No. 5 on the Arizona Wildcats Badass List: Marcus Bell and Joe Tofflemireby Javier Morales on Nov. 05, 2011, under Sports
Javier Morales took first place in the 2010 Arizona Press Club’s Metro Sports Reporting category
Don’t forget: For all the links, Twitter feeds and news feeds related to Arizona and its opponents, go to Morales’ site WILDABOUTAZCATS.NET. No other Arizona sports Web site is like it!
No. 5: MARCUS BELL, linebacker (1996-99)
One Associated Press report entering the 1999 season suggested that Arizona senior Marcus Bell “might be the best linebacker in the country.”
Former Arizona coach Dick Tomey, whose analysis carries more weight, said of the diminutive 6-2, 235-pound Bell in a Sports Illustrated article: “He’s the best linebacker we’ve ever had here. He’s a tenacious competitor, and he runs like a defensive back.”
Tomey likely meant that Bell was the best linebacker since he started coaching Arizona in 1987. Ricky Hunley, Byron Evans and Chris Singleton — all Larry Smith recruits — might have something to say about who is the best linebacker. Bell, however, is one of the elite linebackers in the program’s history and he certainly belongs on this badass list of Wildcats.
And being a badass has nothing to do with Bell accidentally leveling an NFL referee during a game with Seattle in 2003 (of which he was fined $25,000) but some fans might beg to differ.
Bell would have fit right in with his predecessors — the vaunted Desert Swarm — but he wanted to carve his own niche with the Wildcats.
“You can’t live off of tradition or heritage,” Bell said in an Associated Press report in 1998. “You have to work hard and make a name for yourself.”
Nothing came easy for Bell from the start, as the undersized player was recruited only by NAU, Utah State and Arizona out of St. Johns High School in a remote part of northeast Arizona. Bell was a star running back (he gained more than 1,800 yards and scored 24 touchdowns as a senior there) and wrestler at St. Johns.
Tomey actually noticed Bell not during a football game but during a wrestling match. Bell never lost a football game or wrestling match during his high school career.
“There was not a harder working player, studying film and putting time in to be a great player,” his high school coach Mike Morgan told the White Mountain Independent in May.
When the Wildcats went 12-1 in 1998, Bell, a middle linebacker, made more than twice as many tackles (139) as any other Wildcat defender. He led the conference in tackles that season and as senior in 1999 with 124 tackles. He ranks fifth all-time on the Arizona charts for overall tackles (405) and unassisted tackles (264).
How much did Bell hate to lose? The last time he played ASU in Sun Devil Stadium — in 1999 when the Wildcats lost 42-27 — he was the last player left in the locker room more than 30 minutes after the game ended. That was also the last game of his college career. He sat alone, still wearing his uniform, reflecting on what went wrong.
He was drafted by Seattle in the fourth round in 2000 and played three seasons in the NFL. He was cut by the Seahawks after the 2003 season despite starting nine games. He tried to make the Houston Texans’ roster in 2004 but was placed on injured reserve because of a shoulder injury. He never played again.
Bell, 34, who returned to Arizona to serve as a defensive graduate assistant coach, is now the head coach at Eagar Round Valley High School, ironically a rival of St. Johns.
No. 5 JOE TOFFLEMIRE, center (1985-1988)
To be sure, this badass list does not in any way mean these former Wildcats are bad people. Far from it. It means they played tough, worked harder than others, and branded themselves on the UA program because of their intense play on the field.
The late Joe Tofflemire, who passed at 46 because of heart failure in September, is an example of a genuinely good human being who was an undeniable force on the field, a veritable badass.
“He was big and tough, but he was never a fighter – more of a protector,” Mike Valente, a quarterback who took snaps from Tofflemire at Post Falls (Wash.) High School, told the Tacoma Spokesman-Review. “Being an offensive lineman fit.”
I had the pleasure of attending a class with Tofflemire when we were UA students. He was a three-time All-Pac-10 selection and Morris Trophy winner for the top lineman in the league, but the accolades never went to his head. He was just like all of us in the class, unbecoming of his fame, a regular guy.
He lived in Seattle until 2006 since joining the Seahawks in 1989 (as a second-round draft choice). He returned to Post Falls after the death of his father, John, to help care for his mother, Anna. That’s an indication of what kind of man Tofflemire was off the field.
He was also a class act on the field, but he made opposing noseguards pay nonetheless.
“I’ve never seen anybody work harder in the gym,” his brother Paul, who followed Joe as center for the Wildcats, told the Spokesman-Review.
Tofflemire was one of the UA’s captains in 1988. He was selected to the UA Sports Hall of Fame in 1994.
“He was the complete leader,” former UA offensive lineman standout John Fina told Anthony Gimino of TucsonCitizen.com after Tofflemire’s passing. “He would get up and talk and lead by example.
“He didn’t tolerate any lackadaisical attitude from himself or from anyone else. He wanted to win football games, and anyone who wasn’t willing to be a part of that wasn’t going to be a friend of his.”
Another former UA offensive lineman great Glenn Parker, No. 6 on our Badass List, told Gimino: “It wasn’t his nature to scream at people. His nature was to laugh and smile. But when he did tell someone to jump on the bus, it meant something.”
Tofflemire’s injury-riddled NFL career lasted until 1995. His 33 appearances were mostly in 1990 and 1992.
When I communicated with Arizona Daily Star columnist Greg Hansen after Tofflemire’s death, Hansen told me he saw Tofflemire on the sideline during a UA-Washington game a couple of years ago in Seattle. He mentioned that Tofflemire had trouble walking because of his football injuries.
Tofflemire did not let that inhibit him. He still made it to the game to cheer on his alma mater. He was a warrior, a badass, to be sure.
THE BADASS LIST
5. Marcus Bell, linebacker (1996-99)
6. Byron Evans, linebacker (1983-86)
7. Brant Boyer, linebacker (1992-93)
8. Ty Parten, defensive tackle (1989-92)
9. Jimmie Hopkins, defensive end (1990-93)
10. Al “Bubba” Gross, safety (1979-82)
5. Joe Tofflemire, center (1985-88)
6. Glenn Parker, offensive guard (1988-89)
7. Rob Gronkowski, tight end (2007-08)
8. Hicham El-Mashtoub, center (1991-94)
9. Dennis Northcutt, wide receiver (1996-99)
10. Nick Foles, quarterback (2009-11)