(5) "I'm the King of the World!"
Leonardo DiCaprio may have coined this catch phrase in the blockbuster movie Titanic but only did so decades after UA's own Julius Holt summed up his emotions by saying, "It was the best feeling in the world," after beating #1 ranked USC in 1981. UA's titanic victory in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum over a juggernaut USC squad that featured Marcus Allen at tailback was our school's first win over a top ranked opponent and to this day is still considered by many to be UA's biggest victory. Coached by Larry Smith, Arizona displayed grit and determination in coming back from an early 10-0 deficit to best the Trojans 13-10. Riding the arm of Tom Tunnicliffe, UA scored on a 13-yard TD pass to end the third quarter. The touchdown put UA ahead by three and a scoreless slugfest in the final 15 minutes preserved the win and gave Arizona a top five sports moment that will never be forgotten.
(4) 500 Bottles of Beer on the Wall
When Miles Simon banked in a 65 footer against Cincinnati back in February of 1996 to beat the Bearcats 79-76, not only did he give Coach O his milestone 500th win, he gave a shot of adrenaline to Arizona fans everywhere. I'll admit that this game was originally listed in the bottom half of my top 10 but after reading the following e-mail from a Wildcat Insider reader, this game climbed up the charts faster than a Jessica Simpson love song. The e-mail read, "…without question the most exciting game ever!...didn't really mean much, but WOW. The entire SAE house was hung over and watching that game in bed...it was a morning game. As soon as he hit the shot, I jumped out of bed to run out into our courtyard. Ironically, at the same time I was opening up my door to run outside, almost every other door in the house was opening up at the same time and they were all running out too. Within 2 minutes, we went from hung over w/ the ever so familiar feeling of ‘I'm never gunna drink again,' to cracking Keystone Lights and playing basketball in our courtyard."
Now, say what you will, but in my book any time an Arizona victory creates an impromptu pick up basketball game by a bunch of hung over college students then that's a game worth noting. What's more, this game gave rise to the notion that there was something special about this Miles Simon fella; exactly how special would take a little more than a year to figure out.
(3) Pass the Guacamole and Chips…It's a Fiesta
Arizona's 29-0 shutout of Miami in the 1994 Fiesta Bowl was great on many levels. First, it was a redemption win for that painful 8-7 loss in the Orange Bowl a season earlier and for that 1991 shellacking the Hurricanes put on us in Tucson my sophomore year. Second, it marked Arizona's first New Year's Day bowl win. Third, and most importantly, it proved that we again had arrived on the national scene and had no intentions of leaving anytime soon. I honestly cannot remember what I did on New Year's Eve that year. My best guess is that I was at a college party near the Cal State Fullerton campus visitng friends while home from school on Winter break. What I do know is that I was wide awake and back at my parents' house by nine that morning, and was on the telephone outright demanding that my great friend Troy, who just so happened to be pledging my fraternity at the time, pick up a case of beer and drive from Ranch Cucamonga to Torrance to watch the game with me and the family. Like only a pledge can do, Troy rallied and managed to arrive by game time – a somewhat miraculous fete considering the circumstances. Together, we watched in amazement as Chuck Levy ran through, over and around the vaunted Miami defense. Beer never tasted so good, even if it was Michelob Light out of the can with that sweet "famous golf holes" design they were running back then. To this day, that remains my favorite beer can design with the neon Oly Light can finishing in a close second. After all when you've been drinking and it's dark out, the last thing you should have to do is put out an All Points Bulletin for your beer. I digress, but our team didn't and that's why this game stands at number three.
(2) "Simon Says Championship"
I know. You're asking yourself right now, "How on earth can he cluster our entire run to the 1997 NCAA Final Four Championship into one shining moment?" Well, let me tell you. While some will argue that the win over North Carolina was historic, or that the upset of Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen set the table for a deep run, or that the overtime game against Providence proved that we were a team of destiny, or finally that our double OT game against Kentucky was the greatest win of all time, I argue that what made our run to our school's first major championship so phenomenal was the run itself. I harken back to the first weekend of that tournament. Comeback wins over lesser seeded teams, South Alabama and College of Charleston, had me quaking in my boots as recent painful first round losses teased and tormented my fragile psyche. But then came Kansas, and with that game came hope. We were seeded 4 to their 1, which meant that we had nothing to lose and like every sports fanatic knows, a team that has nothing to lose is a vicious, dangerous beast that must be feared.
I remember calling Troy early in the second half. He informed me that he had adjusted the furniture in his living room and was watching the game from behind his sofa because according to him, "this was the only spot that was working." For me, my equivalent of the rabbit's foot was pacing alongside my bed as our players shot free throws ala Lute Olson prowling the sideline bench. I was even turning away from the TV during our attempts just like how Coach O turns away or takes a sip of water during these pressure-packed moments. Not only was it beautiful, it worked. The same tactic worked for the Providence game in the Great Eight although UA blowing what seemed like a comfortable lead late in regulation gave me acid reflux. Still, we pulled it out and it was onto the Final Four.
Now, I don't care what anybody says, but nobody, and I mean nobody besides Arizona fans thought we had a chance to beat mighty North Carolina. I was at a barbeque with my buddy Jeff and within the first four minutes of that game we knew we had them beat. You could just feel it. Miles Simon was on his way to his third straight 20 plus point game and would finish with 24 before he and our Cats sent the Tar Heels packing. After the game, Jeff and I considered hopping on a red eye to Tucson to watch the championship game but chose not too because we were fairly confident that if we did, Arizona would lose to Kentucky and lose BIG. Boy, I wish we had though. My younger sister said the scene on campus and on 4th Street the entire day was nuts as people were piling into Tucson bars by noon, well in advance of the 6 PM tip-off. Me, well I decided to watch the game alone in my room so that if things looked shady, I could do my Coach O routine and pace the bedside for good luck.
If you recall, UA got off to a miserable start which led to, as told to me by others, Jeff's younger brother Scott delivering probably the greatest one-liner movie quote of all time in a situation that merits said movie quote. Scott stands up in the bar during an early timeout and screams the famous Gene Hackman line from Hoosiers which goes, "Maybe they were right about us!" And just like Jimmy Chipwood and the Hickory boys did in the movie, Simon and our boys responded. Simon finished with 30, making 14 of 17 free throws and pretty much everything else he threw at the basket during the game's final minutes. Role players like Bramlett, Davidson and Terry were outstanding and in the end, Arizona stood atop the college basketball world prompting Billy Packard to utter the words, "Simon Says Championship." Arizona became the only team to ever beat three number one seeds on its way to the title, a record that still stands today.
(1) The Birth of Desert Swarm
Arizona's 16-3 victory over then #1 Washington, for me, was the greatest game ever. Granted, I was a student at the time and I was at this game so my opinion is completely biased, but top 10 lists by their very nature are biased. My buddies and I were engaging in our usual game day antics of drinking, watching football, ogling girls at the pool, and so forth. At the time, I had a poolside apartment at University Heights which was very conducive to the activities in which I just mentioned. The only difference between this day and normal Arizona game days was that kick off was set for the ABC 12:30 time slot. This meant that by eight that morning, I had already consumed two Bloody Mary's and was close to cracking my second beer. The boys and I were watching College Gameday, hazing one another a bit and then it happened. The Traditions Segment on the Gameday telecast featured the story behind Arizona's Bear Down. I kid you not I hadn't heard such silence from a room full of guys drinking beers than since the night I spent at my fraternity in January of 1990 as we watched the initial early morning raids during Desert Storm. Anyway, when all was said and done, I knew that fate had UA's back and that we were going to beat Washington. My roommate Jeff and I both changed from our t-shirts and shorts into blue slacks, white dress shirts and red and blue striped ties for no better reason then that it felt right. We slapped on our new red Arizona hats and headed for campus. I don't need to walk you through this game but let it be said that we thoroughly dominated the Huskies. From UW's opening drive to their final possession where we stormed the field three times in the waning seconds only to be directed back to the sidelines because their QB Mark Brunnell kept calling meaningless timeouts, UW and their fans had no idea that they had been caught in a Desert Swarm from which there was no escape.
The buzz on campus was incredible. It's almost as if everyone knew we were going to win and what was amazing was that we had no good reason to believe this. We were 1-1-1, if I recall, and all we had to hang our hats on was a missed field goal as time expired that if made would have beaten then #1 Miami. That's it. Still, Jeff and I watched Friday's walk through practice and then, in an unprecedented and to my knowledge not since duplicated strategy, walked on the field after practice was over and touched/blessed the goal lines, the 50-yard line and both sidelines for good luck. Now, analysts will want to look back on this game and crunch numbers and discuss things like momentum and energy as ways to explain why Arizona won the game but I'm here to tell you that you'd be hard pressed to convince me and Jeff otherwise that our blessing of that field less than 24 hours prior to game time wasn't a key factor in our team achieving this landmark victory.