There is good reason for football fans to feel great about the Cats chances this year as the team is poised to break out of the funk it has been in since that fateful 1999 season.
Seven straight seasons of heartbreak, disappointment and utter failure is on nobody's mind this pre-season. What is on every Wildcat fans' mind, outside Gabe Long and Louis Holmes obviously, are things that should be on their minds at this time of year.
Which running back will emerge as the leader of the group? Which young wide receiver can have a breakout year to compliment Step and Money Mike? Just how good is the 2006 version of the Arizona Defense going to be?
Questions like these are what folks in Tucson are talking about. The local water coolers are as busy as they ever have been and the nervous optimism about the season has everyone on the edge of their office chairs. But how can Tucson, Arizona be this anticipatory about football? After all, the U of A is a Basketball school right? Tucson is a basketball town isn't it?
For years, basically since Lute Olson has resided in Arizona, it has been thought that Arizona is a basketball school and that is all that people in Tucson really care about. While that has been the thought that has permeated throughout most people's minds through the years, it is simply not true.
Simply put, the University of Arizona is a school that has been blessed with an extremely good basketball program. But the truth of the matter is that Tucson has always been, and always will be, a football town. Basketball has been the more successful sport at the university through the years but Tucson, as a city, is very football oriented.
How else can you explain what we have seen the past two years? I mean how does a team not centered in the traditional south draw well over ten thousand fans for a Spring Football game after going, in succession, 2-9, 3-8 and 3-8 the past three years on the football field?
Mike Stoops is a big part of the reason that the true colors of the Tucson area are finally coming to light. He is a hard nosed, blue collar guy that believes in the city as much as he does his own abilities. He is what Tucson has been pining for since forever. He loves football and will stop at nothing to accomplish his very lofty goal of getting the Wildcats to the ultimate prize for a Pac-10 football program, running onto the Rose Bowl turf in January in front of over 100 thousand screaming football fans.
Stoops is something that Tucson and the University of Arizona has never had before. Spend five minutes with him and you will easily know what I am talking about. He is the typical cliché come to life. Faith, family and football are what is important to him and what makes him so unique is that the order of those things depends on what the calendar says.
The passion that Stoops has for the game of football and his desire to win oozes out of him on every snap of every facet of the game. During spring practices, on one play when Adam Austin was taking a live snap, you could see Stoops standing behind the line and as the play developed, he mimicked Austin's throwing motion as Adam was releasing the ball. It got a huge laugh out of the rest of the coaches and some of the players when the film was later reviewed and I am sure that Mike himself had a smile on his face when he saw it.
It shows that the display of passion that Stoops shows during games is not a show at all. It is him, it is what drives him. It is that passion, so real and effortless, that has connected him with Wildcat fans and the people of Tucson. It has allowed the true colors of the entire region of southern Arizona to be shown. While basketball has been king, and deservedly so, for the past two decades, it is football that is what Tucson really craves and needs.
Tucson is a city that has been blessed with a basketball powerhouse but its true nature and passion has always been football. If Stoops does what many think he can, which is build a sustained winner on the gridiron, then Tucson will absolutely explode.
Season ticket sales have gone up every year since his arrival and the fan turnout of events like the spring game has gone up exponentially. It is all based on the average Wildcat fans' anticipation of what they have been waiting for. A consistently good football program is what Tucson really wants and is what it has always wanted, and needed.
Basketball may have been king, and may still be, but if Stoops can achieve his goals then basketball will take a back seat to what the real passion of Tucson is. Football season is here and things in Tucson are changing. The return of the REAL king of Tucson is right around the corner and it all starts tonight.