Ranking the biggest home games in Arizona football historyby Anthony Gimino on Nov. 20, 2009, under Sports
This is it. The biggest home football game Arizona has ever played. Or at least the most important. Or the most anticipated. Or all of that.
It is Arizona vs. Oregon. ESPN’s College Football GameDay is here. Fans are encouraged to turn Arizona Stadium into a “Red Out” on Saturday night. Control of the Pac-10 race on the line.
Arizona isn’t a spoiler, its usual role at this time of the year. With a one-two-three punch, the Wildcats can knock down the Ducks, defeat the Devils, conquer the Trojans and grab a few hundred bouquet of roses.
Do we expect that to happen? No. But everyone can still dream. That’s the point.
That’s what makes this the biggest, most important, most anticipated home game Arizona has ever played.
For now, we see the five other biggest home games like this:
1. Washington, Nov. 7, 1992
No. 1 Washington had won 22 games in a row, including a 54-0 whitewash of the Wildcats a year earlier, and had been co-national champs in 1991. Arizona, out of the blue, had won four in a row behind the early stirrings of the Desert Swarm defense. The nickname was so new that ABC sideline reporter Jack Arute mistakenly called it “Desert Storm” that day.
Everyone knew what it was by the end of the game. A sun-drenched crowd of 58,510 watched Arizona upset the Huskies 16-3 to improve to 4-1-1 in the Pac-10.
Although Washington would eventually make it to the Rose Bowl, this marked the beginning of the end for the Huskies, who learned that week of an investigation into quarterback Billy Joe Hobert.
Arizona lost its final two games of the regular season in painful fashion — 14-7 at USC on a fourth-quarter halfback touchdown pass from Deon Strother, and 7-6 to Arizona State on a 51-yard tackle-breaking run from Kevin Galbreath … the only time the Sun Devils crossed midfield all game.
If Arizona had won its last two games, it would have finished 6-1-1 in the conference, a half-game ahead of Washington and Stanford at 6-2.
2. UCLA, Oct. 10, 1998
Ortege Jenkins’ Leap by the Lake happened a week earlier, so Tucson was as amped as possible as the No. 10 Wildcats took on No. 3 UCLA, the first Pac-10 meeting of top-10 teams in seven years. ABC yawned, opting to televise No. 21 Notre Dame at 2-2 Arizona State instead.
It was still early in the season, so the game didn’t take on a winner-take-all quality, even though that is how it turned out to be. Arizona was 5-0 overall, 2-0 in the league. UCLA, with Heisman candidate quarterback Cade McNown, was 3-0 and 1-0.
A crowd of 58,738 turned out to see two dynamic offenses, and it was quite a show through three quarters, with the Bruins holding a 31-28 lead. But one play early in the fourth quarter broke Arizona … and its best player was the one responsible.
McNown, as he had earlier in the game, ran down the line to his left, showing option. This time, however, he stopped, dropped back and hit a wide-open Danny Farmer for a 64-yard touchdown. All-American cornerback Chris McAlister had fallen for the fake.
”We ran a couple of options on them a few times and the corners blew off the wide receivers,” McNown said after the game. ”We had a feeling that it was going to work.”
UCLA scored 21 fourth-quarter points and won 52-28. The Bruins wouldn’t lose until a hurricane-delayed game at Miami on Dec. 5, knocking UCLA out of the first BCS national title game. If the Bruins had been able to tackle Edgerrin James that day, Arizona, at 11-1 in the regular season, would have gone to the Rose Bowl as the Pac-10 representative while UCLA played for the national championship.
3. Arizona State, Nov. 27, 1982
ASU fans brought roses to Arizona Stadium as the Sun Devils, coming in ranked sixth in the nation with a 5-1 league mark, needed just to beat a 5-4-1 Arizona team to get to its first Rose Bowl.
Arizona State, thanks mostly to coach Frank Kush, had a headlock on the rivalry at that time, winning 15 of the previous 17 games. But with 58,515 on hand, the Wildcats turned those red roses black.
The signature play was Brian Holland taking a short pass from Tom Tunicliffe and racing 92 yards for a touchdown. UA held on to win 28-18, sending UCLA to the Rose Bowl instead of ASU.
For Arizona, it was the glorious start of a nine-year unbeaten streak against ASU.
4. UCLA, Nov. 9, 1985
The Wildcats came into the game at 3-1 in the conference, and they played only seven conference games that season in what was an unbalanced league schedule in those days. The Wildcats, if they could win their final three games, starting with 14th-ranked UCLA (6-1-1, 4-1), would be the Pac-10 champs.
Arizona trailed 17-0 at halftime, but began to rally when Chuck Cecil — who else? — blocked a punt that went out of bounds at the UCLA 7. James DeBow scored two plays later to cut the lead to 10. The Bruins regained a 17-point lead with the help of a long pass from (future Pac-10 TV analyst) David Norrie to (future UCLA head coach) Karl Dorrell.
The Wildcats weren’t done, scoring on another short DeBow run and getting a 61-yard interception return for a touchdown from lineman Dana Wells. Arizona missed the two-point conversion, however, to keep the score at 24-19. That was important because Arizona had the ball at the UCLA 32 as time ran out.
Think Max Zendejas could have kicked the tying field goal?
Arizona would win those final two games to finish 5-2 in the league. UCLA won at 6-2.
5. Arizona State, Nov. 22, 1986
The Sun Devils had already clinched the Pac-10 title and their first Rose Bowl appearance, but the Wildcats still found a way to be spoilers.
Playing in front of 58,267 — the second-largest crowd in Arizona Stadium at the time — Arizona shocked fourth-ranked ASU 34-17 with the most memorable play in school history. If you’ve seen it once, you’ve probably seen it hundreds of times, and it never gets old. Chuck Cecil’s 106-yard interception return for a touchdown.
“I just ran,” Cecil told the Citizen years later. “I still, to this day, don’t know why I ran it out.”
UPDATE: ValleyCat on UAsports.net points out that I missed one — the 1968 “ultimatum game” when Arizona beat 20th-ranked Wyoming 14-7 and then strong-armed the Sun Bowl to take the Wildcats over Arizona State, which then turned around and smacked UA 30-7. Too late, UA was headed to El Paso, and Phoenix officials were steamed enough to eventually create a local bowl — the Fiesta.
But, when I sat down to write this, my intent was to look at only the Pac-10 years. I forgot to include that caveat in the original version, which is one of the hazards of posting at 3:30 in the morning. Anyway, consider my top 5 list an examination of the Pac-10 years only.