The Legend Of Rocky Perez Lives On At UTEP
There are good quarterbacks, and then there are championship quarterbacks.
Did you know that in the 96-year history of UTEP football only two quarterbacks
have guided the Miners to a conference football championship? One is Bob Laraba
in the old Border Conference in 1956. The other is Rocky Perez, who guided the
Miners to a co-championship in the Western Athletic Conference in 2000.
I bring this up because the 2000 Miners were honored at this year’s homecoming
game last weekend and I still feel Rocky has never received the recognition he
deserves. For instance, at a media luncheon the week of homecoming some of the
other players on that 2000 team were mentioned by coach Mike Price but not
YOU’LL FIND Rocky’s name all over the UTEP record book in such categories as
career passing efficiency, career touchdowns, career completions, etc.
Here’s the amazing fact about that: He was the full-time starting quarterback
for the Miners only one season. He first made his presence known as a freshman in 1997.
He went in for starter John Rayborn, who was injured in the first quarter, and led the Miners to one of
the school’s biggest upsets, 14-3, over nationally ranked BYU. Rocky connected
on his first pass play for 30 yards to set up a touchdown and scored it himself.
Still, he didn’t get much playing time until 1999 when as a junior he shared the
starting job with Jay Stuckey.
THEN CAME what Rocky calls his “magical” senior season in 2000. He set a season
record by throwing 26 touchdown passes and ended his career rated high in
completions (400), attempts (716), yardage (5,108), completion percentage (.559)
and touchdowns (33). But there is more to winning championships than statistics. Here’s how the
Miners’ 2000 season was described by Adrian Mac of EA Sports NCAA Football:
“FOR 44 YEARS we waited. Before 2000, the last time Miner fans celebrated a
conference championship was in1956 and UTEP was in the Border Conference.
Dwight Eisenhower was in his first term. After the Bob Stull era ended, we
endured a seemingly endless run of 3 and 4 win seasons.
“Then, in 2000, under a first time head coach in his first season, all the
pieces suddenly fell into place. The Miners went 8-3, won their first WAC
Championship in 33 years in the league, and played in their first bowl game in
“The 2000 UTEP Miners football team woke up a city, and allowed Miner fans
everywhere to realize that UTEP could win conference championships.
“THE REASON why the 2000 squad is my favorite is because that was the team that
showed my generation that the Miners could make an impact on college football.
The team had an incredible mixture of blue collar gym rats and elite talent that
was waiting to break out.
“The Miners found a veteran, dependable signal caller: Rocky Perez.
“Perez was a gamer, a leader, a guy that always appeared to be in control. He
didn't have NFL size, but he was one of those rare quarterbacks that just knew
how to find the open man when it mattered. Regardless of the score, you always
felt like UTEP had a chance to come back with Perez in at quarterback”
THE MINERS had the misfortune of ending the season against one of college
football’s elite football programs, Boise State, in the Humanitarian Bowl. But
Rocky and the Miners put up a battle before losing 38-23. Of course, Rocky had a lot of help that year, including outstanding receivers. But the year after Rocky graduated, the Miners, even with some of those top
receivers back, could win only two games. And they won only two games in each of
the next two seasons as well. Hey, maybe they should build a statue of Rocky like they did for that movie guy.
Veteran sports journalist and author Ray Sanchez welcomes suggestions for his column. Contact him at (915) 584-0626, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or online at www.raysanchezbooks.com