One of the first, and strongest, affiliations people have is with their high school. Bulldogs will always be Bulldogs, Red Ants will always be Red Ants and Falcons will always be Falcons. Local football stadiums fill every Fall Friday with parents and alumni joining current students to cheer on the teams to which they always will claim allegiance.
Unfortunately, the responsibilities of daily life prevent many former students from being the active supporters they’d like to be. Still, they make every effort to stay up-to-date on the fortunes of their team through his weekly Football Scoreboard program on game night.
To those people and so many others across the Rio Grande Valley, Hugo de la Cruz has performed a valuable service for nearly a half century, giving game updates and commentary during football season.
With the final score of this season’s final game, however, de la Cruz hung up the headphones for the last time, retiring from a program he began in 1971.
At age 74, he’s certainly earned the right to start a new chapter of his life.
His show became a must-listen event for many Valley listeners, even when their teams might not have been playing. Earning the moniker “Mr. Nifu Nifa” for the catch phrase he used to refer to a team that hadn’t scored, de la Cruz offered much more than simple scores. His energetic delivery sent positive vibes toward his listeners, even those whose teams were on the short end of the score. He injected his running scores with commentary — his own and those of listeners who called in to share their thoughts. Many of those callers became regulars, earning their own nicknames over the years.
He even penned and sang corridos, songs that celebrated local teams, to add life to his broadcasts — and capture the loyalty of countless faithful listeners who saw the personal touch as one more reason to tune in every week.
De la Cruz might not have intended to become a star by simply delivering football scores in his own special way, but it can be argued that within the Valley, he’s as big a celebrity as Valley natives whose fame has reached national and even international levels. Ask around and you’ll likely find just as many people know the name of Mr. Nifu Nifa as they know Freddy Fender, Lloyd Bentsen or Kris Kristofferson.
Fortunately for Valley listeners, Football Scoreboard doesn’t end with de la Cruz’s retirement. His son Victor Hugo, who has co-hosted the program for more than a dozen years, will be ready to give the scores when the next football season kicks off.
It’s hard to replace a legend, and we expect the younger de la Cruz to customize the program to suit his own personality and strengths. One thing is certain: He won’t be Mr. Nifu Nifa Jr., as he already has his own nickname, “La Voz.”
We look forward to opening the new season with La Voz, and offer a fond farewell and heartfelt thanks to Hugo de la Cruz, who kept so many people informed of their teams’ fortunes in a way that enabled them to celebrate the victories while easing the pain of the losses.