The day that divided Arizona Wildcats football into three different eras: Part I



The dates throughout our fan-hood

When I began writing for, almost immediately I noticed many of us use really specific events and experiences to mark eras in time during our sports fan-hood. We tend to attach certain eras in our personal lives with that of our favorite teams and players we are most passionate about. While researching for a story I wrote earlier this year about the Arizona Cardinals fan base, many fans I spoke to referenced very specific dates, events and experiences that have had a profound impact on them as fans. These people didn’t only talk about the Cardinals, but other sports entirely and eras in sports history. Before then, I figured I was more or less alone with this sentiment. The more I thought about it, and looked into it, the more I realized how natural this comes to us all.

During the course of every person’s lifetime, significant events happen that change the scope of how we view the things that have the most influence on us. They change our life’s trajectory and society’s way about going on with its daily life. We mark those dates as ones that are looked upon favorably or negatively. Those dates then commonly serve as milestone markers in our lives or society’s history. Life as we know it has changed and nothing will ever be the same again. School graduations, getting married, getting divorced, the birth of a child, deaths in the family, are ones that affect us all personally. As a society, we now reference the attack on the World Trade Center many times as “pre” and “post 9/11”. When I lived in Biloxi, Miss., a couple of times during my military career, locals would drop “Katrina,” in their references to the past. Conversations about economic matters could simply have, “The Great Depression” or “2008” dropped in the middle of it and all involved immediately understand the context. Pearl Harbor, D-Day, JFK, this list goes on. Human history has been commonly measured by using AD and BC.

As sports fans, statistics are what we use as the single most important measuring tool for progress or regression. They are what we lean on most to argue for or against the support of our favorite teams and players or most hated rivals. For NBA fans, the Michael Jordan era serves as the marker between two distinct times in the league’s history. Major League Baseball is embroiled in the “Asterisk Era.” Once the use of PEDs became known to be rampant in the big leagues, heroes and record breaking in professional baseball has never been viewed the same. College football’s BCS era has served to divide college football’s truly epic history into two distinct times. Before the BCS series, college football champions were decided as a result of a vote. The Lance Armstrong saga served as a time in cycling history that it has still has not recovered from. When was the last time the world was glued to Tour de France coverage?

We have our historical dates at Arizona that have served to mold our passion for all things Cardinal and Navy. Wildcat Basketball fans have images burned in their mind that will last a lifetime. Where were you on March 31, 1997? What did Bennett Davison do to celebrate with Lute Olson immediately after the final buzzer sounded?

Arizona Football has similar eras in my mind. There was a time when Arizona welcomed all comers. The best, legendary programs in college football came to Arizona Stadium and the Cats made their way to them. Arizona has a history playing against Notre Dame. Oklahoma and Ohio State. Epic battles with the Miami Hurricanes lasted for years. Those gridiron wars brought out the best in our underrated, under-recruited, almost always overlooked, Wildcats. They molded one group into what many sports analysts and even Dick Tomey himself has said was perhaps the best college football defense of all time. No one had a clue who they were before they arrived in Tucson. During their time here, Heisman hopefuls had those hopes dashed when they would come to town. The entire sports world came to know them and pain they would bring. Outside of Tucson, people had never seen an undersized defensive end get blocked to the ground and then crawl on all fours to get a sack on a QB. For Tucsonans, that was just TedyTedy Bruschi. Those plays were part of a typical Saturday at Arizona Stadium. Seeing explosive, top-ranked offenses held to negative yards total after four quarters? Another day at the office for the Desert Swarm. A sack by the Desert Swarm was celebrated in the stands with as much elation as a touchdown. A tackle for loss would get 57,000 fans frenzied to the point that TV cameras couldn’t hold steady trying to air the action. I recall Rob Waldrop getting into the offensive backfield fast enough to almost beat the opposing running back to the ball and take the hand off himself. Waldrop had to settle for a forced fumble and recovery instead.

Eras draw to a close though. Either through our own doing or by simply running their course.

One day in Arizona’s football history in particular has stood out to me for almost 17 years and has the same emotional effect on me to this day. As a lifelong Arizona Wildcats football fan, it is the day in which nothing was ever the same after. The day that told me the days of Desert Swarm style play was gone for good. It set the program back perhaps 10 to 15 years and sent fandom at Arizona Stadium into a dark age.

To be continued…

Jose Roman Jr. was born a Wildcat fan. Lifetime fanhood was solidified when he was able to meet Tedy Bruschi, Sean Harris, Brandon Sanders, Chuck Levy and Ontiwaun Carter as a sixth grader. Having served 10 years in the armed forces and been deployed all over the world, he’s still managed to make it to every Arizona home football game, bowl game and at least one away game for the last 12 years. Now combining his love of writing with his love of all things sports, Jose is proud and honored to be with as a writer.


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