WRITER’S NOTE: Here’s a feature to go with our countdown of the Top 50 football players in Arizona Wildcats history. Here is a look at where we very well could have messed up.
In our countdown of the top 50 University of Arizona football players of all time, there are easily 20 more who could have made the list and at least a few who probably should have made the list.
The agonizing choices came not at the top — which is mostly self-evident and already long-argued — but in the final 10 or so, where there simply aren’t enough slots in which to squeeze all the worthy players.
The question becomes, which player do you take off?
That’s the problem. Someday, we’ll have to do a top 75.
The hardest part was reaching far back in time, trying to make comparisons between different eras, different positions and what is, in so many ways, a different sport. Our list has representatives from every decade going back to the 1930s, but we might not have paid proper respect to many from the first half of the 20th century:
Quarterback Ted Bland (three-time All-Border Conference, 1933-35), end Hank “Birdlegs” Stanton (his 50 receptions in 1941 set an NCAA record), center Tom Greenfield (a first-team Little All-American in 1938), halfback Ramblin’ Robert Ruman (a third-team Little All-American in 1942 and a threat as a runner, passer, defensive back and punter), and Eddie Wolgast, who ended his career in 1950 with 2,022 rushing yards and 12 interceptions.
Closer to the present day, here are 10 more Wildcats who can make a compelling case to be among the top 50 in school history:
Tom Nelson, DT (1966-68) — Our biggest omission. Nelson was a third-team AP All-American in 1968, when he made a staggering 29 tackles for a loss for a team that went 8-3. He was co-captain of that team, which reached the national Top 20 and allowed only 10.5 points per game.
Randy Robbins, CB (1980-83) — He had 12 career interceptions and was first-team all-conference as a senior. Not as accomplished as other great Arizona corners, but on the list of UA’s best at the position.
David Adams, RB (1984-86) — The popular local kid from Sunnyside High packed a surprising punch at 5 feet 6 and 165 pounds, hard to bring down in traffic or in the open field. He ranks seventh in school history with 2,571 rushing yards, led the Wildcats on the ground for three consecutive seasons and was first in the Pac-10 in 1986 with 1,175 yards.
Obra Erby, LB (1974-76) — He could have made the list strictly on the nickname — Obra “The Cobra” Erby — and his 529 career tackles have bite almost 40 years later.
Cleveland Crosby, DT (1978-79) — The Purdue transfer played only two years at UA, earning second-team All-Pac-10 honors as a junior and first-team honors as a senior, when he had 16 tackles for loss, including eight sacks.
Willie Tuitama, QB (2005-08) — He threw for 9,211 yards and 67 touchdowns (tied with Nick Foles for the school record) and was a key piece of coach Mike Stoops’ rebuilding effort.
Joe Hernandez, RB/DB (1960-61) — “Jackrabbit Joe” was half of the Touchdown Twins with Bobby Lee Thompson, who was No. 42 on our list. They could have been a combined entry at that spot; perhaps we shouldn’t have separated them.
Jon Abbott, DT (1974-77) — All-WAC first-teamer made a combined 29 tackles for a loss in his final two seasons.
Jim O’Connor, OT (1972-73) — The transfer from Eastern Arizona College twice earned first-team All-WAC honors and was a third-team AP All-American in 1973.
David Wood, DT (1981-84) — He was a first-team All-Pac-10 performer who finished with 25 sacks, third on the school’s career list.
And then there are all-conference offensive linemen such as Warner Smith and Eben Britton, two-time 1,000-yard rusher Jim Upchurch, All-Pac-10 safety Dave Liggins (who intercepted Pitt’s Dan Marino twice in the 1979 Fiesta Bowl), All-WAC linebacker Mark Jacobs (who had 200 tackles in 1974), two-time All-Border Conference center Paul Hatcher, underappreciated Desert-Swarm-era defensive tackle Jim Hoffman (who had 22 1/2 sacks) …
The list goes on and on.
Yeah, next time we do this, it will have to be at least 75 deep.