Nov. 9, 2011
Laramie, Wyo. - Talk about bad luck.
A guy is playing pool in a small-town Texas watering hole. He's wearing an authentic Wyoming football jersey.
A guy comes up to this pool player and says, "Where'd you get that Cowboy jersey?" The guy says, "I got it from the Wyoming equipment manager".
"I don't think so," the other guy says. "Cause I AM the Wyoming equipment manager!" Michael "Mad Dog" Aanonsen made the culprit take off the jersey right then and there. It was back in Wyoming's equipment room a week later.
What are the odds?
Dog has always treated every piece of Wyoming athletic equipment like it was his own. That's the way it should be, and that's what makes him the best in the business. The opportunity to give away equipment is always present. Dog has never given into that.
I've worked with him for over 30 years. I never knew how Mad Dog got his nickname, I still don't. He's not saying. Only that he got it in third grade.
In the world of athletics, everyone is busy this time of year. But nobody is any busier than an equipment manager, especially this one.
Mad Dog is a busy man. He's busier than ever with football. The Cowboys now have nine uniform combinations. When he started in the business the Pokes had just two, one for home games and one for road games. But that isn't the world of college football any longer. There isn't much still the same in college athletics, and the University of Oregon made sure that was the case in the area of football fashion. Almost every program now has alternative uniforms. It helps recruiting, and the players enjoy the options.
Sure that keeps an equipment guy busy, but making it even busier are the 16 other intercollegiate athletic sports. All of whom must have specific equipment with many subtle nuiances. This time of year is even busier since some fall sports are still competing and the winter sports have already begun. It's the overlap time of year.
If any of us are worth anything, we want to be the best in what we do.
Put simply. Mike Aanonsen IS the best. I have been around lots of athletics departments, and known many equipment managers through the years. I've seen them here, and all over the country during my travels. Nobody in that realm does the job of managing equipment better than this guy.
With one assistant and a litter of pups (his student assistants), Dog goes about his business. He can be an intimidating guy to say the least. He growls now and then, but his bark is a lot worse than his bite. Beneath that gruff exterior beats a heart of gold with a passion and pride for Wyoming and his business like no other. There isn't a football player who doesn't remember Mad Dog, and when they return to campus years later they always ask about him or go to see him. The word "beloved" applies here.
Mad Dog came to the university in 1979. This is officially his 32nd year, and his 33rd football season. He and his wife of 26 years, Mardee (yes he admits she is a saint), have two daughters, Meghan (21) and Missy (17). Not only is he the lone male in the family, he's also the only one who wasn't born in Wyoming. He was born in San Antonio, Texas. He attended West Texas State (now West Texas A&M), and after receiving his undergraduate degree there he went on and earned his master's in education. His plan was to teach.
While working on his master's, his career path took quite a turn when he went to work as a student assistant in the West Texas equipment room for a guy by the name of Swede Nordquist. When Swede decided to take the Wyoming equipment job, Dog was elevated to the head man at West Texas. It wasn't long before Swede called and asked Dog to join him at Wyoming.
While he wasn't born here, he loves Wyoming as if he was. "It gets in your blood," he said. "The people are so genuine, and they have so much passion. How could you not like them?"
There's no doubt he loves UW. During his time here he has had over 200 students work for him as pups in the equipment room. One of his current students is the son of a former pup. That's not only an indication of how long he's been around, but what kind of learning experience he provides.
One of the most highly-thought-of equipment men in collegiate athletics, he's seen his share of advancements. "I guess the ordering process, thanks to the computer, is the biggest change I've seen," he said. "I can find things we need in very strange places thanks to the internet. But it's still quite a challenge to get equipment orders on time.
"Most of the advancements are for safety reasons. The changes in the helmet alone have been amazing. The `shells' are much larger now and much more able to absorb the shock of these big, strong and fast guys hitting each other as hard as they can. Research and improvements are ongoing as we try to make things even safer."
There's no question uniform fabrics have been improved. "They fit better and have become more fashionable," Dog said. "But the biggest challenge is getting uniforms clean, especially the pants. Field paint and dye are really tough to get out of pants. After the San Diego State game it took me three different washes to get that red paint out of our gold pants. It's just part of the job."
When Mad Dog began at Wyoming, he and two other guys would drive three pickup loads of equipment to road games that were within driving distance. He remembers doing that when the Pokes played at Nebraska the last time the two programs met at Lincoln. These days the equipment rides in style in Wyoming's custom Peterbilt semi-trailer rig equipped with professional drivers.
Dog still goes with the truck, though. Doesn't let the equipment out of his sight. Doesn't want to see anyone playing pool again in one of his jerseys.