To the Arizona football faithful discouraged in the lack of confidence media is showing in your Wildcats, take heed and remember summer 1994. MTV was still airing music videos and newspaper moguls were scoffing at some fad called the Internet when the era’s finest thespian, Keanu Reeves, shined as Speed hero Officer Jack Traven.
Jack: (sees the Academic A on Annie Porter’s T-shirt) You go to the University of Arizona?
Annie Porter: Yeah, so?
Jack: Good football team.
Reeves would know something about good football. He did reach the Rose Bowl as quarterback Johnny Utah, and was an All-American as Shane "Footsteps" Falco, after all. And indeed, in the summer of 1994 Wildcat football was on top of the world. Chuck Levy was just a few months removed from evading Miami tacklers in UA’s Fiesta Bowl romp, Richard Dice was primed for a breakout star turn, Tedy Bruschi and Tony Bouie were All-American cornerstones of the vaunted Desert Swarm defense, and Arizona was No. 1.
At least, that latter proclamation was what Sports Illustrated splashed across its college football preview.
Two moments most indicative of Dick Tomey’s Tucson tenure are "Rock Solid: Arizona is No. 1," and 41-7. Both are cruel reminders of what could have been, the expectations of greatness and the ultimate stagnation of Wildcat football.
The 1994 season was not even a particularly bad campaign. While 41-7 was the onset of a thoroughly mediocre and bowl-less season, the ’94 Wildcats ended the regular season ranked en route to the Freedom Bowl. But after no less than SI and Reeves were lauding the Wildcats, anything beyond a Rose Bowl berth was empty.
Seventeen years later, Pasadena feels no closer, particularly given the 2010 Wildcats ended on a far sourer note than the ’93 team’s record-setting performance against Dennis Erickson and Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.
The five-game skid on which UA ended '10 was the longest since Mike Stoops’ second season. Fourth place in the Pac-12 South, as experts tabbed the Wildcats in last week's preseason poll, could be deemed generous. Seemingly the only way to the Rose Bowl is on a bomb-fitted, Sandra Bullock-driven bus.
Arizona returns Nick Foles, unquestionably the most talented quarterback in program history. Juron Criner’s return from a brief absence was some much-needed good news for Stoops & Co., as he provides a deep receiving corps a vital No. 1 target. The secondary is as strong as ever – no surprise given UA has had talented defensive backs even in the days immediately following John Mackovic’s reign of terror.
So Arizona is not drawing references in any summer blockbusters this preseason. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.