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'Aztec Warrior' Born as Unofficial Mascot for San Diego State

September 17, 2002|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Proving that it is difficult to keep a venerable mascot down, the Aztec Warrior has emerged as the unofficial replacement for Monty Montezuma, who was banished from San Diego State athletic contests.

Monty was eliminated as culturally retrograde by the university president last year after two years of controversy. But that didn't satisfy many university alumni and fans, who wanted to preserve decades of San Diego State tradition.

Now they've brought back their own version of the Monty character. The Aztec Warrior--looking a lot like Monty and even played by a former Monty performer--showed up at Saturday's football game at Qualcomm Stadium. The appearance drew roars of approval from some in the crowd.

But Native Americans who had protested the original mascot as insensitive complained that the new version is just as bad.

Because he is not the university's official mascot, the Aztec Warrior will not be allowed on the field. At Saturday's game against Arizona State University, he could only roam the stands.

The warrior's presence may have heartened some fans, but that was not enough to prop up the Aztecs, who blew a 22-0 halftime lead and lost, 39-28. The team dropped to 0-3 for the season.

On Monday, a group of business owners, backed by a county supervisor, acknowledged that they had been secretly planning for several months to bring back the feathered warrior, but simply under a new name and with a slightly different look.

Aztec Warrior was kept under wraps to prevent any attempt by the university administration to squelch the movement, said Bruce Johnson, a San Diego sports marketing specialist and president of the newly formed Aztec Warrior Foundation.

"The warrior does not mock, he is not shameful, and he shouldn't be hidden away in a closet somewhere," said county Supervisor Dianne Jacob, a San Diego State graduate.

The nonprofit foundation is seeking donations to support Aztec Warrior and to provide scholarships for Latino students who believe they are descended from the Aztecs, a native people of Mexico.

Naddia Cherre, chairwoman of the San Diego State chapter of MEChA, a Latino student organization, said the group is disappointed that the alumni would try to bring back Monty Montezuma in another guise.

The fact that the booster group has promised to award scholarships does not change her group's opposition, Cherre said. "They're just trying to shut us up," she said. "They're degrading our culture and then throwing some crumbs at us. It's very wrong."

Qualcomm Stadium manager Bill Wilson said he sees no problem with Aztec Warrior exhorting fans from the stands.

"I don't see any safety problems at all," he said. "The fans absolutely loved him. He can come back any time."

To the dismay of some alumni and students, university President Stephen Weber last year decided to end the Monty Montezuma tradition in response to concerns by Native American activists that the character was historically inaccurate and culturally insensitive.

Monty, meant to represent the 16th century Aztec ruler, had served as the school's athletic mascot since the 1940s.

Weber had hoped to find an official replacement for Monty, but that effort crashed amid the same questions about culture and history that dogged Monty. In July, Weber announced that his New Mascot Committee had been suspended indefinitely.

As the first Aztec Warrior, the foundation has hired Carlos Gutierrez, a performer who also is a radio station account executive.

He played the Monty character from 1991 to 1998.

"We are Aztec warriors," Gutierrez said. "We shall stand tall and breathe deep for what we believe in."

Weber, through a spokesman, said, "Carlos is welcome to attend the game like any fan, as long as he behaves himself."

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