Joe Gomez is passionate about El Paso and UTEP. A one-man cheering squad for the Miners, he also has acquired a museum-caliber collection of memorabilia from the Texas Western College (now UTEP) dream team that won the 1966 NCAA basketball crown.
Gomez recently donated a larger than life (much like its subject) oil painting of the legendary UTEP Men's Basketball Coach Don Haskins, which now hangs in the arena that bears Haskins' name, as well as other items that are on display in the new Foster - Stevens Basketball Complex. While his hobby does not define Gomez, it is certainly a passion that has grown over the last 44 years.
It started in 1966, the magical year that changed El Paso-and the country-forever.
Texas Western defeated Kentucky, 72-65, for the NCAA basketball title - the first time a team had won with five black starters.
It was one of those rare instances in which a game transcends the sports section, because the triumph for the team was an even more significant triumph for the country, removing one more barrier in the march toward civil rights.
That team made history, and Gomez assumed the role of its unofficial chronicler. He has done an amazing job.
A freshman majoring in history when the team captured the championship in College Park, Md., Gomez was watching the game with friends near the campus, and he reacted with the same joy and awe that thousands of others were feeling.
â€œI was watching the game in a fraternity house on a black and white television with tin foil on the rabbit ears (antenna)," Gomez, who graduated in 1970, said. "And when we went to the campus, everyone was celebrating. There were bonfires in the quadrangle (the area where the Geology Building now stands). It was crazy.
"I was friends with Bobby Joe Hill and Willie Cager," Gomez said. "And I knew that this was more than a game. I knew this small school had made a big difference."
So Gomez, filled with this sense of history in the making, started collecting memorabilia - programs, newspapers, photos, city proclamations, even wire service articles, anything that had to do with that team.
There is the banner headline in The Prospector, the student newspaper, proclaiming: "We're the Greatest;" the box of Wheaties, marketed in 2005, that commemorates the historic achievement almost 40 years earlier; a moving collection of photographs that depict the path to the title; and the wire service story that referred to Don Haskins as Jack Hawkins, a blunder that led to a correction later that evening.
It was an incredible night. And that is why the history major would devote so much of his time and energy to the events he lived through. March 19, 1966, will always be part of his inner calendar.
"It was special," he said.