NCAA titles don’t come often so enjoy Arizona’s while you have the opportunityby Javier Morales on Jun. 26, 2012, under Sports
Javier Morales took first place in the 2010 Arizona Press Club’s Metro Sports Reporting category. For a different look at University of Arizona sports, check out Javier’s unique Web site: WILDABOUTAZCATS.net
A couple of days after Arizona won the 1997 NCAA men’s basketball championship, I remember asking former assistant coach Jim Rosborough to put into words what the accomplishment meant to his career.
“This may never happen again,” he said. “In fact, odds are it won’t, at least in my lifetime. I hope that’s not the case, but that’s reality.”
The Wildcats won their first championship in 1997, some 92 years after the school played its first basketball game. They have not won a title since, although they came close in 2001, when they lost to Duke in the championship.
The UA baseball team Monday night won its first NCAA title in 26 years. None of the current Wildcats were alive back then and coach Andy Lopez was only 32 and in his fourth season as a head coach at Cal State-Dominguez Hills.
“For us, this is my 35th year as a head coach; five at the high school level and 30 at the college level. I’ve been really fortunate,” said Lopez, who won a national title in 1992 as head coach of Pepperdine. “So the old saying that an old dog can’t learn new tricks, I mean, a picture is worth a thousand words. Just take a picture of me.”
Lopez’s 20 seasons between titles is a record for time between championship wins for a coach. In that span, he has also coached at Florida and Arizona, taking each team to the College World Series. If it takes him another 20 years to win a title, he will be 78 years old. He likely will be retired by then.
The NCAA was formed in 1906 as the Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Arizona’s NCAA championship Monday is the 18th in school history. That means the Wildcats average an NCAA title every 5.8 years since the governing body was formed 106 years ago. That’s not too long of a wait, you say, but this is factoring in all men’s and women’s sports. The UA men’s hoops team is averaging a title once every 92 years.
The UA’s baseball program started in 1904. Here we are, 108 years later, and the Wildcats now have four national titles. That’s an average of one every 27 years since Arizona played its first baseball game.
The Arizona football program has not won an outright Pac-12 (formerly Pac-10) title, so any talk about a national title seems always remote at best. Will we be around to see either happen? Please don’t ask that to a Chicago Cubs fan.
Personally, no other year was like 1983. My favorite professional teams — the Washington Redskins, Philadelphia 76ers and Baltimore Orioles — all won a world championship that year. How many titles have they won since, in the last 30 years? Just two, by the Redskins in 1988 and 1992.
Fans of dynasties such as the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics are truly blessed. But even they go through dry spells. These six franchises have won only six championships in the last 10 years — one by the Yankees, two by the Steelers, two by the Lakers and one by the Celtics. The 49ers have not won a title since 1994; the Cowboys have run dry since 1995.
The natural belief after a team wins a title is that it will be good enough to win another right away. It is just not that easy. Chances are a title will be achieved when you least expect it.
Arizona’s baseball team was not a national seed in the postseason. As longtime Tucson sportswriter Steve Rivera pointed out the Wildcats lost to North Dakota State in the second game of the season. They lost — behind No. 1 starter Kurt Heyer — to Washington State in March and later got swept by New Mexico State.
The Wildcats’ basketball team in 1997 finished fifth in the Pac-10. Lute Olson has coached more talented teams with All-American players — such as Sean Elliott in 1987-88 and 1988-89 — yet that is the only NCAA title in his 35-year coaching career.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s famous quote “Success is fleeting, but obscurity is forever”, essentially means a person can be on top for only so long and will likely experience more disappointment in his or her attempt to reach the summit. Not to sound cliche, but it’s the effort during this process that defines a person or team in trying to reach their goal.
Championships are few and far between, but our allegiance to these teams, the athletes and coaches and their talents and stories keep us coming back for more every year. That will suffice for me.