Top 50 football players in Arizona Wildcats history: No. 27 Eddie Wilsonby Anthony Gimino on Aug. 06, 2013, under Arizona football
Position, years at UA: Quarterback, 1959-61
Honors, accomplishments at UA: Earned third-team AP All-American honors in 1961. … He was eighth nationally in passing in 1961 with 79 completions (the NCAA didn’t begin ranking quarterbacks by passing efficiency until 1979).
Why he made our list: Eddie Wilson, a graduate of Chandler High, remains the only UA quarterback to pick up any sort of AP All-America mention, making the 1961 third team. He led UA to an 8-1-1 record that season, pairing with “Touchdown Twins” Bobby Lee Thompson and Joe Hernandez to form one of college football’s better backfields of the day.
The overall statistical offensive numbers from more than a half-century ago can’t compare with modern college football, but Wilson was fifth nationally in 1961 with his 1,377 total yards. He also played defensive back, was a standout punter and handled place-kicking during his career, booting a 30-yard field goal with 14 seconds left to beat Idaho 16-14 in 1959.
UA was 14-1-1 in his last 16 starts, including a program-best 11-game unbeaten streak. The tie came in a 14-14 game at Nebraska, which was favored by two touchdowns.
The 1961 team became known as the “Cardiac Cats” for several crazy finishes. That included the New Mexico game, when the Lobos fumbled at the UA 4-yard line with 2:59 left before Wilson led a 96-yard touchdown drive. UA, not wanting another tie on its record, went for the 2-point conversion, with Wilson passing to Thompson for a 22-21 victory.
Wilson’s late 32-yard touchdown pass to Thompson beat nationally ranked Wyoming 20-15. A 1995 column in the Arizona Daily Star included a 1961 quote about Wilson from Wyoming coach Bob Devaney: “He’s a better quarterback than either Roman Gabriel or John Hadl. That’s right, I regard Eddie Wilson as better than either one.”
And then there was Wilson’s final game as a Wildcat. Arizona trailed ASU 13-3 at halftime, but Wilson ignited a 19-0 blitz with a touchdown pass to Walter Mince, and Thompson produced a tackle-shredding 67-yard run, as UA went on to upset 20th-ranked ASU 22-13.
Life after college: Wilson had offers from the NFL, AFL and the CFL after college, including being a second-round pick of the NFL’s Detroit Lions, No. 24 overall. Wilson signed instead with the AFL’s Dallas Texans (who became the Kansas City Chiefs in 1963), serving as a backup to Len Dawson for three seasons. He spent 1965 with the Boston Patriots, finishing his career with these totals: 90 completions in 186 attempts for 1,251 yards, with five touchdowns and six interceptions.
Wilson then launched a coaching career, starting at UA from 1967 to 1971. He went on to assist at Duke (in two stints), the Kansas City Chiefs, Florida State, Wake Forest, Army, Cornell, Division III Hobart College and Georgia Tech.
Wilson, who will turn 73 this month, is retired and lives in Arizona.
In partnership with the Arizona Republic, we are counting down the top 50 football players in Arizona Wildcats history. Leave your top 10 at AG’s Wildcat Report on Facebook, and check out azcentral.com for the countdown of ASU’s Top 50 football players.
No. 50 — LaMonte Hunley
No. 49 — Hubie Oliver
No. 48 — Rob Gronkowski
No. 47 — Jim Donarski
No. 46 — Ontiwaun Carter
No. 45 — Steve McLaughlin
No. 44 — John Fina
No. 43 — Glenn Parker
No. 42 — Bobby Lee Thompson
No. 41 — Marcus Bell
No. 40 — Fred W. Enke
No. 39 — Ka’Deem Carey
No. 38 — Juron Criner
No. 37 — Dana Wells
No. 36 — Tom Tunnicliffe
No. 35 — Bruce Hill
No. 34 — Chuck Osborne
No. 33 — Brandon Sanders
No. 32 — Sean Harris
No. 31 — Mike Thomas
No. 30 — Bobby Wade
No. 29 — T Bell
No. 28 — Joe Salave’a
Here is game film from Arizona’s 1960 game against Idaho, a 32-3 UA victory. The footage, which is shown in somewhat slow motion, was posted on-line last fall from the University of Idaho library. Wilson is No. 12, Joe Hernandez is No. 35 and Bobby Lee Thompson is No. 24.