Arizona Football

Arizona graciously gives “Cactus Comet” Alamo Bowl pregame home visit near San Antonio

Arizona Hall of Famer Art Luppino, “The Cactus Comet,” photographed by Brandon Sanders on Wednesday (photo insets are from Arizona Athletics)

Arizona football great Brandon Sanders met one of the greatest Wildcats of them all — Art Luppino, the “Cactus Comet” — at Luppino’s home near San Antonio on Wednesday, one day before their alma mater plays Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl.

Sanders, the program’s Coordinator of Football Alumni and High School Relations, took with him to Luppino’s home at Kerrville, Texas — about an hour’s drive from San Antonio — an Arizona jersey with Luppino’s retired No. 22.

Arizona coach Jedd Fisch autographed it with this message: “Art, thank you for all you’ve done for Arizona football.”

Luppino, 89, was videotaped by Sanders saying, “Bear Down,” while being camera shy, in his modest way.

“It was an amazing experience,” Sanders mentioned about meeting Luppino. “He is sharp, super humble.”

Sanders and fellow assistant Chuck Cecil, another Wildcat great, share a San Diego background with Luppino.

Sanders and Cecil attended Helix High School in San Diego.

Luppino is a Class of 1953 La Jolla High School graduate.

“(Luppino) told me stories of San Diego, remembered players from the area he played against and what colleges they went to, talked about his time at UA, when he moved back to Tucson for a bit and where he stayed up on River (Road),” Sanders stated. “Said he watched back when Nick Foles was playing and had comments on that era, talked about my era (with Desert Swarm) and how he liked Coach (Dick) Tomey.”

Luppino lived in Tucson and La Jolla following his Arizona career and was an educator and martial arts trainer in the San Diego area before moving with his wife Camille to Kerrville, close to where her family is from.

“Lupy,” as he was referred to by the Tucson media when he was a freshman at Arizona in 1953, rejected the opportunity to play elsewhere following his La Jolla High School career because of the warm weather in Tucson.

“Remember Dick Blodgett, a center who was here a couple of years ago?” Luppino was quoted as saying in a 1954 Tucson Citizen article. “Well, he kept talking about Arizona and how good it was. I played with him in high school and decided to investigate. Sure, I had offers from other schools — Stanford, Southern California, Colorado and a couple of smaller ones, but I can’t stand cold weather.

“Over here, it was good and warm. I liked that. I just can’t run in cold weather. My legs seem to tighten up. That was one of the main reasons why I came here.”

Arizona gained a legend, one of the top players in the nation in the 1950’s, because of that decision.

He was nicknamed the “Cactus Comet” by the local media in 1954, when he led the NCAA with 1,359 rushing yards. He became the first running back to win the national rushing title in consecutive years after gaining 1,313 yards in 1955.

Luppino, whose No. 22 jersey was retired during a halftime ceremony in 1999, held the Arizona single-game rushing record of 228 yards on only six carries against New Mexico State for 19 years until Jim Upchurch gained 232 yards against UTEP in 1973.

Luppino’s 38 yards per rush against the Aggies remains a school record.

His 21 rushing touchdowns in 1954 and 44 in his career remained school records until Ka’Deem Carey broke both marks in 2016.

Luppino also holds the school record with the 32 points against New Mexico State in the 1954 game and 166 points that season.

The “Cactus Comet” was also awarded the Swede Nelson Award for sportsmanship in 1954, which is one of the most memorable seasons for an Arizona football player in the program’s history.

He was selected for the award by a panel of coaches for his sportsmanship exhibited against Texas Tech in a 28-14 loss. A Texas Tech lineman delivered a forearm to Luppino’s face, an illegal play, and Luppino lost a tooth and bled openly from the mouth.

Instead of retaliating, Luppino motioned to the restless crowd to take a seat and he carried about his business.

Sanders was touched by the time he got to spend with the Cactus Comet.

“(Luppino is) happy with the progress of the program and Coach Fisch,” Sanders mentioned. “I mean, again, super sharp at roughly 90 years old. Talked about golfing … just all around great to be around.”

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! 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, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, 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 in 2016 and is presently a special education teacher at Sunnyside High School in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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