Arizona Football

No. 11 — The Desert Swarm is born in 1992 near-upset of top-ranked Miami at the Orange Bowl

In the 50 days leading up to Arizona’s season-opener against Toledo, on Sept. 1 at Arizona Stadium, and its affiliate will rank the Top 50 games in the history of the football program. The ranking is at No. 11 as the kickoff to the Wildcats’ season — and the start of the Rich Rodriguez era — is only 11 days away.

SCORE: No. 1 Miami Hurricanes 8, Arizona Wildcats 7

DATE: Sept. 26, 1992

SITE: Orange Bowl, Miami, 47,049 in attendance

WHY IT MADE THE LIST: This is the game that introduced the “Desert Swarm” defense to the nation and generated a strong wave of success in the program under Dick Tomey, similar to how the Wildcats emerged on to the national scene under Larry Smith after upsetting No. 1 USC and Marcus Allen in Los Angeles in 1981.

Although Arizona was on probation in 1983 and 1984, the Wildcats’ shocker over the Trojans helped manifest a winning attitude in the program that led to “The Streak” against ASU and ultimately produced a 17-6-1 record in Smith’s final two years in 1985 and 1986. After the UA’s surprising near-upset of top-ranked Miami — it was a 28-point underdog and Miami was riding a 47-game winning streak at the Orange Bowl — the Wildcats enjoyed their most successful run in school history to that point.

They dominated No. 1 Washington in Tucson with a 16-3 win, which culminated a five-game winning streak after the loss to Miami. In the following season, the UA had a 10-2 record, capped by a 29-0 drubbing of the Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl.

Players from Arizona and Miami stand off at midfield before the game, an indication the Wildcats were not going to lay down against the No. 1 Hurricanes (Eric Johnson and photo)

The root of Arizona’s success at Miami that late September day in 1992 can be traced to meetings Tomey had with his players after the Wildcats tied hapless Oregon State (1-9-1 that season) the week before they departed to Miami.

In the two days following the game with the Beavers, Tomey said he spent “20 hours” talking to each player individually.

“I got eyeball-to-eyeball with them,`” Tomey is quoted as saying by the Chicago Tribune. “I wanted them to get the sense that I believed in them. We were all hurting at the time. It made me feel better. Whether it had to do with the turnaround, I don`t know.”

Miami’s arrogance also fueled Arizona’s drive. Anthony Gimino of was at the game in Miami covering it for The Arizona Daily Star. He wrote in 2006 an article that recounted UA players Heath Bray and Josh Miller getting the cold shoulder from Miami captains Jessie Armstead and Kevin Williams when they tried to shake their hands after the coin toss.

“They came out and they looked at the ground and put their hands behind their backs when it came time to shake hands,” Bray told Gimino. “(Former UA players) Ty Parten and Charlie Camp saw that and they came bounding off the sideline, and the whole team gets right behind us, and from that point on, it was game on.”

Arizona place-kicker Steve McLaughlin reacts after missing a potential game-winning field goal at No. 1 Miami in 1992 (YouTube video, click on picture to access video)

The teams faced off against each other near midfield. The Wildcats did not back down to the mighty “U”, as Miami is called because of its helmet logo. Former UA offensive lineman Eric Johnson remembered Parten giving a pregame players-only speech that riled up the Cats.

“He gave the pregame players-only scream down,” Johnson wrote in a thread at last year. “When we left that room, we knew it was gonna be a war.”

The Desert Swarm was born and Miami — which gained only two yards on 22 carries — bore the brunt of its awakening. The Wildcats led 7-2 at halftime, and had a chance to win it, but sophomore Steve McLaughlin just missed wide right on a 51-yard attempt as time ran out.

“They think they put on their clothes a little differently and that they have an ‘S’ on their chest. Sorry, pal,” Wildcat quarterback George Malauulu said in an Associated Press article. “They’re not the No. 1 team. If they were, they’d have blown us out.”

Gimino quoted Armstead as saying after the game: “Anybody who knows football knows we got outplayed.”

When Arizona led 7-2 at the half, the 47,049 fans in attendance acknowledged the Hurricanes’ performance with boos.

Using a ball-control running game the Wildcats ran for 170 yards on 50 attempts. The Wildcats controlled the ball for nearly 35 minutes and gained an average of 4 yards per play. They passed for only 86 yards.

The Hurricanes seemed to be in for an easy afternoon when Miami All-American defensive end Rusty Medearis — who later suffered a season-ending knee injury in the game — stuffed Chuck Levy in the end zone for a safety on Arizona’s second possession.

Miami’s offense never really got on track. Miami wide receiver Lamar Thomas shoved a defensive back on the next series, resulting in a penalty that pushed the Hurricanes out of field-goal range. Miami’s Dane Prewitt missed wide left from 28 yards on the next possession and from 37 yards on the one after that. An interception within Arizona territory stopped Miami’s last possession of the half.

Arizona scored its only touchdown on an 80-yard, 10-play drive dominated by the run. The Wildcats rushed nine times, culminating on Billy Johnson’s nine-yard touchdown run.

Miami’s only touchdown — the game’s final points — came on Gino Torretta’s two-yard pass to Dietrich Clausell with 3:50 to play in the third quarter.

Arizona, starting its last possession with 3:38 left in the game, drove the ball from its 35 to the Miami 35. After a quarterback sneak by Malauulu, McLaughlin lined up for his 51-yard attempt that barely missed. He also missed a 44-yarder with 21 seconds to play in Arizona’s tie the week earlier against Oregon State.

“If you take too much consolation in coming close, you just come close,” Tomey said in the AP article of the game. “Right now, none of us feels very good.”

The same could have been said of Miami, which came away embarrassed in more ways than one. During the celebration of McLaughlin’s miss, Miami’s mascot, Ibis, fell and injured his leg.


Miami bounced back and did not lose in the regular season — achieving an 11-0 record under Dennis Erickson — before losing to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The Wildcats finished 6-5-1, losing three consecutive games after the magical five-game winning streak after the near victory over Miami. In those last three losses, however, the UA lost by a combined total of only 13 points to USC (14-7), ASU (7-6) and Baylor (20-15, in the Sun Bowl).

“We knew we had a team that could play with anybody, anywhere,” Malauulu told Gimino. “I really think it was the fact that we believed everybody was going to do their job in crunch time, that somebody would make something happen. Everybody at some point in time will have a chance to make a difference, everybody can contribute in a special way.”

The countdown:

No. 12 — Zendejas’ 57-yard FG ties UA record, keeps ASU out of Rose Bowl again (

No. 13 — Arizona blows 20-point lead and shot at the Rose Bowl with 1993 collapse at California (

No. 14 — UA upsets No. 2 UCLA in 1980 when Bruins appeared ready to be No. 1 (

No. 15 — L.A. Times reporter: Arizona shows “fight of wildcats” in 1914 game vs. Occidental (

No. 16 — UA leads UCLA late in third quarter but loses big in 12-1 season (

No. 17 — Unranked Arizona upsets Ohio State, Woody Hayes in Buckeyes’ 1967 opener in Columbus (

No. 18 — Arizona and hasty coach Mudra lose Ultimatum Bowl to ASU in 1968 (

No. 19 — Arizona keeps “The Streak” without loss to ASU alive in ’87 with bizarre finish that ends in tie (

No. 20 — Arizona fit to be tied with Cal despite leading 26-3 in third quarter (

No. 21 — Zendejas’ last-second 45-yard FG vs. ASU generates momentum for “The Streak” to endure (

No. 22 — Arizona wins its first bowl behind “Heat-seeking Missile” Chuck Cecil (

No. 23 — Collapse vs. Utah after leading 27-0 in fourth quarter changed the face of UA football (

No. 24 — UA shuts out ASU, Kush during dominating run for Sun Devils coach (

No. 25 — Arizona’s defense and Doug Pfaff’s last-second FG enough to upset sixth-ranked Oklahoma (

No. 26 — UA upsets ASU from Fiesta Bowl consideration in program’s best stretch (

No. 27 — Trung Canidate rushes for record 288 yards and three long TDs in ’98 shootout against ASU (

No. 28 — UA dominates No. 3 SMU, highest ranked non-conference foe to lose to Cats (

No. 29 — Arizona stuns second-ranked Oregon in most significant victory in Mike Stoops era (

No. 30 — Arizona win on last-second FG over ASU ends Kush dominance in series (

No. 31 — Arizona reaches its zenith under Stoops with victory over Brigham Young in Las Vegas Bowl (

No. 32 — Arizona owed Cal a couple, knock Bears out of BCS title, Rose Bowl run (

No. 33 — Arizona’s 10-9 loss at Oregon in 1994, derailing its Rose Bowl hopes, still hurts (

No. 34 — ASU ripe for picking in banana uniforms for “The Streak” to reach eight (

No. 35 — Arizona tries risky fake PAT to beat California but loses in epic 4 overtime game (

No. 36 — Veal to Hill “Hail Mary” pass highlights “The Streak” reaching seven games against ASU (

No. 37 — USC outlasts Arizona 48-41 in one of most wild games played in Tucson (

No. 38 — Arizona shows signs of life under Stoops with rout over No. 7 UCLA (

No. 39 — Art Luppino “The Cactus Comet” rockets toward 38 yards per carry and five touchdowns (

No. 40 — Fumblerooski enables Arizona to sweep USC, UCLA in L.A. for first time (

No. 41 — Sun Devil nemesis Dan White quarterbacks Arizona into Fiesta Bowl with win over ASU (

No. 42 — Struggling UA gets improbable win against ’83 Pac-10 champ UCLA (

No. 43 — Closing chapter of “The Streak” includes Arizona’s dramatic fourth-quarter heroics (

No. 44 — Arizona overcomes rival Texas Tech with unfathomable late-game rally (

No. 45 — Dick Tomey, the Desert Fox, does a number on UCLA by changing offense in midseason (

No. 46 — “The Streak” reaches three games, UA achieves best Pac-10 finish (

No. 47 — Arizona’s first game at Arizona Stadium in 1929, a 35-0 win over Cal Tech (

No. 48 — Underdog Arizona’s 2011 thriller over arch-rival Arizona State (

No. 49 — Arizona’s first win over arch-rival Arizona State, then known as Territorial Normal (

No. 50 — Arizona’s first win in program’s history: 22-5 over Tucson Indians (


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