I CAN’T TELL YOU ALL HOW MUCH I WAS LOOKING FORWARD TO MAKING MY FIRST TRIP TO SEE A FOOTBALL GAME AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA. I had spent the previous five weeks in the northeast, with the cool blustery weather, so I was looking forward to coming out for some warm sunshine. Tuscon didn’t disappoint, as I was welcomed by 75 degrees and sunny skies. I was coming to see the Wildcats, who along with Arizona State, USC and UCLA, are in the midst of a four-team race for the Pac-12 South title. It was a huge game for the Wildcats if they wanted maintain a shot at playing in the conference championship game, and the fans were jazzed and ready for a Wildcat win. As I strolled throughout the tailgating parties, I was also pleasantly surprised by how many Husky fans made the trek. The trip was worth it, as it turned out to be the best game I have seen in-person all season!
ARIZONA FOOTBALL BEGINS
The football program began at the University of Arizona in 1899 under the nickname “Varsity”. Stuart Forbes became the first head coach and the team compiled a 1–1–1 record. William Skinner took over in 1900 serving as head football coach for two seasons and guiding Arizona to 3–1 and 4–1 records. On Nov 7, 1914, the team traveled to Los Angeles to play Occidental, then one of the reigning gridiron powers in California. Occidental won 14–0, but something special came out of the game. Arizona received the name “Wildcats” after a Los Angeles Times correspondent, Bill Henry, wrote that “The Arizona men showed the fight of wildcats”.
The Wildcats began playing a conference schedule in 1931 when they joined the Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Arizona spent 27 years playing in the BIAA and won three conference championships. After playing one year as an independent, Arizona joined the Western Athletic Conference in 1962. The Wildcats transitioned to the Pac-10 in 1978, where they reside today.
THE POP McKALE ERA BEGAN in 1914 and ended in 1930. McKale was a very successful high school coach in the Tucson area when he was hired at Arizona In 1921, Drop-kicker/Receiver Harold “Nosey” McClellan led the nation in scoring with 124 points. The Wildcats finished the regular season 7–1, and were invited to Arizona’s first ever bowl game, the East-West Christmas Classic in San Diego, where they played then-powerhouse Centre College of Kentucky. Arizona lost the game 38–0. In 1929, Arizona opened up Arizona Stadium, winning their first game against Caltech 25–0. After 16 seasons as head coach, McKale retired. The McKale center, the University of Arizona’s basketball venue, was opened in 1973 and named in McKale’s honor.
THE WARREN WOODSON ERA BEGAN IN 1952 after he was hired away from Hardin-Simmons University. In 1954 the Wildcats were led by starting halfback Art Luppino. He went on to lead the nation in rushing, scoring, all-purpose running, and kickoff returns, and Luppino became the first player in NCAA history to lead the nation in rushing twice. He also tied for the national title in all-purpose running and was third in scoring. Woodson was replaced after five seasons with a 26–22–2 record and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1989.
JIM YOUNG WAS HIRED IN 1973. Formerly the defensive coordinator at Michigan, he was hired to turn around the downtrodden Wildcats football program. Improvement came immediately, as Young’s team surprised the nation with an 8–3 record in his first season. Young’s Wildcats went on to post records of 9–2 in 1974 and 1975, the latter ending with a No.13 and No.18 ranking in the Coaches’ and AP Polls, respectively. In 1976, considered a rebuilding year, Young’s team posted a 5–6 record to cap Young’s mark of 31–13 in four seasons. He departed Arizona after the 1976 season to accept the head football coach position at Purdue and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1999.
DICK TOMEY ARRIVED FROM HAWAII IN 1987. During his tenure, he coached five future NFL first-round draft choices, 20 All-Americans and 43 Pac-10 first team players. His best teams were in the mid-1990s, highlighted by a tenacious “Desert Swarm” defense. He led Arizona to the only two 10-win seasons in school history, highlighted by a 12–1 campaign in 1998, in which they finished No.4 in both major polls, the highest ranking in school history. Tomey resigned after the 2000 season, and his 95 wins are the most in Wildcats history. The Wildcat football program was in decline for several seasons after the departure of Tomey.
MIKE STOOPS WAS HIRED IN 2004 TO TURN AROUND A FOOTBALL PROGRAM THAT HAD HIT THE SKIDS. In the first two seasons under Stoops, Arizona was 6–18. Stoops led the Wildcats to an improved 6–6 record in the 2006 season, the first non-losing season for the school since 1998 when the Wildcats went 12–1. In 2008, the Wildcats earned a Las Vegas Bowl bid, their first bowl berth in a decade, where they defeated BYU 31–21. In 2009, the Wildcats earned their second straight bowl berth and had a second straight eight-win season. That season they almost made it to Pasadena. The Oregon Ducks came to Arizona Stadium in a game that would decide which team went to the Rose Bowl. After a back and forth battle, the Oregon Ducks won in double overtime 44–41, to clinch the Rose Bowl bid. After starting out 1-5, Stoops was fired midway through the 2011 season.
RICH RODRIGUEZ TOOK OVER THE PROGRAM IN 2012. Before coming to Arizona, Rodriguez had guided both Michigan and West Virginia. Rodriguez is considered one of the pioneers of a run-oriented version of the spread offense. He first developed this offensive approach at Glenville State This strategy features frequent use of the shotgun formation. and refined it during his stops at Tulane, Clemson, and at West Virginia perhaps most effectively with dual-threat quarterback Pat White. Rodriguez is also credited for inventing the zone-read play run out of the shotgun formation.
- After every home game, fans and the band march to the administration building where the band performs a concert for the gathered fans. At the conclusion of the concert, the bell in the student union clock tower (one of the bells recovered from the USS Arizona) is rung, and the band responds by yelling “Bear Down.”
- BEAR DOWN On October 18, 1926 UA quarterback and student body president John “Button” Salmon died from injuries sustained in a car wreck. His final words, spoken to coach McKale, were, “Tell them…..tell the team to Bear Down.” Soon thereafter, the Wildcat student body adopted “Bear Down” as the athletic motto. A monument sits just outside the stadium, bearing a sculpture of Salmon.
- THE WILDCAT WALK Before every home game, the team’s buses take players from their hotel and drop them off several blocks north of the stadium. The fans and the marching band line Cherry Avenue as the team walks to the stadium.
- HAKA DANCE during pre-game warm ups, players of Polynesian lineage perform the Haka, a traditional Maori war dance from New Zealand.
- BLOCK A At the beginning of the second half, for the duration of the kickoff, a large block A banner is unfurled and held up by the center of the Zona Zoo.
- FOUR FINGERSAt the end of the third quarter, the team and many members of the crowd hold up four fingers, signifying the beginning of the fourth quarter.
- ONE-HANDED In a similar tradition to other schools’ mascots, after every Arizona score, Wilbur the Wildcat does as many push-ups as the Wildcats have points while the crowd counts his push-ups. However, unlike other mascots, Wilbur does his push-ups one-handed.
ARIZONA FOOTBALL HISTORY
The Wildcats have one or shared six conference championships. They own three outright BIAA titles. Twice they were Co-Champions of the Western Athletic Conference and they share one Pac-12 conference title. The Wildcats have never played in the Rose Bowl Game.
Arizona State is the biggest rival of the Wildcats. The two teams play for what is known as the “Territorial Cup” in a game commonly referred to as the “Duel in the Desert.” There have been a total of 87 games played, with Arizona leading the series with a 47-39-1 record. The Wildcats also had a strong rivalry with the University of New Mexico. The Wildcats and Lobo’s played for the prized, Kit Carson Rifle. The gun is a Springfield model rifle that is rumored to have once belonged to the famous frontier scout, Kit Carson. The Wildcats lead that series 43-20-3, which has been suspended since 2008.
Eight different former Wildcats are in the College Hall of Fame.
- Guard, Ed Brown
- Linebacker, Teddy Bruschi
- Defensive Back, Chuck Cecil
- Linebacker, Ricky Hunley
- Defensive Tackle, Rob Waldrop
- Head Coach, Darrell Mudra
- Head Coach, Warren Woodson
- Head Coach, Jim Young
The Wildcats needed a dramatic last-second field goal by Casey Skowron to defeat the visiting Washington Huskies 27-26. Both teams traded punches throughout the first half, as the Wildcats went into the break up 21-17. The Huskies dominated most of the second half in taking a 26-21 lead into the fourth quarter. Both teams turned the ball over three times in the contest, with the Huskies turning the ball over at midfield with just over a minute left, setting up a dramatic finish. Arizona Quarterback Anu Soloman threw a 34 yard pass to Caleb Jones, who made a tough catch at the back of the end zone for what was initially ruled an Arizona touchdown. The play was overturned on review as it was determined Jones’s foot was on the end line. That set the stage for Skowron who had received death threats after he missed a go-ahead 36-yard field goal in the final minute of the loss to USC. Saturday, Skowron again missed. The initial field goal attempt was wide right, but Washington Head Coach Chris Peterson had called a timeout before the snap in an attempt to ice the kicker. He should have known you can’t ice Arizona. Skowron gathered his thoughts and made the kick, giving the Wildcats the victory with his second try and sending the crowd into a frenzy!