Proud moments for San Jose State University football have been few the past two decades, but during one such period I hopped aboard the bandwagon of the school that launched my career.
I bought an SJSU pullover golf jacket.
Not because I play golf (I don't), not because I've been a devoted follower of my alma mater's sports teams (I haven't been), and not because the jacket is a GQ fashion statement (it isn't).
The pullover was, for me, a way to support my college while clothing myself. It's a bold blue, with S-J-S-U letters spread across the front. And it fits, a crucial factor for any purchase by a man who requires a 37-inch inseam and size XXLT shirts.
After getting the jacket home, I hung it in the closet. Only on rare occasions, maybe once or twice a year, did I actually wear it.
That is, until the past few months.
The SJSU jacket suddenly is a favorite, sported loudly and proudly on numerous occasions since September, the early weeks of the college football season. I've never been prouder to display my connection to the school from which I graduated in 1985.
This season, during which the Spartans have posted a 10-2 record, has been like an oasis in the desert -- and every bit as welcome. After so many years of ineptitude and apathy that rendered the program largely irrelevant, the 2012 team came along and restored a measure of pride and dignity.
Coach Mike MacIntyre's team has spent the regular season lighting up scoreboards. Quarterback David Fales has been spectacular, surpassing the best of the school's last dozen passers, including Jeff Garcia and Mike Perez. SJSU's receivers -- Noel Grigsby, Chandler Jones and Ryan Otten to name three -- are pillaging opposing defenses.
The Spartans were invited to the Military Bowl because they represented.
They represented so well they made me eager to wear my loyalty.
Please understand. SJSU football, always the poor Bay Area stepchild to the favored Cal and Stanford programs, has never been poorer or felt more stepped on.
A force as recently as the late 1980s -- spanking Cal in three of four games from 1984-87 -- the last 20 years have been unkind to the Spartans. Six coaches, only three winning seasons. As the coaches came and went, the program seemed to shrink. The fan base, always fragile, dwindled to a vocal few.
I felt pity for the school in general and the football program in particular. I also felt guilt because I hadn't visited the campus as often as I'd like -- maybe five or six times between 1995 and 2006.
There was credible speculation that SJSU might join the procession of state universities that have dropped football. It made sense. We weren't competitive and, moreover, there was little reason to believe we could raise the funds and build the facilities necessary to compete.
So when I saw the jacket early in 2007, I jumped on it. When I tried it on and realized it fit, out came my wallet. It was a way to repay the school for its contribution to a journalism career now in its 28th year.
It was a way to help keep hope alive.
The football coach at the time was the widely respected Dick Tomey. His five seasons at SJSU were a mixed bag, which was more than could be said for likes of John Ralston or Dave Baldwin (who did, to be fair, lay some lessons upon Stanford) or Fitz Hill.
Tomey peaked in '06, when he led the Spartans to a 9-4 record and the New Mexico Bowl. That prompted the jacket purchase. His low point was 2009, his last year, when the record was 2-10 and Tomey re-retired.
So when MacIntyre, a young branch from a strong coaching tree, oozing southern charm, came along the next year, there was a hint of urgency about the program. There were whispers about his tenure making or breaking the program.
Coach Mac turned it around, showed it can be done. The Spartans went from 1-10 in 2010 to 5-7 in 2011 to 10-2 this season -- even beating Louisiana Tech and Sonny Dykes, the coach recently hired by Cal.
That was enough to make the SJSU jacket a staple of my wardrobe.
And now MacIntyre is gone.
That's no surprise to those who follow SJSU sports. Abandonment is something we anticipate. Any young coach who succeeds here has earned the opportunity to build on a bigger stage -- a BCS-level platform. Coach Mac's work in San Jose opened doors around the country. He walked through the one in Colorado.
We're already wondering if his replacement, Ron Caragher, can succeed.
And I'm already wondering how often I'll wear my jacket next fall.