San Diego State’s football program still exists, I’m sure of it. Apparently, few others in San Diego County know or care.

The Aztecs played before one of the smallest crowds (if not the smallest) in the 43 seasons they’ve called Qualcomm Stadium home. The school announced a crowd of 12,647 — officials undoubtedly counted every worker, rat and skunk in the venue to reach that total — but eyewitnesses say the true count was about half that.

I do know it looked horrible on television. The plaza level seats near midfield that used to be packed even when San Diego State crowds dropped below 20,000 fans were largely empty. During one television shot of the north side of the stands, it looked like there were about 30 fans in each of the prime sections (three of them) that I could clearly see.

That is beyond embarrassing when so few people in a county of 3 million people bother to show up for a major college game. Save the comments about how it was Halloween because the crowds have been pitiful on a lot of other occasions when there was no trick-or-treating going on.

The only thing that would’ve been worse than the crowd count would have been if the Aztecs had lost to New Mexico. It wasn’t pretty but San Diego State pulled out a 23-20 victory over the winless Lobos on Ryan Lindley’s fourth-quarter touchdown toss to DeMarco Sampson.

With a record of 4-4, the Aztecs have a shot at ending their 11-year bowl drought. But the real sign of progress can be judged next Saturday when the Aztecs host Texas Christian, ranked sixth in the BCS standings.

TCU has drubbed the Aztecs badly a few times since joining the Mountain West Conference. Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson against former Aztecs coach Chuck Long was a major mismatch so it will be interesting to see how new coach Brady Hoke fares in his first matchup against Patterson and the undefeated team that could be headed to a BCS bowl. 

Perhaps the real question is whether an appearance by one of the nation’s top teams will prompt some sports fanatics to make a trip to Qualcomm Stadium. It has long been established that the Aztecs don’t create interest among the county’s sports fans.

But the crowd count against New Mexico is a scary low point. I can remember covering the final game of the 1995 season when an 8-win San Diego State squad was hosting Colorado State with a share of the conference title on the line. Colorado State won the contest to qualify for the Holiday Bowl but there was a lot of griping that night about how only 41,603 fans attended such a crucial home game.

I’m not sure San Diego State could draw 41,603 for the TCU game if they left the turnstiles unattended. Basically, San Diego State still has a football program but fewer and fewer people care as each season goes on.

That’s quite a shame for a program that once was a big deal in San Diego.

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