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1978 flashback: “Back the Cats, WAC to PAC”

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100 DAYS UNTIL KICKOFF 2013
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The Arizona football team begins its 2013 season against Northern Arizona at Arizona Stadium on Aug. 30, which is 78 days away. From now until then, this Web site will count down the days with facts about the Wildcats, their players, coaching staff and opponents. This is not a ranking, only a list of 100 facts and observances related to the 2013 Arizona football team and coach Rich Rodriguez.

A Long Beach Press-Telegram article indicates the WAC's dislike of Arizona and ASU moving to the Pac-10 in 1978.

A Long Beach Press-Telegram article indicates the WAC’s dislike of Arizona and ASU moving to the Pac-10 in 1978.

With this being Day No. 78 on our countdown, let’s flash back to 1978, the year Arizona played its first Pac-10 game after competing in the Western Athletic Conference from 1962-1977.

The Wildcats beat Oregon State 21-7 in front of 49,056 at Arizona Stadium in their first Pac-10 game, two weeks into the season on Sept. 16, 1978.

The No. 1 song on the charts was “Boogie Oogie Oogie” by Taste of Honey. The movie Grease, with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, was in the middle of an incredible run — 15 out of 16 weeks — in which it was the top grossing film in the U.S.

Not to make you feel depressed, but a gallon of gas cost 48 cents.

I remember my father in 1978 put a bumper sticker on the family station wagon with the slogan “Back the Cats: WAC to PAC”. It remained on the car when we moved from Tucson to the Washington, D.C., area a year later. We heard some honks and some boos from people with Utah license plates after we reached D.C. That’s an indication of what WAC schools thought about Arizona and ASU joining what was the Pac-8 in 1978.

Presidents of the six other WAC schools were outraged when Arizona and ASU announced Jan. 6, 1977, that they would leave the WAC for the Pac-8 (and the lucrative Los Angeles market with USC and UCLA) effective the 1978-79 season. The WAC presidents sent a telegram to the Arizona Board of Regents indicating that they expected Arizona and ASU to honor their football scheduling contracts with their schools through 1981.

“We feel it is in the best interest of the WAC to look for new members,” former UA president John Schaefer was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. “The increased membership would alleviate the scheduling problems caused by the withdrawal of the Arizona universities and enable the WAC to complete their schedule much sooner.”

The WAC presidents relented and sought other members. In three consecutive years, starting in 1978, the WAC added San Diego State, Hawaii and Air Force.

Arizona’s first Pac-10 game against Oregon State included controversy off the field, fueled perhaps by former UA coach Tony Mason in a surreptitious way.

Was the late Tony Mason behind a motivational ploy in Arizona's first win in the Pac-10 in 1978?

Was the late Tony Mason behind a motivational ploy in Arizona’s first win in the Pac-10 in 1978?

According to former Tucson Citizen columnist Corky Simpson, a mysterious classified ad placed in the Los Angeles Times earlier in the week inspired the victory over Oregon State.

The classified ad was clipped out of the Times and tacked on the bulletin board in the Arizona locker room. It read:

“We welcome the Arizona schools to the Pac-10. Now we no longer have to be on the bottom.”

It was signed, “Oregon State boosters.”

Arizona's helmet in the Wildcats' inaugural season in the Pac-10 in 1978

Arizona’s helmet in the Wildcats’ inaugural season in the Pac-10 in 1978

Sounds a bit fishy doesn’t it? Why would the Beavers’ supporters make comment of their inadequacies over the years?

After the Wildcats defeated the Beavers, one of the players hoisted a placard bearing the words of the Times advertisement. UA linebacker Corky Ingraham told reporters, “That clipping was the difference. It got us up more than anything.”

Simpson writes that nobody knew where the ad came from or who paid for it, “but everybody suspected the loquacious UA head coach.”

He asked Mason before the former coach passed away in 1994 if he had paid for the mysterious classified ad. “Me?” Mason told Simpson with a wink.

Jim Krohn, an Amphi High School graduate, quarterbacked the Wildcats to the victory over Oregon State in 1978. Arizona withstood two Beavers’ scoring threats in the final period before Krohn directed the Cats on a 74-yard scoring drive that gave them a two-touchdown lead with 5:59 left in the game.

Larry Heater’s 1-yard run and Bill Zivic’s extra point provided the final margin.

“It was an exciting time,” Krohn told Simpson. “There was a lot of buzz on campus and talk around town about us moving into the ‘big time.’ As players, we felt going in that we were probably in the middle of the Pac-10 competitively, but to go out there and show it, in your first game in the league, was something special.”

* * * * *

The best No. 78 to play for Arizona? According to Anthony Gimino’s list at TucsonCitizen.com, that honor goes to offensive tackle Rob Woods (1986-88), a fourth-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1989. He and offensive line teammate Joe Tofflemire, an All-Pac-10 center, were drafted that year. Tofflemire was a second-round selection.

WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.

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