Joe Cavaleri blew kisses to the crowd as he walked off the McKale Center court as the Ooh Aah Man for the final time.
Cavaleri, a Tucson tradition for 34 years, retired from his superfan duties Saturday after performing in the second half of the Arizona Wildcats’ 73-58 victory over Arizona State.
The university honored him at halftime — it was such a big deal that UA president Ann Weaver Hart was there — and presented him with gifts. A tribute was played on the video board (you can watch the video below).
I asked Arizona coach Sean Miller about the Ooh Aah Man last week.
“There are so many great traditions in McKale, and he’s one of them,” Miller said.
“I know if you’re from out of town … you might not completely understand, but if you’ve been here a long time, he’s obviously a great tradition and a real part of the environment in McKale. I think he reflects the passion Tucson has about game day in McKale.”
Miller played in McKale on Dec. 20, 1988, as Pitt’s starting point guard, but he said he didn’t recall noticing the Ooh Aah Man at that time.
“We were getting beat so bad, I was just trying to get from ‘point A’ to ‘point B’ and go home,” Miller said of the 88-62 loss to Arizona. “That’s the truth.”
Before Saturday’s game, I also spent a couple of minutes reminiscing about Cavaleri with former UA player and current radio/TV analyst Matt Muehlebach.
“As a player, I will say this: ‘You knew when Ooh Aah was there, because there would be this incredible roar, different than anything else in a timeout,” Muehlebach said. “I remember you would break from the huddle and he’d be there picking up all these clothes and you’re kind of like, ‘What is going on here?’”
Muehlebach also recalled running into Cavaleri in his other role in those days — as a bartender.
“When it really hit home for me was when I turned 21 and I figured out they have this thing called Happy Hour that you can go to when you’re 21,” Muehlebach said.
“I went to Carlos Murphy’s and I saw the Ooh Aah Man — I didn’t know his name then — and said, ‘What is he doing here?’ It cemented for me that this guy is a Tucson fixture. I actually sat down and talked to him while I was there and got a little bit of his history.
“Now, fast forward to one of the games I did this year on TV (for the Pac-12 Networks) with Jim Watson. We go to commercial and Ooh Aah Man comes out, and Jim turns to me and he’s like, ‘Who is this guy? What is this?’ So, I explained it to him quickly and he loved it.”