The Arizona football team begins its 2013 season against Northern Arizona at Arizona Stadium on Aug. 30, which is 16 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.
The passing of Dave Sitton on Monday brought the end of an era in Arizona television broadcasting that will be difficult to top, especially with the Pac-12 controlling most of the UA’s broadcasts with its network.
Last year, instead of Sitton handling the play-by-play on a Fox Sports Network telecast, we listened to the voices Ted Robinson, Kevin Calabro, and Dave Fleming of the Pac-12 Networks.
Oh, where have you gone Pete Solomon? We long for the days of Kent Derdivanis.
Mr. Sitton, you were taken too soon from us in this life and in the booth.
Those of us who have followed the UA for the last 40 years remember the good old days, staying up past the Saturday evening news to watch the taped telecast of the Wildcats’ game earlier that day or night. We attended the game that night and got home in time to at least watch the second half of the game to relive the top plays and hear what the announcers might have to say.
Throughout the 1990s, it was Sitton handling the flow of the game while Bruce Larson, a former UA basketball coach and elderly statesman of the athletic department, handled the color commentary. Sitton later teamed in the TV broadcast booth with Chuck Cecil, former UA coach Larry Smith, John Fina and Glenn Parker.
Players and coaches directly associated with the UA football program were not always part of the football telecasts, which was a peculiar and bold move by the television networks who broadcast the Wildcats’ games.
In the early 1980s, KGUN-TV broadcasters Dan Sorenson and Dave Silver described the action. Silver also teamed with Solomon that decade. Toward the end of the 1980’s, we listened to Derdivanis and Larson call the action.
Those combinations worked because of the professionalism of Silver, Solomon, Derdivanis and Sitton as the primary voice behind the mic.
Sitton and Larson, a respected associate professor in the UA Department of Exercise and Sports Sciences, were an unlikely pair in the booth. Sitton realized for the broadcasts to be entertaining, he must be the counterpart to Larson’s straight-and-narrow, crusty style. Their union for 10 years contributed to Sitton becoming more of an off-beat announcer who tried to bring amusement to the telecasts.
When a team had no points, Sitton called it “nil” — a common rugby term — because of his background as coach of the UA’s rugby club team.
Sitton always liked to point out when a player made the tackle on the ball carrier with the identical number. “He looked like the better No. 33 on that play,” Sitton would say.
Some Arizona followers playfully called Sitton’s comments, “Sittonisms”, such as the time he said, “I’m sure if you put a Rolls Royce on his back, he may fly.” You had to understand Sitton’s sense of humor to appreciate such comments. Some fans, who hide behind their message-board handles, took him to task because they did not understand the way Sitton expressed himself in UA football and basketball telecasts.
The vast majority who understood Sitton’s style knew he was a good broadcaster and an even better guy. Silver, Solomon and Derdivanis also brought a touch of class to the booth. They were not phony. What you heard, that’s who they were.
The same can be said about the radio broadcasts of Arizona games. Brian Jeffries has become an institution at Arizona.
Those who came before Jeffries on the UA’s radio broadcasts — Ray McNally and Ray Scott to name a couple — were radio pioneers and quintessential play-by-play announcers. Jeffries has blazed his own trail as the certifiable “Voice of the Wildcats” and has done so with class.
Silver, a fixture at KGUN-TV for 28 years, is of the same mold as Jeffries. He was not a showman like an ESPN anchor, but Tucsonans welcomed his stand-up delivery of sports in the booth and on the set.
Derdivanis also took his broadcasts of UA football seriously while maintaining a straight-forward, informative delivery, through any circumstance.
When UA place-kicker Doug Pfaff tried the potential game-winning 40-yard field goal against Oklahoma in 1989, Larson could be heard saying faintly, “He missed it.”
Pfaff’s kick was down the middle and it cleared the crossbar by a few feet. Instead of being thrown off by Larson’s comment, Derdivanis exclaimed with a strong voice, “It’s good! … It’s good! … Two seconds left!” Masterful. He then did the right thing, remaining quiet allowing the cameras to tell the story of the UA fans and players openly celebrating the 6-3 upset win over the Sooners at Arizona Stadium.
Solomon’s call of Max Zendejas’ game-winning field goal at Notre Dame in 1982 is a classic.
“48 yards into the wind … Six seconds to play … The boot is up! … It is goooood! … Down go the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame!”
Sitton left his mark on UA football broadcasts with his longevity, colorful style and incredible acceptance by UA players. They considered him part of the family. Several former Wildcats flooded Facebook with their heartfelt reaction of Sitton’s passing Monday morning at age 58 from a heart attack.
“I want everyone to know how much of a loss our friend Dave Sitton is,” former UA player Heath Bray wrote on his Facebook wall. “I have had the pleasure of meeting many people in my life. I have never met a person that I liked more than Dave.
“I have a deep hole in my heart today over his loss. He was one of the smartest, nicest, most sincere, and informed men that I will ever know. He was so supportive of me, and so many of us. We lost one of the greatest Wildcats ever today. He is one of the people that I cant wait to have a beer with in heaven. You are missed bro. Cheers.”
With the Pac-12 Networks and ESPN overtaking Arizona football telecasts, Sitton is the last Arizona-based voice of the Wildcats on the television.
They took away the local flavor of Wildcat broadcasts, but they can’t touch the memories of Sitton and the other men who graced the booth.
You can watch, and listen to, Derdivanis’ call of Pfaff’s heroics in the Arizona-Oklahoma game and Solomon’s call of Zendejas’ thrilling kick at Notre Dame in the following YouTube video:
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.