Three years ago, when Warner Smith was in the middle of battling ALS — Lou Gehrig‘s Disease — he took the time to communicate with me one of his favorite subjects — beating ASU.
Smith was his jovial self at the time, his body not totally consumed yet by the disease. Although he passed away from ALS in January, his spirit remains strong with those close to him, his Wildcat brethren and the Arizona football program.
Smith, one of the Pac-10’s best offensive linemen from 1992 to 1994, delivered one of the best stories involving Arizona’s rivalry with ASU, one that included Chuck Cecil giving an inspirational speech at the team hotel the night before Arizona’s game against the Sun Devils in Tempe in 1993:
“My best memory of the ASU game was from 1993. We were at our absolute low point. We had just blown our shot at the Rose Bowl against Cal and we were decimated by injuries. If ASU won, I think they were supposed to go to the Sun Bowl. If we won, the rumor was that we’d get another crack at Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. Chuck Cecil spoke to the team the night before the game at our hotel in Tempe. He was intense. ‘Reach down the devil’s throat, grab his little tiny heart, and crush him!’ It felt like Braveheart! We could’ve played the game in the hotel parking lot. No one slept that night. The game was a three-hour brawl. Desert Swarm thumped Jake Plummer. Dan White sliced through the scummies like a surgeon. Afterwards, sure enough, Fiesta Bowl representatives were in our locker room to tell us we were going to face the Miami Hurricanes on New Years Day.”
Arizona defeated ASU 34-20 in that game, on Nov. 26, 1993, improving to 9-2 and earning a spot in the Fiesta Bowl against the Hurricanes.
Arizona had lost two straight to ASU after “The Streak” lasted from 1982-90. The Wildcats started the season 7-0 but lost two of three games, including road contests at UCLA and Cal that knocked them out of Rose Bowl contention.
Arizona’s lone road win in the Pac-10 up to that point that season was a 33-0 drubbing two months prior against a 4-7 Oregon State team.
The Wildcats went up against an ASU team that was on a four-game winning streak after a 2-4 start.
White, a Penn State transfer who never lost in his first three starts against ASU, threw three touchdown passes in the second half as the Wildcat offense proved itself in a strong way.
The defense, anchored by All-American nose guard Rob Waldrop, was the best statistically in the nation.
When White hit Richard Dice on a 13-yard touchdown pass, the Wildcats took a lead — 14-10 with 4:19 left in the third quarter — that they did not relinquish. White also connected with receiver Troy Dickey — who passed away four days after Smith in January following a stroke — on touchdown passes of 31 and 51 yards in the fourth quarter for a 27-10 lead.
White, not to be confused with former ASU quarterback Danny White, threw for 209 yards while completing 14 of 18 pass attempts. Billy Johnson finished with 126 yards rushing and Ontiwaun Carter added 101 yards on the ground.
The Wildcats finished strong against ASU despite losing Waldrop in the second quarter to a sprained knee that kept him from returning. They tied UCLA and USC for the best record in the Pac-10 at 6-2. UCLA won the tie-breaker and advanced to the Rose Bowl. Arizona coach Dick Tomey won his first game against his counterpart, ASU coach Bruce Snyder, after two tries.
“We played with so many guys banged up today,” Tomey told reporters after the game. “They really wanted this one. More than anything we wanted to beat ASU. We were tired of all the talk of nobody believing we could win this game.”
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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.