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New Hall of Famer Rob Waldrop thanks ex-Arizona coach Dick Tomey

Rob Waldrop at the awards dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City on Tuesday. Photo by Gene Boyars, National Football Foundation

The Arizona Wildcats’ Rob Waldrop is in the College Football Hall of Fame now. He shared the stage this week with Russell Maryland, Eddie George, Deion Sanders and others.

He wore a tux (owned, not rented).

It used to be that Waldrop, an All-American defensive tackle in 1992 and 1993, hated these kind of award shows.

When he won the 1993 Outland Trophy as the nation’s top interior lineman and the inaugural Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s top defensive player, he accepted on ESPN from a Tucson TV studio, wearing a borrowed jacket, a borrowed tie and wearing shorts hidden beneath a desk.

He used his Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year Award as a doorstop.

But this week’s ceremony marked college football’s highest honor, and Waldrop soaked it all in, becoming the third Arizona Wildcats player to be inducted into the Hall, joining linebacker Ricky Hunley and safety Chuck Cecil, who also was in attendance.

When the University of Arizona athletic department asked Waldrop if there was somebody he wanted at the ceremony, he selected his former head coach, Dick Tomey.

Waldrop said perhaps the best part of his time in New York City this week was being able to sit down and tell Tomey how much he meant to him.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how much he did to make me a better person and better young man,” Waldrop said.

“So many times, people get caught up in winning at all costs and they sacrifice their character and their integrity, and Tomey is not that guy. One of the things I’m most proud of is being able to say I played for that guy and to talk about what kind of coach he is, beyond the Xs and Os.”

Said Tomey: “The fact that he feels that is the greatest reward a coach can get.”

Athletic director Greg Byrne and his wife, Regina, were there in New York City. A few other ex-Cats, including Dana Wells (like Waldrop, an all-star defensive tackle from the Phoenix area), were there to join the celebration. Waldrop’s former roommate and teammate, linebacker Brant Boyer, surprised him by showing up at the last minute.

“One thing that encapsulates this whole thing is that it’s the only time in my career I was able to go to an awards show and enjoy it for what it is,” Waldrop said, “and to be humbled by the amount of people that came to support me.”

There has been a lot of talk in the past few weeks about Arizona tradition, and that new coach Rich Rodriguez won’t be burdened by it the same way he was at Michigan. The Wildcats history, of course, is spotty, still without a Rose Bowl appearance, but Rodriguez could do worse than focusing on the Desert Swarm defenses of the early 1990s.

“That was a special time,” Tomey said.

“That particular group that Rob was with, that will go down in history as one of the greatest defenses in college football. The rushing statistics were not even believable.”

Yes, it’s still hard to believe that 1993 team, when Waldrop was a senior, allowed just 30.1 rushing yards per game.

What Arizona could use now is some of that old Waldrop work ethic.

It’s different now, with “voluntary” summer workouts not really being voluntary. Twenty years ago, it wasn’t that way. During the summer, players usually scattered to their respective hometowns. Now, it’s more likely that players stay on campus, take summer classes and continue year-round training.

But for as hard as players think they are working now, they probably don’t match the inner drive that defined so many on those Desert Swarm teams.

Rob Waldrop was the anchor of the Desert Swarm defenses in 1992 and 1993. Photo by Otto Greule Jr., Getty Images Sport

“The difference with Rob came after his sophomore season,” Tomey said.

“He had a been a good player for us, a starter. That one summer he made a decision he was going to be great. He put himself on two-a-days. He went from being a good Pac-10 lineman to being the best in the country.

“He changed himself dramatically in terms of strength and speed, and for the rest of his career, it was a mismatch.”

Waldrop, 40, had a brief NFL career — it was never his focus, and he never wanted to bulk up to 300 pounds or so, as the Kansas City Chiefs wanted him to do — before a successful stint in the Canadian Football League.

He left his football career early, at 27, transitioned into law enforcement, then a successful marketing business in Tucson, and now back to law enforcement in Southern California. When he was working in marketing, it was his preference that clients not know his football background.

“He didn’t live off his football reputation,” Tomey said. “He did what he wanted to do with his life.”

Now, it might be harder for Waldrop to hide. He’s a Hall of Famer.

“The awards are nice, but I never got caught up in that. I was caught up in the team that we had and playing with those guys,” Waldrop said.

“But it was a nice way to close out my whole college football experience.”

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