NOTE: This is part of our continuing countdown of the Top 50 football players in Arizona Wildcats history. This feature focuses on those players who made historical contributions to the program and the university.
The words reach out, nearly 87 years later, an exhortation, an inspiration, from the death bed of former University of Arizona quarterback John Button Salmon.
Those words, a rallying cry for generations, are more prominent than ever, stretching across 75 yards of the new FieldTurf at Arizona Stadium: Bear Down.
No former Wildcats athlete has left a more-permanent mark than Salmon, who, according to legend, gave football coach J.F. “Pop” McKale in 1926 a message for the team after being critically injured in an automobile crash.
“Tell them,” Salmon said, “tell the team to bear down.”
After Salmon died Oct. 18 of that year, McKale relayed the message to the team, igniting an enduring tradition. Bear Down became the name of the Arizona’s first gym. Marching band director Jack Lee wrote the school’s fight song, “Bear Down, Arizona,” now heartily sung by the Wildcats in the locker room after football victories.
And, in a sign of the times, #BearDown is a popular Twitter hashtag for all UA-related topics.
The current athletic department administration is more keen than ever to market and brand the Bear Down story, a uniquely UA legend that can help the Wildcats — such a common nickname among colleges, including four at the Football Bowl Subdivision level — gain recognition in a crowded media world.
“You want to set yourself apart, and that is not just from an athletic-department standpoint, but for alumni and for fans,” said James Francis, a senior associate athletic director who was a walk-on defensive back at UA from 1990 to 1993.
“You want something you can call your own. Bear Down is certainly that.”