NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – While Animas currently plays six-man football, the Panthers hold one of the biggest 11-man records in New Mexico high school football history. The small mining town in the southwestern part of the state was able to rally for seven consecutive state championships between 1984-1990 and built the most dominant dynasty New Mexico has ever seen.
During the tail end of the 1984 season, the Panthers began a streak for the ages consisting of 72 straight games unbeaten. The lone tie came in the 1984 championship game against Tularosa, but after that, an even more impressive streak began.
Animas went on to win 69 consecutive games, which was the most in the country at the time, and the second most in the history of high school football in America. The streak became so special that almost everyone in the school district did what they could to help the team.
“I mean, it didn’t matter what grade you were in or how big you were or what age,” said former Animas running back William “Bunch” Swift. “If you could play, you got put on the field.”
“If you weren’t on the football team, you were a manager, you were an equipment guy,” former Panthers quarterback Mark Davis said. “Everybody was involved. Drill, after drill, after drill, after drill, to perfection. I mean, everybody was dialed in.”
Almost the entirety of southwestern New Mexico bought into the team, and so did the national media. The Animas win streak was featured on network television, as well as LIFE Magazine. As the attention around the team grew, so did their fandom.
“We would go to an away game, and the stands would be completely full,” said Swift. “I mean, people would drive six hours to go watch us play. People from Texas knew we were playing, and they would come over from Midland, Odessa.”
A lot of credit for the Panthers’ dominance is due to head coach Billy Henson. Players said that his game plans started to be installed on Friday nights after every win, and they would be fully set by Monday practices. By the end of the week, players had such an understanding of their opponents, that they knew what play they were up against “probably 85% of the time.” Even now, over 30 years later, players are able to recite opponents’ names and numbers and what plays they liked to run.
Henson is also given praise for his ability to bring people together. The Animas student body consisted of multiple towns in the area and people from all different backgrounds. Regardless of a player’s race, religion, age, or physique, everyone was able to unite on the field to win.
“We were just a bunch of farm kids and copper mining kids,” Swift said. “You see these movies about Friday night lights and [De La Salle] in California, and I wonder if they ever did a movie about Animas what it would be like.”
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Now, over 30 years after the streak ended, the impact of those Animas teams still resonates. For some, it’s more than ever before.
“You’re just a kid playing football having fun, and we didn’t realize how big a deal it was until we’re grown,” said Swift. “Then you look back on it and go, ‘Man, that was a pretty big deal.'”
“Just to be part of it was phenomenal,” said Davis. “Everlasting, through my professional career, friendships, through everything.”