Op-Ed: One city, two teams

The Aztecs have struggled at times this season to back up their claim to being San Diego’s only college football team. Photo courtesy of Leading NCAA/Twitter

San Diego State slogan is an opportunist method of disregarding the Toreros’ success on the gridiron
Noah Hilton | Sports Editor | The USD Vista
Once upon a time, the city of San Diego had three football teams.
None were all that noteworthy — the National Football League’s Chargers made just one Super Bowl in their 56 years in the city, while the San Diego State Aztecs and University of San Diego Toreros operated on the outskirts of the college football spectrum. Fans filled the stands to watch individuals, with names like Faulk, Tomlinson, Seau, and Harbaugh, instead of whole rosters.
Then, in a much-maligned move last January, Chargers’ owner Dean Spanos decided to relocate his team to Los Angeles.
Suddenly, San Diego’s football fans were down to two options — or so they thought.
Shortly after the move, San Diego State released a slogan for the upcoming season. The message — four words, five syllables — was a red-and-black-clad lesson to locals that covered billboards, banners, and the city trolley system.
“One City. One Team.”
The emphasis was simple enough. The city’s sports scene had a gaping hole, and the Aztecs were a readily available replacement. They are a program in possession of the last two Mountain West Conference championships, and they just graduated the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher to the professional ranks. They are a school with more enrolled undergraduates than USD has alumni living in the local area. They are a brand that dominates local sports coverage at the college level across media mediums.
In short, the slogan made sense. But only if you forget about the more successful program in America’s Finest City.
For as good as the Aztecs have been in recent years, USD appears to have matched them step-for-step at their own level of Division I football. The Toreros have claimed at least a share of five of the last six Pioneer Football League crowns, and had their own best pro prospect, cornerback Jamal Agnew, selected in the fifth round of last April’s NFL draft. The team has won 17 straight conference games, a PFL record and one of the longest active streaks in the nation.
Recent results indicate more of the same.
SDSU opened their season with an impressive 6-0 start, rising into the national rankings while vaulting running back Rashaad Penny into the race for the Heisman Trophy, given annually to college football’s best player. Since then, though, they have stumbled badly in losses to Boise State and Fresno State.
Meanwhile, USD is outscoring opponents 198-68 over its last five games. The Toreros sit at 6-2 on the year. The Aztecs are a similar 7-2.
This is neither to say that the Toreros are better than the Aztecs, nor that both programs are on the same competitive plane. The opening game of the 2015 season demonstrated as much, when SDSU rode a playmaking defense to a 37-3 victory over USD.
Attend a game at SDCCU Stadium, home of the Aztecs, and the comforting chaos of college football overwhelms you: marching bands that stretch across the field, pregame traditions that inspire excitement, and a sea of red and black filling the stands. SDSU is, without a doubt, a legitimate college football program. But so is USD, and therein lies the arrogance and irrationality of the “One City, One Team” slogan. Ignoring the accomplishments of a rival school to boost your own might be understandable. Failing to deliver wins when the city decides to support you is most definitely not.
Whether it’s USD from the lowest rung of football’s Division I ladder or SDSU from only slightly higher, the reality is that neither school is capable of justifying a sole claim to America’s Finest City, and neither team has yet earned the privilege of representing San Diego to the rest of the nation. An undefeated 2017 season and a spot in the national rankings may have been enough for the Aztecs to do so, but the last two weeks have rendered those aspirations a distant dream once again. Those same last two weeks have seen the Toreros steamroll opponents without mercy.
For local fans, the result is a strange reality where one Division I football team with a ceiling of regional relevance claims civic superiority over another Division I football team with the same ceiling but that is finding more success on the field.
One City….One Team?
You have to admit the math looks a little off from here.