A BRIEF HISTORY OF ARIZONA FOOTBALL
I thought we'd kick off No-Letdown Week with a brief history of Arizona football.
There, that's done. Did you enjoy it?
No, seriously, there is more to North Nogales CC than the Silver Fox and his heroes of the hardwood. To red-state America, UofA football tradition began in November 2003 when the school hired Mike Stoops - the Sonny Corleone of the Stoops coaching mafia - to take over its program.
(Seriously, there's a master's thesis in this, hear me out. Bob is Michael - intelligent and ruthless. He doesn't suspend players: he cuts them and they're never heard from again. He's won a national championship, and will probably win another. Mike is Sonny, all id and no superego. Sonny looks like a Don, but he lacks impulse control. That's why he'll eventually wind up riddled with alumni bullets at the metered onramp to I-10. There's two other Stoops brothers - Ron is the oldest and is currently coaches a high school team, so he's Fredo by definition. Mark is the youngest, and he kind of breaks the theory, but we'll put a dress on him and call him Connie anyway.)
Anyway, Sonny, er Mike hasn't delivered as advertised, which vexes the red-staters to no end. This furthers their collective conviction that Pac-10 football is more like math or interpretive dance than the sport they play in the dust bowl. There will be more on The Madness of Mike Stoops later in No-Letdown Week. For now, let's look at the glory of Arizona football.
Traditions. UofA has the coolest tradition no one's ever heard of. You ever wonder why they have "BEAR DOWN" written on each side of their field? In 1926, John "Button" Salmon - UofA student body president and quarterback for the football team - was critically injured in an automobile accident following the Cats' first game of the season. He lay paralyzed in the hopsital with a serious spinal cord injury, and Coach Pops McKale (he of McKale Center fame) visited him every day. On his last visit, Salmon told his coach to "tell them...tell the team to bear down." He died the next day on October 18, 1926.
OK, it's not the Gipper speech, exactly - but it's still pretty cool. Why doesn't anyone outside Tucson and some Pac-10 schools know about this? UofA, get thee a real SID.
Greatest Coach. Dick Tomey always looked to me like he was about to fall asleep on the sidelines. But he stayed awake enough to win 95 games, including four bowl games. Tomey, of course, is responsible for the Biggest Opposing Coach Blunder in Cal football history, when he went for two in the 1996 four-overtime game and the Cats lost 56-55. He also wore Hawaiian shirts in Arizona, which made no sense at all.
Worst Coach. John Mackovic was Walt Harris with better talent around him. Hated by his players, who mutinied at the beginning of the 2003 season and went to the University President with a demand that Mack be canned. He was, on September 28 of that year.
Favorite Mackovic Moment. Mack called Justin Levasseur a "disgrace to his family" after the TE dropped a couple of passes against UCLA in 2002. Levasseur then became an actual disgrace to his family when he was caught hauling 87 pounds of the chronic across Illinois.
Mascot. Meh. Wilbur Wildcat is the 2nd worst mascot in the Pac. Benny the Beaver kicks his ass. It's basically a guy in a cheap lion costume. They shaved the mane, put a fey cowboy hat on top and voila, he is the Wilbur. There's apparently a girl wildcat too, but I'm not going there.
Best Team. 1998's version went 12-1 and ended with a 23-20 Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska. Their only loss - a 52-28 blowout at home against UCLA - cost them a shot at their first - and only - Rose Bowl.
Greatest Player. Well, there's Sean Elliott and Steve Kerr, and....oh, this is a football article? Well, Trung Canidate was the Cats' last real star in the backfield...Dennis Northcutt returning punts and kicks for scores...Ortege Jenkins and the flip for a winning TD against UW. But most of the all-time Cats played on the other side of the football: Tedy Bruschi was a beast at rush end and the leader of the 'Desert Swarm' defense of the early 90s...Chris McAlister was a shut-down corner in the late 90s...Rob Waldrop, perhaps the most obscure guy to ever win the Outland Trophy. But for greatest I have to go with linebacker Ricky Hunley, the only Wildcat in the CFB Hall of Fame.
Greatest Play. Chuck Cecil, the inspiration for the NFL's "blow to the head" penalty, returned an interception 104 yards for a touchdown that clinched an upset of the Rose-Bowl bound Sun Devils in 1996.
Cover Jinx. SI picked the Cats #1 in 1994 and put them on the cover. They went 8-4 and wound up losing in the Freedom Bowl to Utah.
Best Watering Hole. Dirtbag's on East Speedway. Good memories from the Copper Bowl in 1990. The kind of bar that's all about drinking.
Tomorrow, a look at the many faces of Mike Stoops, savior of UofA football.