Joe Cavaleri is uniquely UA.
Just the mere mention of the Ooh Aah Man is enough to bring a smile to your face.
Out of all the traditions in all of college sports, there has been only one of him, only one Ooh Aah Man, a guy who stands at midcourt of a basketball game during a second-half timeout, starts stripping off items of clothing and leading the fans in cheers.
It makes no sense.
And yet we’ve loved it.
Tucson has loved it for 34 years, since Cavaleri, fresh from a wedding reception and wearing a tuxedo, started leading a cheer from the stands of an Arizona baseball game in 1979. The Wildcats rallied to win that game. He came back for another game and led the cheer again: “Ooh aah, sock it to ‘em, Wildcats.”
It stuck. It all serendipitously stuck.
He started to be recognized at events, becoming the Ooh Aah Man and bringing his decibel-raising moves to McKale Center, starting with the days of coach Fred Snowden, through the Lute Olson glory years and all the way to Saturday afternoon. That will be his swan song.
Cavaleri, 61, will perform one more time during Senior Day against Arizona State and then it will be time. Time to hang up the red-and-white striped socks, the layers of T-shirts, the workout shorts. Time to retire from this beloved gig.
He told the Arizona Daily Star in 1991 that “I’ll do it until nobody wants me to do it anymore,” but his body is making this call. For decades, he has had health issues stemming from car wrecks, and he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease early in 2010.
He has needed the aid of a cane in recent years, but the fans never failed to respond. It will be great to see him doing what he loves — what we’ve loved him doing — one more time.
One more time moving his arms and body to spell out A-R-I-Z-O-N-A as the crowd chants along. One more time pointing to different sections of McKale, exhorting the crowd to shout “U of A … U of A.” One more time, raising his arms as a gesture for everyone to join in.
The crowd might blow the roof off the place Saturday.
Athletic director Greg Byrne, in his Wildcat Wednesday newsletter, wrote that Arizona will have a ceremony for Cavaleri at halftime. The Ooh Aah Man and his daughter, Olivia, will be guests of the athletic department at the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas next week. He also will continue to attend games at McKale Center as Arizona’s guest, Byrne wrote.
One of the best parts when he was on the court was to see players on the opposing team, huddled to talk strategy on the sideline, perhaps in a tight game, look away from their coach in confusion at this bearded man pulling down his shorts in front of 14,000-plus people.
He was part of the official cheerleading traveling party at the 1994 NCAA West Regional in Los Angeles, doing what he does, when a national columnist turned to an Arizona official and said, “Who is he? … And what’s wrong with him?”
Others might not have understood, but we always got it.
Cavaleri was with the team at the 1988 Final Four in Kansas City, when Oklahoma knocked out the Wildcats. Cavaleri was standing on the balcony of his hotel room. Several years later, he told me this story when I was at the Daily Star:
On that Kansas City night, he heard a voice from above.
“Are you going to jump?” someone asked.
“I don’t know. Are you?”
“Well, I was thinking about it.”
Steve Kerr never did jump from up high, despite suffering through one of the worst shooting nights of his career.
Ooh Aah Man to the rescue.
“I could give you a Steeeeeeve Kerrrr one more time,” he offered.
Kerr laughed. Ooh Aah laughed. Everything was better.
From the heart of a fan, the Ooh Aah Man made Arizona better for 34 years.
He’s been uniquely, memorably, UA.
The university has unveiled the “Ooh Aah Man” T-shirt, which is available on-line now and at the A-Store at McKale starting on Saturday. Arizona alum Marc Herman, the CEO of the Original Retro Brand, worked with Cavaleri on the design. Herman’s company is devoting profits from the sales to Cavaleri (who has been unable to work because of his health) and his family.