The legendary Ooh Aah Man — Joe Cavaleri — who brought excitement and electricity to Arizona crowds mostly at Sancet Field, McKale Center and Arizona Stadium for more than 30 years, passed away Saturday at age 71.
Cavaleri struggled with health issues, including a bout with Parkinson’s disease since 2010.
He blew kisses to the crowd as he walked off the McKale Center court as the Ooh Aah Man for the final time on March 10, 2013, when Arizona fittingly beat ASU.
The university honored him at halftime of that game with former Arizona president Ann Weaver Hart presenting him with gifts. A tribute was played on the video board.
“As a player, I will say this: ‘You knew when Ooh Aah was there, because there would be this incredible roar, different than anything else in a timeout,” former Arizona basketball player Matt Muehlebach told Anthony Gimino of the Tucson Citizen in 2013.
“I remember you would break from the huddle and he’d be there picking up all these clothes and you’re kind of like, ‘What is going on here?’”
Cavaleri was also a popular figure locally as a bartender and disc jockey who worked at the now defunct Carlos Murphy’s and Bum Steer.
“I went to Carlos Murphy’s and I saw the Ooh Aah Man — I didn’t know his name then — and said, ‘What is he doing here?’” Muehlebach told Gimino. “It cemented for me that this guy is a Tucson fixture.”
Cavaleri was born in Mount Kisco, N.Y. in 1952 and grew up in Pawling, N.Y.
“I came to Tucson in 1974 to attend the U of A, but it didn’t work out,” he wrote on Facebook in 2011 about his background. “I went back home and worked for two years. Then I came back out here to Tucson to live … have led cheers as the OOH AAH MAN at the University of Arizona since May of 1979. I truly love being the OOH AAH MAN because of all the fans in Tucson; they are fantastic!
“I would like to thank everyone in Tucson for your kindness and support over the last 32 years, I couldn’t have done it without you.”
The Ooh Aah Man came to life from the stands of an Arizona baseball game in 1979 after Cavaleri attended a wedding reception. He wore a tuxedo when he started leading a cheer from the stands at what was then Wildcat Field.
The Wildcats rallied to win. He came back for another game and led the cheer again:
“Ooh aah, sock it to ‘em, Wildcats.”
Ooh Aah Man developed into one of the most unique traditions in all of college sports.
Cavaleri stood at midcourt of basketball games, generally during a second-half timeout when the Wildcats needed a jolt. He started to strip off items of clothing to when his “Ooh Aah Man” shirt and red-and-white striped socks were revealed.
He ran on the court to different parts of McKale and pointed to frenzied fans, who pieced together chants of “U of A.” He also formed the letters of “A-R-I-Z-O-N-A” with his body to the screams of the fans.
“It meant everything to me to be the Ooh Aah Man,” Cavaleri was quoted as saying in the book 100 Things Arizona Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, written by Gimino and Steve Rivera in 2014.
“I loved it so much. To go out on the floor and get everybody in the stands to cheer was an incredible feeling. I still to this day do not know why they cheered with me. But I do know that if it wasn’t for the fans, I would never have been the Ooh Aah Man.”
Opponents often looked in amazement (and confusion) from their timeout huddle to him on the court when he disrobed and led cheers.
The wild act started in the days of coach Fred Snowden and lasted through the Lute Olson glory years. It came to an end when Sean Miller was in his fourth season as head coach.
He performed the same routine at Arizona Stadium during football games.
While with the Arizona Daily Star, Gimino wrote about this story Cavaleri told him when Cavaleri was with the Wildcats in their first trip to the Final Four in 1988 at Kansas City:
“Cavaleri was standing on the balcony of his hotel room …
On that Kansas City night, he heard a voice from above.
“Are you going to jump?” someone asked.
“I don’t know. Are you?”
“Well, I was thinking about it.”
Steve Kerr never did jump from up high, despite suffering through one of the worst shooting nights of his career (in the Final Four loss to Oklahoma).
Ooh Aah Man to the rescue.
“I could give you a Steeeeeeve Kerrrr one more time,” he offered.
Kerr laughed. Ooh Aah laughed. Everything was better.
From the heart of a fan, the Ooh Aah Man made Arizona better for 34 years.
He’s been uniquely, memorably, UA.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Cavaleri leaves behind two daughters (Angelina Marie and Olivia), two sons (Michael and Nick), five grandchildren, two sisters (Terry Cavaleri-Wood and Teena Cavaleri-Clark) and many other family members.
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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. He became an educator seven years ago and is presently a special education teacher at his alma mater Sunnyside High School.