No. 1 on the Defensive Arizona Wildcats Badass List: Chuck Cecilby Javier Morales on Nov. 19, 2011, under Sports
Javier Morales took first place in the 2010 Arizona Press Club’s Metro Sports Reporting category
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No. 1: CHUCK CECIL, safety (1984-87)
The Minnesota Vikings better hope that Paul Wiggin, a personnel consultant with the team, has a better grip on player evaluations than what he showed with Chuck Cecil in 1983. The Arizona football program is thankful that Wiggin, the Stanford head coach at the time, allowed arguably the baddest of the badasses in Wildcat history to come to Tucson.
Wiggin did not offer a scholarship to Cecil — 6-feet and a scant 150 pounds out of San Diego Helix High School — and that helped fuel the fire for the “Heat-Seeking Missile” to succeed with the Wildcats. Wiggin reportedly told Cecil he was too small for major college football.
Cecil, who put all his suitors on hold while awaiting Wiggin’s decision, opted to follow the advice of former Arizona assistant Moe Ankney and walk on to the Arizona program. Cecil’s wait for Stanford cost him a chance for a scholarship with Arizona as a freshman because the Wildcats used their allotment of grants.
“He and his parents took a gamble,” Ankney told the Toledo Blade in 1987 when he prepared to coach against Arizona as the Bowling Green head coach. “They paid for his first year of college and I made a commitment to them that I’d get him grant-in-aid as soon as possible.”
Cecil, a three-time Pac-10 All-Academic selection as a safety, dedicated himself to earn that scholarship but his goals went far beyond that. A bookworm does not get the nickname “Heat-Seeking Missile”, given to the vicious-tackling Cecil by a North Carolina assistant coach after the Cats beat the Tar Heels 30-21 in the 1986 Aloha Bowl, their first bowl win in 65 years.
Former Arizona assistant Duane Akina scouted that game for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. Akina told Anthony Gimino of TucsonCitizen.com in 2009 that he was in awe of Cecil’s hits on North Carolina’s receivers and running backs. Cecil was responsible for causing two fumbles in the game.
“Chuck had some great hits. I remember sitting in the stands going, ‘God, I wonder who that kid is?’ ” Akina said. “When I got to Arizona (in 1987 as an assistant under newly-hired coach Dick Tomey), everyone was talking him up. And then when I saw him, I was like, ‘That’s him? This scrawny 180-pound kid?’ I thought I was going to see Ronnie Lott.”
Lott, a legendary NFL player nicknamed “The Intimidator”, may have been bigger than Cecil, but he had nothing on Cecil when it came to being a badass. In his sophomore season, Cecil played with a left thumb so badly broken that a doctor reportedly later said it looked as though it had been smashed with a hammer. His trademark was his bone-crunching tackles.
“He’s just like Chi Chi Rodriguez hitting a golf ball,” Tomey told Sports Illustrated in 1987 interview. “Everything he has is there at the right time.”
Cecil, who maxed out at 6-1, 185 pounds, had the best season for a UA safety when he was a senior in 1987, recording 136 tackles, breaking up 12 passes and intercepting nine. He finished his Arizona career with a record 21 picks, which still stands as the school record.
His hard-hitting style drew plenty of fines from the NFL, which considered his style a detriment to the league. Sports Illustrated ran an article in 1993 of Cecil, who was on the cover with the title: “Is Chuck Cecil too vicious for the NFL?”
“They’re saying what I do is dirty and cheap, but I’ve played this way forever,” Cecil told SI. “I signed a million-dollar contract because of it. People cheer when I make a big hit. I mean, that’s what I do.”
Cecil’s legendary status at Arizona was solidified in the Cats’ 34-17 victory over Rose Bowl-bound ASU in 1986. That’s when he returned an interception for 100 yards in what is arguably the greatest play in the history of the program.
An Arizona fan held up a sign that read, “You can’t smell roses with a broken nose.” That interception figuratively broke ASU’s nose because the Sun Devils were driving for a touchdown, making it a 14-point swing. The following year, in Tempe, Cecil recovered a fumbled snap by a ASU punter Mike Schuh when the Sun Devils appeared on the verge of winning. Gary Coston made a last-second field goal and the game ended in a tie.
“I would say Chuck had the most dynamic personality of anybody I’ve coached,” Akina told Gimino. “He probably affected his teammates more than any player I’ve had. That is true leadership. I have never coached another like him who could carry the classroom to the field and who was so damn tough.”
Cecil, 47, served as an assistant coach for the Tennessee Titans from 2001-2010. He was out of coaching this season. Arizona fans have suggested that Cecil’s name be included as a candidate for the Arizona head coaching position.
THE BADASS LIST
1. Chuck Cecil, safety (1984-87)
2. Ricky Hunley, linebacker (1980-83)
3. Rob Waldrop, defensive tackle (1990-93)
4. Tedy Bruschi, defensive end (1992-95)
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)
1. Jay Dobyns, wide receiver (1982-84)
2. Richard Dice, wide receiver (1993-96)
3. Kelvin Eafon, tailback/fullback (1996-98)
4. David Adams, tailback (1984-86)
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)