We have reached 28 days — four Saturdays from today — until 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 V
The 1993 team was knocked for not having a potent offense to go with the shut-down Desert Swarm defense but the offensive explosion against a Miami team that had Ray Lewis and Warren Sapp in the Fiesta Bowl showed that quarterback Dan White, tailback Chuck Levy and Co. could be formidable.
In the first possession of the fourth quarter against the 1998 team, the 1993 moved the ball into field goal position again to allow accomplished placekicker Steve McLaughlin to do his thing. White kept the attack balanced, mixing in some runs by Ontiwaun Carter, Levy and Billy Johnson, with some short passing routes to Levy out of the backfield and to tight end Rod Lewis (although Lewis’ strength was more of a blocker to free Levy for longer gains).
The highlight of the drive was a 27-yard pass to Terry Vaughn, who would become one of the Canadian Football League’s greatest players, that moved the ball to the 1998’s 30-yard line. McLaughlin lined up for a 42-yard field goal shortly thereafter and split the uprights to give the 1993 team a 16-14 lead with 11:27 left in the fourth quarter.
The Desert Swarm suffocated the Keith Smith and the 1998 attack in the possession. The elusive Smith was sacked by Tedy Bruschi, his second sack of the game. Smith threw an errant pass on 3-and-14 from his own 22-yard line to Dennis Northcutt that was intercepted by Jey Phillips, who made a short return to the 1998’s 39-yard line with 9:02 remaining.
If the 1993 team could punch it through for a touchdown, making it a two-possession lead, that would all but do it because of the difficulty to score against the Desert Swarm. After three plays, the 1993 team had to resort for a 49-yard field goal attempt by McLaughlin, however. McLaughlin delivered once again with his fourth field goal of the game to give the 1993 team a 19-14 advantage with just under 6 minutes remaining.
The 1998 team was known for its resolve and it needed that character against the 1993 team in the next possession. In the three games decided by a touchdown or less in the 12-1 season of 1998, the Wildcats won each of them. Included among them was the 31-28 triumph of No. 20 Washington with Ortege Jenkins‘ “Leap by the Lake” game-winning touchdown.
Jenkins entered the stage again in this game against the 1993 team after Chris McAlister set the table with a kickoff return to the 1998’s 37-yard line. Down six points with 5:39 left in the game, the 1998 team need a touchdown.
Jenkins’ scrambling ability, size and agility — especially with fresh legs with him and Smith alternating at quarterback — seemed to be what the 1998 team needed against the Desert Swarm at this stage of the game.
On a third-and-3 play, Jenkins managed to twist and turn and run forward for a 14-yard gain to the 1993’s 42-yard line with 4:20 left. Again faced with a third-down conversion, with five yards to go, Jenkins rolled out and found Kelvin Eafon for a short gain before Eafon was forced out of bounds with the first down at 1993’s 28-yard line.
Trung Canidate then broke loose for 9-yard gain setting up a second-and-1 play in which Jenkins believed he could go for pay dirt. And he did … successfully. Northcutt drew three defenders and Jenkins found Jeremy McDaniel in one-on-one coverage with cornerback Claudius Wright, who blanketed McDaniel. The pass in the corner of the end zone was on target, hauled in but just barely as McDaniel was able to get both feet in bounds for the score. The 1998 team lead 20-19 with only 2:52 left in the game.
Dino Babers, the 1998 coach, elected to go for the two-point conversion to create the possibility of the the 1993 team only able to tie the game with a field goal instead of winning the game on the ensuing possession.
Arizona Stadium was going nuts as Jenkins lined up behind center Bruce Wiggins with a big set of tight ends Mike Lucky and Brandon Manumaleuna for the short yardage situation. It was size against speed and power as nose tackle Rob Waldrop broke through the line and drag down Jenkins before he could turn and try a play-action attempt to Manumaleuna in the end zone.
The score stood at 20-19, the 1998 team ahead, with 2:52 left.
The tension was thick. Could the 1993 team come up with “The Drive” against 1998 to win it all?
Levy returned the kickoff to his 27-yard line. White ran on to the field with his elite offensive line, including Warner Smith, Pulu Poumele, Hicham El-Mashtoub, Mu Tagoai and Joe Smigiel.
When the broadcast resumed, as the 1993 team lined up on offense, Keith Jackson said, “Well, we are getting down to cases” — his unique way of saying “getting down to business.”
Tomorrow: The final possession …
A look back at No. 28
— The best to wear No. 28 is placekicker Steve McLaughlin, who was part of the 1993 team and was a standout for Arizona from 1991 to 1994. He won the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation’s top kicker, as a senior. McLaughlin, a Sahuaro High School alum, converted 23 of 29 attempts as a senior, when he made seven field-goal attempts from at least 47 yards. In his final regular-season game he made a key 48-yard field-goal attempt just before halftime in Arizona’s 28-27 victory over Arizona State, which saw its kicker, Jon Baker, miss from 47 yards in the final minute.
McLaughlin was drafted in the third round by the St. Louis Rams in 1995 but did not make it to the end of his rookie season. He tried to play in the NFL over the next two years but wound up in the Arena Football League for eight years. McLaughlin, who fronted a college band called Pet the Fish with friend and UA linebacker Joe Lohmeier, continued to be serious about music, releasing a 2009 album entitled “No More Record Stores.”
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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.