Twenty years ago today, on a sun-drenched Tucson afternoon, with Keith Jackson on the call for ABC, the Arizona Wildcats played one of their greatest games.
In the kind of defensive slugfest that would be unrecognizable by today’s standards, Arizona upset No. 1 Washington 16-3, ending the Huskies’ 22-game winning streak.
The newly-minted Desert Swarm defense suffocated quarterback Mark Brunell, running back Napoleon Kaufman and the Huskies offense, Arizona punter Josh Miller routinely bailed the Cats out of field-position trouble, and a run-first offense kept hammering away.
What was the game plan on offense?
“Run inside and when it didn’t work, run inside again,” UA coach Dick Tomey said Nov. 7, 1992.
This is how Ivan Maisel, then of the Dallas Morning News and now of ESPN, started his game story:
TUCSON, Ariz. — If the real “Desert Storm” had been this plain, Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf would be running a PX in Killeen.
“Hey, we got it done,” Arizona tailback Chuck Levy said. “It may be ugly. But we got it done.”
The 12th-ranked Wildcats, with a game plan so dry it could sprout cactus, wore down No. 1 Washington, 16-3, Saturday before 58,510 in Arizona Delirium — um, Stadium.
How does the game rank in Arizona history? Javier Morales tackled that question this summer in his countdown of UA’s top 50 football games. Arizona-Washington, 1992, came in at No. 2.
The video at the top of this post is part one of Morales’ cut-up of the game. At the bottom is part two.
Here is how I recapped some of the game in a 2010 story for TucsonCitizen.com:
By the time Arizona played Washington in 1992, the defense recently had been named the Desert Swarm, although everything was still so new that sideline reporter Jake Arute referred to it as “Desert Storm” during the ABC broadcast.
In a span of several weeks, the Wildcats had transformed themselves from a rag-tag outfit with an embattled sixth-year coach, Dick Tomey, to one of the nation’s most fearsome teams.
It’s not revisionist history nearly 20 years later to say that Arizona knew it was going to win that day. Not could win. Would win. That team, at that time, had the vibe. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric, probably unmatched since.
“I had just been voted team captain that week,” recalled Bray, who was a backup quarterback that season after injuries forced him to give up defense, where he had played defensive back and linebacker.
“When the refs came into the locker room before the game to call for captains for the coin toss, it was like balloons fell from the ceiling. Everything was in the air — helmets, pads, cups. Everybody was screaming and yelling. It was like a party. You wouldn’t have expected that. …
“We walked out of the locker room that day, and there was not an empty seat in the house. You could tell from the coin flip, we were just going to win that game.”
The game was, as advertised, ruled by the defense. Well, that and special teams. If there was a game that personified Tomey’s “preserve your right to punt” philosophy, this was it. The game’s MVP was Arizona’s Josh Miller, who punted eight times for an average of 47.4 yards.
Other than that, the Desert Swarm of Rob Waldrop, Tedy Bruschi, Sean Harris, Jim Hoffman, Brant Boyer, Darryl Morrison, Keshon Johnson, Brandon Sanders, Tony Bouie and so much more just lined up with extreme confidence and hit the Huskies in the mouth over and over.
That was exactly what defensive coordinator Larry Mac Duff had been preaching.
“I remember Coach Mac Duff was just talking about hitting them and hitting them hard, and letting them know we weren’t going anywhere,” Bouie said.
“It all starts on the first series of the game on offense or defense. You have to establish who you are going to be in that game. I would tell them the team this year that you have to punish them, punish them every time they have the ball.”
At one point, here is how Arizona stuffed Washington’s star running Napoleon Kaufman on consecutive runs — no gain, loss of 1 yard, another loss of 1 yard (with a fumble), yet another loss of 1 yard, and then a loss of 2 yards.
“We didn’t luckily win that ball game,” Bray said. “Let’s be very blunt about this: We beat their ass.”