We have reached 36 days until when the Arizona Wildcats kick off their 2018 season under new coach Kevin Sumlin. The season begins when Arizona hosts BYU on Sept. 1 at Arizona Stadium.
To get ready for the upcoming season, All Sports Tucson offers another countdown, which will include memories from former Wildcats, history notes and a look ahead to the season. Think of it as a way to keep Arizona football on the mind in the summer months leading up to fall camp in early August and then kickoff against the Cougars marking the start of the Sumlin Era.
To catch up on the countdown click on this: Arizona Wildcats 2018 countdown to kickoff.
1993 vs. 1998
The season marks some substantial anniversaries. It is the 40th anniversary since the Wildcats joined the Pac-12 (went from the Pac-8 to the Pac-10 then) and also the 20th anniversary of the 1998 team with the best record in school history, 12-1, and the 25th anniversary of the 1993 team that went 10-2 with a win over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.
A debate among Arizona followers has developed in recent years over which team was better — the 1993 team that brought the program the famed Desert Swarm defense (one of the top units in the history of college football) or the 1998 team that finished No. 4 in the nation and came basically a half away against UCLA from going unbeaten.
My colleague Anthony Gimino wrote about this debate for the Tucson Citizen in 2013.
Both teams were coached by Dick Tomey, the winningest coach in Arizona history (95-64-4 from 1987 to 2000).
We started the debate when it was 50 days to kickoff. All of the reader polls can be accessed here (you still have time to vote):
What they said about 1993 team
Illinois coach Lou Tepper after losing 16-14 on Sept. 18, 1993:
“If you just matched paper on paper, people on people, I’m sure Arizona might come out on the long end. That’s not the kind of defense you want to put a young offense against in its second game.”
Dana Wells, Arizona’s 1988 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, after watching the Illinois game in Champaign, Ill., commenting to The Arizona Daily Star:
“We’ve had a lot of great defensive teams at Arizona but this is the best. Geez. As far as defensive lineman goes, that’s as fine as I’ve ever seen anyone play. (Tedy) Bruschi made (the Illinois linemen) look like some Pop Warner League guys.”
Arizona had eight sacks and limited Illinois to 181 total yards. Bruschi made the game’s final big play, stripping the ball from Illinois quarterback Scott Weaver, who took a loss of 14 yards in the final 10 seconds.
Ricky Hunley, Arizona’s best player in history, coached against the Wildcats on Oct. 2, 1993 as a USC assistant:
“I think you can compare (Arizona’s) defense to any of the great defenses. You win championships with great defenses and Arizona has one.”
Rob Johnson, USC’s quarterback who passed for only 107 yards, 175 below his average, after the Trojans were throttled 38-7 by the Wildcats:
“They just did a great job shutting down our run and putting pressure on me. Once they got the lead to 28-0 (in the second quarter), it was over. That’s insurmountable against that defense. … It’s the best in the nation, and they proved it. I don’t care who they’ve played.”
Dick Tomey after beating USC:
“The thing that upsets me is that every time Arizona beat Oklahoma or USC or UCLA, it was called a damn upset. This isn’t an upset.”
Washington State QB Chad DeGrenier, sacked twice by Bruschi in the last possession of UA’s 9-6 win at Arizona Stadium on Oct. 23, 1993 (the Cougars were ranked No. 25):
“You rarely see a defensive lineman with that kind of speed. They have a good front overall but what sets him apart is his quickness. He made things difficult.”
Miami coach Dennis Erickson after the 29-0 shellacking by the Wildcats in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, 1994:
“They kicked the living tar out of us.”
Miami CB Paul White after the loss:
“You can’t say that they were like supermen, and they played unbelievable. They played like the University of Arizona. They played hard football, like they expected to play. The Miami Hurricanes went out there, and we did not play. It was nothing unusual. It was nothing great about it. The mystique of the Miami Hurricanes is not going to win games. Just because we have a ‘U’ on our helmets doesn’t win games. It’s hard work. We’re at the bottom right now.”
Stanford coach Bill Walsh before the Cardinal lost 27-24 to Arizona in Tucson on Oct. 16, 1993:
“I honestly believe that Arizona will be our Rose Bowl representative and I’d be proud if they were.”
The late Homer Smith, UCLA offensive coordinator in 1993 who later became Arizona’s offensive coordinator in 1996 and 1997 under Tomey:
“Those of us who must play against it (Arizona’s Desert Swarm defense) have not yet figured out how to dissolve it. If we ever can.”
Tomey on how his defense shut down offenses:
“If our defense was an offense, the fans would boo us off the field.”
More Tomey on the Desert Swarm nickname in an interview with Postgame.com:
“I think it was a media person who coined the name. The last thing you need is a nickname because you become very average quickly, but the guys embraced it and I think they still do and it stuck. It’s something that people look to today and talk about fondly. The thing that’s lost in that a little bit is that in the ’93 Fiesta Bowl, we shut out Miami 29-0, but we had to play great offensively. Me moved the heck out of the ball on them.”
Add one more comment by Tomey on the 1993 team:
“The legacy of that team is the ferocious way that they played. Sometimes coaches will say ‘we really played hard’, but our scheme was so simple. We knew what we were doing and you had to beat us. We rarely made mistakes, too. I was the head coach, but our defensive coaches (Larry Mac Duff, Rich Ellerson, Duane Akina, etc.) did a fabulous job. They were the right guys and they put Arizona on a national stage.”
Arizona safety Brandon Sanders in a 1994 Sports Illustrated article, in which the Wildcats were featured on the cover of the College Football Preview:
“I remember after the Miami game in ’92 (after Arizona lost 8-7 when a last-second field goal attempt by Steve McLaughlin went just wide right), sitting on the grass in the Orange Bowl with all the lights off, all showered up, waiting for our bus. I was thinking. We had this place on tilt for a while. Right then we all realized what we had. We can beat everybody.”
A look back at No. 36
— The best to wear No. 36 for Arizona was former fullback/tailback Gilbert Harris, who was one of the few bright spots for the program from 2002 to 2005. He broke out for a career-high 113 rushing yards against UCLA in 2005 when Arizona upset the No. 7 Bruins 52-14. He went on to play briefly for the Kansas City Chiefs. Harris and former Arizona soccer standout Kaity Harris are married and live in Mesa.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.