9.14.2007

History lesson (Feature)


By Louie St. George III
The Daily Times

The job title lies.

Dan Ford’s business card says he’s a banker. But the man is much more buffet than banker — he’s a little bit of everything. Thus, a simple, single job description is ill-fitting.

Ford is a historian, a storyteller and a football aficionado. He’s a researcher and writer, a spokesman for numbers.

The 59-year-old Bayfield resident is 30 years into a sick obsession. He has charted nearly every single prep football game ever played in New Mexico, beginning with that legendary 1892 showdown between the University Boys and Albuquerque Indian School.

Each fall, media outlets, coaches, former players and athletic associations blanket Bayfield with phone calls trying to drum up a little background on a Friday night football game. And with a hobby born in the late 1970s still going strong, Ford is happy to oblige. In fact, he’s more than happy. A stickler for accuracy, Ford believes the proper remembrance of a football game hinges upon dependable information — such as correct scores.

“Say Socorro beat Moriarty 21-13 and somebody has it 21-14, well it may not mean a hill of beans, but it drives me crazy,” he explains. “I have a great need to be totally accurate. I guess that’s the banker part of me.”

Ford started compiling “The History of New Mexico High School Football” — the title of his unpublished book — in 1977 at the University of New Mexico library. He says by 1981 he had accumulated all the necessary information up to that year. This despite estimates that one season for one team took roughly three hours of research.

That’s a lot of microfilm studied in the basement of a library.

Then again, Ford was a history major in college after graduating from Aztec High School in 1966. His history upbringing, along with a desire to uncover former Aztec coach Marty Steffan’s career record, paved the way for all those cumbersome hours of analysis. While looking at Steffan’s wins and losses, Ford stumbled across a record in the making. Bill Gentry, the Albuquerque Highland coach, was about to set the standard for career prep coaching wins.

Ford notified the appropriate parties. His work was bearing fruit, and the rest is ... well, history.

A history where stories run rampant.

His favorite: a 1968 game between Corona and Capitan. Corona, riding a prolonged losing streak, fell behind 51-0 at halftime. During the intermission, the hard-luck team boarded the bus, presumably to get refreshments for the second half. They never returned. With nary a chance of winning, the youngsters set out for home.

“I think public opinion was probably, ‘well, that’s what I would have done,’” Ford says, laughing.

Then there’s an improbable phone call Ford received years back from a Lovington man asking Ford to testify on his behalf. Seems the man from Lovington told his wife he’d kicked a 43-yard field goal during his glory years. The wife was skeptical. Ford spoke with her and vouched for the truthful kicker.

“But how does she know who I am?” Ford asks. “I could have been a guy from the bar.”

And so it goes. Story after story after story. Which leads to Ford noting that Farmington High School was the first to be officially punished by the NMAA — formerly the New Mexico High School Athletics Association. In 1932, Farmington was put on probation after using an ineligible player during a football game. The school was banned from competing against New Mexico teams for one year.

Less than a decade later, another chapter was written in this state’s prep football-playing past. The Gateway Bowl started in 1939. It was sponsored by the Rotary Club, which invited the state’s top two teams to face off in early December. From its inception, the Gateway Bowl’s legitimacy was questioned by the NMAA. Struggling to stay afloat, the 1941 Gateway Bowl was played on Dec. 6. A day later, on Dec. 7 1941 — an “infamous” date that marked the invasion of Pearl Harbor — haggling over the merits of the Gateway Bowl seemed less important.

The game was never played again.

Ford’s book, which features a 193-page narrative, along with a wealth of scores and records, was born of countless three-ring binders and folders. In an understatement for the ages, Ford says, “I’m a pretty well-organized person.”

No kidding.

Still, it takes a lot of effort to put together such an ambitious project. Lots of cooperation, too. Ford’s wife, Cyndee, is nothing if not cooperative.

“She had encouraged me to stop doing it,” Ford recalls with a trace of sarcasm. “She questions why I do it and I have to answer ‘I don’t know.’ But she realized it is something I enjoy doing. She supports it, but at the same time she shakes her head and doesn’t understand why.”

Well that should be easy to explain. Ford does it so that when Springer beats Clayton for the first time in 90-some years, as happened in 2002, he can record history. Ford admits to being “asleep at the wheel” when that stunner transpired. Consequently, he never informed the good people of Springer that their football team’s win was one-of-a-kind.

“I guarantee nobody at that game realized how historic that was, and that’s a shame,” Ford said.

Ford, who is a member of an obscure four-person “History Club” that meets periodically in Albuquerque to discuss New Mexico athletics, was asked to deliver a brief speech at an Oct. 14 NMAA ceremony.

“The result of 30 years of my hobby is I get to speak for 15 minutes,” he jokes.

Ford expects to retire from his post as the president of Bayfield’s Pine River Valley Bank in five or six years.

Then what? For starters, he will have more time to devote to football scores and records.

“I wish I had more time to spend on this, which sounds funny,” Ford concludes.

Somewhere, Cyndee Ford shakes her head.