This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
Outsiders see El Paso as nothing more than a border town, a place full of Mexican influence and not much else. Those of us who grew up there know that there's more to El Paso than proximity to Mexico and good food. It's the biggest small town in America. The population of the city may be growing year in and year out, but chances are somebody in your circle knows somebody in my circle.
Living in Austin or Lubbock over the last few years, I've come across many former El Pasoans. After finding out what high school the person attended, we can almost always find someone we both know. A few Chico's Tacos jokes later, we're usually buying each other a beer or two. El Pasoan's are connected that way.
More than mere familiarity, there's always a mutual civic pride. When people take shots at our town, we stand up for EP with passion and usually good humor. That's our hometown. And, UTEP is our hometown team.
I didn't grow up on Notre Dame, Texas, or USC football or basketball. I grew up on Don Haskins, Mark McCall, Tim Hardaway, and Prince Stewart. I became a Miner fan as a kid, cheering for UTEP and against BYU with my dad and brother.
I remember my entire family, I'm the fourth of five kids, listening to Jon Teicher calling WAC Tournament games on television or on the radio. After a big game, I couldn't wait to wake up and steal the paper from my dad to read the sports page. Some of my favorite childhood memories revolve around hiking to the Sun Bowl or the Special Events Center with my father and brother. We never had good seats, but we sure knew how to move up. We didn't have a whole lot of money for concessions, but we sure knew how to stuff our pockets beforehand. We'd walk for what seemed like miles to watch the Miners and the house was always rocking when we got there.
UTEP's hardwood success didn't just unite our family, it united our city. At school, we all cheered for UTEP first. Nowadays, I see a lot of kids wearing UT or USC stuff. It wasn't like that back in the early 90's Every kid at school cheered for UTEP first. We all became Golden State Warriors fans when Hardaway went there. You'd see Warrior jerseys everywhere. We may have cheered for the Bulls to beat Antonio Davis' Pacers, but we couldn't be angry when Antonio had a monster dunk or rebound on those stellar Pacer squads. When Hardaway was injured, we were all depressed.
Those of you in other cities know that if you wear a UTEP hat or shirt to a mall just about anywhere, someone with an El Paso connection will call you out. Being a Miner fan is more than just receiving a degree, it's about being connected with people who are proud to come from a special place. UTEP athletics is about community.