In the 50 days leading up to Arizona’s season-opener against Toledo, on Sept. 1 at Arizona Stadium, TucsonCitizen.com and its affiliate WildAboutAZCats.net will rank the Top 50 games in the history of the football program. The ranking is at No. 42 as the kickoff to the Wildcats’ season — and the start of the Rich Rodriguez era — is only 42 days away.
SCORE: Arizona Wildcats 27, UCLA Bruins 24
DATE: Nov. 12, 1983
SITE: Arizona Stadium, 42,640 in attendance
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: Arizona’s dream start of 1983 — 4-0 and ranked No. 3 in the nation — turned into a nightmare by the time red-hot UCLA came to Tucson for the 10th game of that season. The Wildcats, derailed in Week Five by a 33-33 tie at Cal, in which the Golden Bears rallied from a 26-3 deficit in the second half, lost three consecutive games before they played the Bruins in this classic. Arizona fans became restless with head coach Larry Smith, although the Wildcats lost those three consecutive games by a total of only 19 points to Oregon, Stanford and No. 20 Washington. A crowd of only 42,640 showed up for the 10:30 a.m. kickoff, scheduled that early to accomodate the national television broadcast on CBS.
Those who attended were thankful they did not stay home because the finish was as good and improbable as any that has occurred at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats survived against a UCLA team quarterbacked by Rick Neuheisel that had won five straight games (after starting the season 0-3-1) and needed only a tie to punch its ticket to the Rose Bowl. Arizona wide receiver Jay Dobyns caught an 8-yard pass from Tom Tunnicliffe for the decisive touchdown with 61 seconds left, and UCLA All-American place-kicker John Lee — impeccable from within 40 yards — missed wide right on a 37-yard field goal attempt and a chance to tie the score on the final play of the game. Lee continues to hold the NCAA record for made field goals within 40 yards — 54 out of 56 (96.4 percent).