In Sept. 2008, my editor at the Tucson Citizen asked me to write a story on the winner of an Ultimate Wildcat Fan contest — and let’s just say the right guy won. Photographer Val Canez and I went to a house on the East Side to get to know Chaz Elsten and his wife … and to meet Stoops, the dog. Elsten, a sponsor of this site, is still a super fan — his Red Army group is among the most faithful and vocal at Arizona Stadium after they hold a huge tailgate — but, sadly, Stoops the dog has passed away. Here is my story from 2008:
Stoops is agitated. He’s pacing, growling. Barking at members of the media.
In this case, it’s just Stoops the dog, a 2 1/2-year-old yellow lab whose owner happens to be the guy recently crowned as the Ultimate Wildcat Fan.
“He’s a little bit hot-tempered,” 29-year-old Chaz Elsten says of his dog.
“Just like the coach.”
He jokes, but there’s nothing Elsten doesn’t like about coach Mike Stoops or the Arizona program. He’s faithful to the point that when it came time to write his wedding vows last April, he penned these lines:
“I promise to love you in times of good fortune and times of adversity. I promise to always Bear Down.”
That got some chuckles, and his stature among friends and family is such that he figured everyone would show up to the wedding expecting a tailgate party, which he helps throw in grand fashion before each Arizona football game.
He and his wife, Monica, went a bit more tasteful. Still, she vowed right there in front of everybody that she would always support the “Red Army” — which is what Elsten’s group of UA football-lovin’ buddies call themselves.
The table numbers at the wedding weren’t traditional, either. One table was “5″ — not because it was fifth or anything, but because that was the jersey number of Elsten’s favorite player, Antoine Cason.
Another table was “44-36-1″ — Arizona’s all-time football record against ASU.
Another was “6-3″ — the score of the Wildcats’ victory over Oklahoma in 1989.
That’s the game that started it all for Elsten. Even though he was rooting for the Sooners that day.
• • •
The Elstens have a house on the East Side, and you wouldn’t know from the way it is decorated that Chaz is Mr. Crazy Super Fan.
It’s not like every room is painted red. UA banners don’t hang in the living room. There’s no altar to Stoops — neither the coach, nor the dog.
He does admit his cubicle at Raytheon “looks like a UA gift shop,” and he seems quite enamored with his game-used football, although the details of how that came to be in his possession seem a bit sketchy.
But being a fan has less to do with what you acquire and more to do with how you show that fandom in all its whacked-out glory.
Elsten entered a float — the Red Army tank — in Arizona’s Homecoming Parade last fall.
He maintains a Web site — www.ua-redarmy.com — that plays the theme to the old TV show “The A-Team” as it opens.
You might recognize the fan group, founded in 2001 and more than three dozen strong, from home games. They’re the guys (and gals) in the stands who hold the letter “D” and a white picket fence — Dee-fense!
The Elstens posed for Christmas cards last year with UA mascots Wilbur and Wilma.
“To me,” Chaz says, “that seems so normal.”
When a friend said Elsten should enter an Ultimate Wildcat Fan contest sponsored by Bashas’, he said OK.
“There are other people who might be more fanatical than I am, but I think one thing I do compared to other fans is I promote my fanhood and I try to get other people to be a fan,” Elsten says.
“That’s one of the things about being in the Red Army and doing the tailgating and stuff. I get to spread the passion to everyone else. Maybe someone will come to our tailgate who’s not a big Arizona person, but maybe they’ll go to a game, too.
“I think a lot of people, without doing some of the stuff that I’ve done, wouldn’t be into it nearly as much.”
• • •
Elsten has been going to Arizona games for nearly two decades, ever since Sept. 16, 1989, when his dad took him to see the Wildcats play sixth-ranked Oklahoma. His father, Neal, is an OU graduate and a huge fan.
“Growing up, I was always around Sooner football,” Chaz says. “It’s a religion.”
He was decked out in OU gear that day as UA’s Doug Pfaff kicked a last-second 40-yard field goal to upset the sixth-ranked Sooners. Other than that, Elsten has rooted for the Wildcats, although it took him many years to reach the fanaticism he always saw and admired in Oklahoma fans.
Elsten, a 1997 graduate of Sahuaro High School, started to become the fan he is today when he enrolled at Arizona in 2000 and “felt part of the university.” Soon after, he helped found the Red Army.
Give the guy credit.
The John Mackovic error dawned in 2001, and yet Elsten hung on through the dark days.
“If you want to be part of the good, you have to be part of the bad,” he said.
It was a good day for Elsten in December 2003 when Arizona hired Mike Stoops off his brother Bob’s staff at Oklahoma. It was another good day a year later when he met Monica on a blind date.
He couldn’t help it. He had to tell it like it was.
“I said, ‘Just so you know, I’m a real big Arizona fan, and if we happen to start dating, in the fall you probably won’t exist to me,’ ” he recalls.
“When I called her up to go out again, she of course said no. But with much more persuading, I was able to get her to go out again. And when it came time for that next football season, she was out there for the tailgate and she goes to all the games with me.
“Most girlfriends or wives would probably run.”
“The way I look at it,” she says, “his passion could be directed into far worse situations.”
Monica, a graduate of Amphi High School, grew up following Mike Candrea’s UA softball team. She lobbied to name the couple’s dog “Candrea” instead of Stoops.
Chaz won that battle, but he’s not likely to get his wish if they ever have boy twins. He wants to name them after the head coaches at Arizona and Oklahoma: Mike and Bob.
Monica isn’t that understanding.
He’ll have to settle for naming the next dog Bruschi.
• • •
Elsten is a part of a UA football revival. Attendance has risen during the Stoops’ years. Students now routinely and vociferously fill up 12,000 seats on the stadium’s east side.
Fan groups such as the Red Army and the Zona Defenders — they’re the folks wearing the hard hats at the games — add to the game-day atmosphere.
Elsten is just waiting for the winning, waiting for Arizona’s first bowl game since 1998. Last week’s 70-0 season-opening victory against Idaho raised hopes and should turn up the volume for Saturday’s home game against Toledo.
Not that Elsten needs any help.
“I might be just one guy out there yelling, but when everyone is doing it, it’s so powerful, it’s so energizing,” he said. “To be a part of something like that is really cool.”