Junior Michael Baca rushes past a Rattler defender during practice Tuesday. (Sun Photo by Ryan Lengerich)
Every team has one.
Every sports fan circles the day on their calendar and every athlete has been kept awake at night with the visions of glory. It’s the team fans and players love to hate — their rival.
In Tucumcari there is no bigger rival than Santa Rosa.
“It has always been huge,” said Rattler Nick Wiegel. “I remember back when I was a little kid and the Rattlers were not even that good and the town would come out for that.”
Indeed, the town does come out.
Last year more than 4,000 fans packed Rattler Stadium for a 10-9 victory against the Lions in the state championship game.
“All through the years people talk about how we have to beat Santa Rosa, even the non-football fans,” Wiegel said. “Back in pee-wee and middle school Santa Rosa was always a rivalry, we don’t like them and they don’t like us.”
Rattlers head coach Dub Smith remembers the 1999 encounter with the Lions. It was his second year with the Rattlers. He said it was that year when he began developing his young players and Santa Rosa brought a 20-game winning streak into Tucumcari. Smith said nobody gave his team a chance. The Rattlers pulled off the upset 20-13 ending the Lions supremacy.
“What is great about it is that it is a friendly rivalry,” Smith said. “Their fans are outstanding and we have never had any problems with them.”
The Lions Rattlers rivalry extends far beyond football, but its roots are firmly grounded on the gridiron.
“I have known about this rivalry as long as I can remember going to a football game,” said senior Ray Johnson. “We are going to have a big crowd out there, bigger than Homecoming.”