More to Explore

Related Links

Related Audio

The Flying Lobos

By Rick Hendricks

On Friday 4 October 1929, Roy W. Johnson, football coach of the University of New Mexico Lobos, and Tom Popejoy, graduate manager of athletics at the University took in a game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.[1] They were scouting Occidental College in its contest with Santa Barbara College, an encounter that Occidental won 14 to 0. The two men made the trip to California and back to Albuquerque by plane on the Transcontinental Air Transport (T. A. T.) route. When asked about the possibility of the Lobos flying to their upcoming game in Pasadena, Johnson and Popejoy were tightlipped. Team members, however, indicated that assuming there were no objections from their parents, such a trip was in the offing. Every player had to submit written permission for the flight from his parents, and these slips were delivered to university president James F. Zimmerman who pronounced that he had no objection to the flight.[2]

Because of the limits of the planes, only eleven players were able to fly to Los Angeles. On Thursday, 10 October at 10:10 AM, the first of two  T. A. T. Ford Tri-motor planes was scheduled for departure from Albuquerque with the second to follow soon after.[3] In addition to the players, Assistant Coach Harry Bliss, Popejoy, and Manager Charlie Hickman got seats on the planes. Fifteen players and Coach Johnson caught the train at 3:30 AM. The flying passengers were scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles on Thursday, and the train travelers were due in on Friday morning. Fearful that his players might be ill after their flight, Coach Johnson sent only second-teamers on the planes.

UNM was well aware that this was to be a historic trip—the first university football squad to fly to a game, and a large crowd of fans and well-wishers was expected to see them off. When it was time for the team to depart, Clyde Tingley, Albuquerque’s leading politician and civic leader, and some 2,000 residents and students gathered at the airport to cheer on the Lobos.[4] When the plane was taxiing for takeoff, it was found to be tail heavy. A search turned up a pair of UNM students who had planned to join the trip as stowaways.

The early arrivers were scheduled to practice under the lights at the Rose Bowl Thursday night. The players on the train would into the Friday night game without the benefit of having practiced on the field of play. In preparation for the game against the Southern California Conference champions, the Lobos had long, hard practice that lasted until the light faded on Wednesday. The teams were thought to be evenly matched, and a large crowd of between 30,000 to 45,000 was expected to be in attendance. The Lobo running backs were a little banged up, and Bob Crist, was going into the game with a badly injured nose. Wamp Wilson, the 195-pound tackle, was staying at UNM to take a math exam. The Lobos flyers arrived in Glendale at Grand Central airport at 4:30 Thursday afternoon and had their scheduled workout.[5]

Nothing about the game happened as predicted. The crowd was rather modest, estimated at between 10,000 and 20,000, which meant that the Rose Bowl was mostly empty.[6] The Lobos were unfamiliar with playing under floodlights, and the field was wet, so wet that the men from New Mexico did not manage to catch and hold on to a single punt all night, and several of the resulting fumbles proved costly. It also turned out that rather than being evenly matched, Occidental was a better, more powerful team. Los Angeles sportswriters said that they believed that this was the best Occidental team that Coach Eddie Kleinholz had fielded. The offensive line tore through the Lobos, and the Tigers were almost unstoppable when they had the ball. At the half, Occidental led 13-0.

A spectacular fireworks display during halftime spelled out “Welcome Lobos,” and featured a ferocious Occidental Tiger. After the pyrotechnics, acrobats performed a tumbling routine. The teams returned to the field and played a scoreless third quarter. In the final quarter, Occidental doubled the score on the Lobos, and by the time the game ended, the third squad was getting playing time. Occidental won the statistical battle and shutout the Lobos. They made fourteen first downs to nine, and piled up 230 yards to 125.

As first-teamers plied into the Ford Tri-motors, they were surely disappointed, but the UNM Lobos had made history.[7] They had played in the Rose Bowl before the largest crowd in their history, which UNM officially estimated at 17,000.[8] More important, their trip by plane to California and back added another page to Albuquerque’s rich aviation history.



[1] "University Football Team May Fly to Coast for Oxy Contest as Coach Returns, Air Addict," Albuquerque Journal, 7 October 1929.

[2] "Lobos Leave by Air Thursday for Oxy Battle," Albuquerque Journal, 9 October 1929; "Big Crowd of University People and Football Fans will Bid Lobo Team Goodbye at Airport Today," Albuquerque Journal, 10 October 1929.

[3] "Lobos Leave by Air Thursday for Oxy Battle," Albuquerque Journal, 9 October 1929; "Big Crowd of University People and Football Fans will Bid Lobo Team Goodbye at Airport Today," Albuquerque Journal, 10 October 1929.

[4] "Lobos First to Fly? " New Mexico Football 2008, 166, www.golobos.com/.../08-nm-footbl-mg-162-183.pdf (accessed 11 March 2015).

[5] "Lobos Arrive in Los Angeles in Fast Time," Albuquerque Journal, 11 October 1929.

[6] "Lobos Lose Hard Game to Oxidental 26 to 0;  Fighting Hard All Way," Albuquerque Journal, 12 October 1929.

[7] "Lobos First to Fly? " New Mexico Football 2008, 166, www.golobos.com/.../08-nm-footbl-mg-162-183.pdf (accessed 11 March 2015).

[8] Ibid.