Magical runs are one thing, and they're a lot of fun, but magical, fun runs do not a program make. Just as any other department, Arizona athletics is a testament to this. For example, the UA basketball team concluded a magical 1988 season with its first Final Four appearance, but Lute Olson wouldn't be the coach today if that were uncharted water since. Olson used that campaign as a springboard to consistency, and today Arizona ranks among the nation's top five men's college basketball programs.
The same cannot be said of football. In 1993, Arizona appeared in its first New Year's Day bowl game, and capped a 10-2 season with a 29-0 shutout over Miami at the Fiesta Bowl. But it went 8-4 and lost some heartbreakers the following year, then returned to the middle of the Pac. The same thing happened in 1998.
Nice memories to be sure, but which would you rather be? The consistent program that expects to make a deep tournament run or the program that provides its fans with good memories perhaps once every five years?
For baseball, there's every reason to believe this year's jaunt to Omaha won't be its last. Or at the very least, Arizona appears poised to bring in the kind of talent that makes that possibility a reality on a more consistent basis. Because of Frank Sancet and Jerry Kindall, the UA is a baseball program with significant tradition, highlighted, of course, by the three national titles.
Programs with tradition can build again, and with Andy Lopez that move toward prominence appears to be in place. It doesn't mean better Arizona teams won't get shut out from Omaha. This year the UA showed first-hand there isn't much difference in college baseball between the winners and losers. Teams from the Pac-10 that had more talent than Arizona couldn't escape their initial regionals. It's likely that fate will strike the UA in the years ahead, hopefully far outnumbered by actual appearances in Omaha.
But more importantly, the UA looks as though it's ready to storm Omaha on a consistent basis. Lopez has made it a priority to land more arms, and as Arizona found out in its 3-1 elimination loss to Georgia, and by virtue of Cal State Fullerton's title performance, pitching is always going to come out on top.
If one had to guess the direction of Arizona baseball, the model appears more likely to resemble the basketball team than football program of years past.
In Tucson, the Boys of Spring are back…
…Apparently, math is not a bragging point in the Allis family, but in this instance a math snafu actually benefited Johnny Schu. Seems Brad's brother Canon had an addition incident when he purchased tickets to the Arena Bowl. Canon counted one too many, so Brad, being the buddy Editor-in-Chief that he is, gave me a call. So off to the Arena Bowl we went. All told, a fun experience. America West Arena was packed, and the Arena folk do a very nice job keeping things moving during breaks in the action.
However, Brad and I had a feeling there might be trouble for our beloved Rattlers, for a familiar name started at one of the cornerback spots. Former UA player Kelvin Hunter was a fixture in the secondary. For those of you who have some recollection of Wildcat football, Kelvin Hunter was the poor soul who got picked on with some regularity on the Arizona football teams of the mid-90s.
Perhaps you'll be pleased to know that little has changed in the Arena League. It's tough enough to play the secondary in this game anyway, but when you're Kelvin Hunter, look out. The San Jose Sabercats won a 69-62 thriller that will probably go down as the greatest game in Arena Bowl history, but for Wildcat fans it wasn't quite a point of celebration. Of San Jose's nine offensive touchdowns, we counted six where Hunter was the closest defender. And by closest defender, we mean 15 yards away. Basically, we got accustomed to seeing the back of Hunter's jersey as Hunter watched receiver after receiver streak toward the end zone.
Brad will argue that three of the six probably weren't his fault, and Brad may very well be right, but regardless, the flashbacks to his days in the cardinal and navy were hurting our heads.