Only 33 days now until when the Arizona Wildcats kick off their 2018 campaign 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):
Mythical game Part I
The kickoff was in late Autumn with a perfect climate for the mid-afternoon game at Arizona Stadium, a comforting 70 degrees with a slight breeze. The sellout crowd rose to its feet when it saw the 1998 team first appear near the north end zone with their white helmets, dark blue jerseys and white pants. Joe Tafoya and Marcus Bell exchanged a hug and pats on the helmet, each with a determined look as Chris McAlister stretched his legs and ran in place.
It was a frenzied atmosphere, one that could only be topped if ASU was in the stadium. Could this really be happening, a matchup of the Desert Swarm of 1993 and the 12-1 team of 1998? A matchup of a bunch of Joes, as coach Dick Tomey would call it?
Next came the 1993 team out of the tunnel, with Tedy Bruschi noticeably rallying his troops, smacking their shoulder pads and butting helmets. Ontiwaun Carter was doing the same with some of his teammates on offense. The team was decked in all white, a vision of those Arizona teams that went on the road and beat the likes of No. 1 USC, Notre Dame, UCLA and all those ASU teams in Tempe because of the accurate and powerful right leg of Max Zendejas.
Fireworks filled the sky above Arizona Stadium as each team ran on to the field on opposite sides. Tony Bouie waved the Arizona “A” flag as his 1993 team took the field. On the other side, Kelvin Eafon ran with the flag along the sidelines.
The Pride of Arizona played “Bear Down,” while the ABC cameras captured it all with the legendary Keith Jackson behind the mic.
“These two Wildcat teams, with an illustrious history, are about to shine in Tucson similar to the Catalinas in the morning sun,” Jackson said. “They know as they step foot into Arizona Stadium carrying the banner for Arizona football — boldly as J.F. “Pop” McKale could have envisioned it almost a century ago — that they better double-clutch their chinstraps because they are about to engage in a smash-mouth game for the ages.”
Tomorrow: The drama gets underway.
A look back at No. 33
— The best to wear No. 33 was linebacker Scooby Wright II, who emerged from a lightly recruited player out of high school to one of the most storied players in Arizona history. Wright, despite being a relative unknown as a freshman out of Santa Rosa, Calif., started 12 of 13 games as a freshman, recording 83 tackles and an interception and garnering Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 honors. In 2014, when Arizona won the Pac-12 South, Wright claimed the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Rotary Lombardi Award, Jack Lambert Award, and Chuck Bednarik Award in addition to being named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year (becoming the first sophomore to ever win the conference award). Wright also earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors. He had the highest finish of any defensive player in the 2014 Heisman Trophy voting, finishing ninth on the ballot. As a junior in 2015, Wright played only three games due to injury, recording 2 sacks and 23 tackles. After his junior year, he announced his intentions to enter the 2016 NFL Draft.
Wearing No. 33 now
Two players will wear No. 33 in 2018 — sophomore tailback Nathan Tilford and redshirt freshman safety Blake Pfaff, son of legendary Arizona placekicker Doug Pfaff.
Tilford is a star in the making, playing as a true freshman last season. He played in 10 of 12 games as a reserve running back or special teams contributor. He posted an impressive 9.3 yards per carry while gaining 121 yards on 13 carries and scored twice.
Blake Pfaff played high school football in Texas at Lucas (Texas) Lovejoy High School.
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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.