Ables, a 1993 honorary inductee into the Aztec Hall of Fame, died Monday morning at Scripps Mercy Hospital, where he was born, the San Diego Union- Tribune reported. He was 91.
In recent years, SDSU’s athletic department has promoted the hashtag #AztecForLife on social media, and nobody embodied that message more than Ables, who attended 788 out of 794 football games since 1946. That was they year he enrolled at what was then San Diego State College just a month after leaving the Navy, in which he served during World War II.
Two of the six games Ables missed were road games played this season — at Air Force on Sept. 23 and at UNLV on Oct. 7 — as his health deteriorated. However, he was able to make it to the Sept. 9 win against Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona.
“Obviously, he was as good a fan as there ever was,” SDSU coach Rocky Long told the Union-Tribune. “He was close to our program and with us most the time, a lot of time spent on the sidelines. He was in our locker room a lot and meant a lot to everybody.”
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer tweeted Tuesday morning that he was sad to learn of Ables’ death.
“Not just the No. 1 @SDSU fan, also a beloved legend in our community,” Faulconer wrote. “He will be greatly missed.”
Ables wrote a book — “Go Aztecs!” — after the 2012 season detailing his then-nearly seven decades as an Aztec football fan. He’s updated the book four times since then, the latest coming after last season’s Mountain West Conference championship and Las Vegas Bowl victory over the University of Houston.
But Ables’ support extended to other SDSU sports, too. The Union-Tribune reported Ables attended more than 1,000 Aztec basketball games, and former Union-Tribune sports reporter Bill Center tweeted that he spoke with Ables recently about how many games he’d seen.
“Last time Tom Ables and I had lunch, we talked about how many Aztec sports events Tom had witnessed,” Center tweeted. “His best guess, more than 3,000.”
A blurb for his book on Amazon.com briefly explains how he got his start following the Aztecs in 1946.
“In late August he was a battleship sailor aboard the USS Alabama. In September he was the sports editor of the school newspaper. Before his freshman year ended he was the school’s first sports publicity director. Seventy-one years later, Tom still follows Aztec football as passionately as he did as a college freshman.”
Ables was the owner of his own public relations and marketing firm the past 34 years, and he took up tweeting and blogging about his SDSU sports fandom in recent years. His wife, an SDSU alumna, accompanied him to most games. Tom and Nancy Ables celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary over the summer, the Union-Tribune reported. Their son Ken, a 1980 graduate of SDSU, was also by his father’s side for many games and helped him write his book.
On social media, the tributes poured in from fans, current SDSU athletes and former Aztecs.
“RIP @TomAbles you will always be loved,” tweeted Tim Shelton, a former Aztec basketball player who is now an assistant coach at the university. “Thank you personally for your impact on my life as an Aztec and a young man.”
Malik Smith, a defensive back who graduated after last season, tweeted, “Wow sad day for Aztec nation losing its biggest fan ever Mr. @TomAbles. My prayers and thoughts go out to the Ables family.”
Trey Lomax, a senior defensive back this season and a Mira Mesa High graduate tweeted that SDSU “lost a legend today.”
Ables’ fame as a super fan extended beyond local recognition. In 2010, ESPN ranked him as the third greatest living college football fan. He started following the Aztecs the same year that Dick Coffee, the man who earned the top ranking, started following the Alabama Crimson Tide.
But unlike Coffee and Giles Pellerin — who attended 797 straight University of Southern California football games before he died in 1991 in the parking lot outside a Trojans game — Ables was never rewarded with a national championship-calibre team.
“Every year you explain to the players who he is when you introduce him, because most of the new guys don’t know who he is, the older guys do, and they know his record for how many games he’s seen and that kind of stuff,” Long told the newspaper.
“I don’t know if they relate, but, obviously they honor him and they respect what he did supporting this football team.”
— City News Service