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Memories of a lifetime: Arizona assistant Joe Salave’a knows about UA-ASU rivalry

Joe Salave'a, a stalwart of Arizona's defensive lines in the mid-1990s, helped the Cats beat ASU in 1997. Photo by Otto Greule Jr., Getty Images Sport

Arizona Wildcats defensive line coach Joe Salave’a still has pictures of it at home: He’s carrying the Arizona flag in a victory lap around Sun Devil Stadium.

The year was 1997, Salave’a's senior year, and the Wildcats had knocked off 12th-ranked ASU 28-16 in Tempe.

“A win against those guys is always a great, gratifying thing,” Salave’a said last week.

“It’s like Dallas vs. the Redskins. That’s what it means. If you’re from the state of Arizona, you understand.”

Salave’a, who spent three years of his NFL career as a defensive tackle with the Washington Redskins understands. He won his senior-season game against the Devils. That is what it’s all about it, he said.

“They are the ones who come to mind because it’s their last hoo-rah,” Salave’a said. “That is the one of the things I can remember us talking about the whole week. If there was anything left in the tank, this is it.”

If only the current group of Wildcats could bottle up the passion — and the performance — of Salave’a from 14 years ago. Salave’a had 3 1/2 sacks against the Devils that day in 1997.

Put that in perspective: One guy on one day had nearly half of the sack total that this entire Arizona team has managed in 10 games. (That would be eight sacks.)

Salave’a is in his first year as an assistant coach at Arizona. It might be his last, considering head coach Mike Stoops was fired in midseason.

He is one of two former Arizona players on the coaching staff (Jeff Hammerschmidt is the other). Salave’a might or might not have something to say to the team this week about what the rivalry means.

For Salave’a, it has meant memories and mementos for a lifetime: carrying the Arizona flag around Sun Devil Stadium.

Does it get any better than that?

“It’s hard to forget those kind of events,” he said.

It’s ancient history to the current Wildcats, but Arizona could learn some lessons from those 1997 Cats. They entered the ASU game at 5-5, and then went out and played as if they had nothing to lose.

Arizona broke out several trick plays on offense, effectively using quarterbacks Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins on field at the same time.

The most memorable play from the game came when ASU safety Mitchell Freedman jumped offsides, running past center Rusty James into the Arizona backfield. There was no whistle, but everyone stopped … except for Jenkins and receiver Brad Brennan, who took off down field and caught an uncontested 29-yard touchdown pass.

See. Memories for a lifetime.

And, by the way, Arizona’s victory that year knocked out ASU from consideration for the Fiesta Bowl … similar to how a UA victory this Saturday could knock out the Devils from contention in the Pac-12 South.

For Salave’a, it all goes back to the seniors, the ones who have been here the longest. Quarterback Nick Foles. Running back Keola Antolin. Safety Robert Golden. Cornerback Trevin Wade. Receivers Juron Criner, David Douglas and David Roberts, among others.

“As a freshman you don’t quite understand it,” Salave’a said.

But the seniors do.

Will any of them be running around Sun Devil Stadium in a victory lap Saturday night?

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