eastern New Mexico, for whatever that’s worth.

Philadelphia cons: Baskett’s not there anymore, and neither are many of the Eagles who came to Clovis. They’re replaced by Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson — fine players, but zero connection to the area.

Denver pros: The Broncos are in the Mountain Time Zone, and regional coverage makes them the most likely regional game when it’s the second game of the day.

Denver cons: Denver’s second in most categories; great but never the best. They’ve got the back-to-back Super Bowls, but they’ve also got the crushing defeats. They’re close, but they’re still farther away than the Cowboys.

So there you have it. But before we go, also consider another comment we received on our Facebook. Eastern New Mexico’s big enough for everybody, and it’s big enough for every team.

Maybe the winner is your team, as long as you stick with them.

“The customers I have who buy the jerseys, they’re the diehards,” said Madrid, who sees families bring in their kids, who grow up to follow the same team and bring in their kids.

Even Manchester United. We just have to figure the conversion rate for Premier League titles to Super Bowl wins.