A happy Leap Day to the dear readers of Arizona Desert Swarm. Of course, any ardent Wildcat fan knows the true Leap Day is not February 29, but rather October 3; date of the greatest play in Arizona football history.
Quarterback Ortege Jenkins scored on that date in 1998 to forever etch his name into Wildcat lore. No highlight reel or Arizona Stadium pre-game pump-up package is complete without the "Leap By The Lake."
UA's 31-28 defeat of the Huskies came in early October, but the Leap became a retroactive punctuation on arguably the most magical season in the program's century-plus existence (and 1993 is the only campaign taking up that debate).
The actual play speaks for itself. Jenkins' front-flip over three Husky defenders defies logic. It's the kind of moment that brings a football fan out of his seat and has him shouting like a wild man in his own home -- I know, because my dad did just that on that October evening. The only thing more astounding than Jenkins' flip is Dick Tomey's stoic reaction (Coach Tomey was not renowned for his emotional outbursts).
That the touchdown was the deciding play makes it all the more astounding. UA was out of timeouts, having exhausted the lot after starting with the ball on its own 20 just over two minutes prior. Had Jenkins taken the hit after scrambling from the shotgun, the clock likely would have expired with time only for a desperation toss at the end zone.
It was the Wildcats' sole touchdown of the second half.
Beyond the physics and timing of the play though, its implications meant so much for the '98 'Cats.
A win over Washington in the past decade was taken for granted. The sole conference victory of UA's abysmal 2003 campaign was over the Huskies. Heading into 2011, UA had won three of four. Steve Sarkisian has begun restoring some of the pride that defined UW in the 1980s and through the 1990s, but for younger readers that may be nothing more than idle chatter.
Believe the following if you were not paying attention at the time: defeating UW in the 1990s meant something, almost like defeating USC does in this era. It meant your team belonged in the top half of the Pacific 10 Conference.
UW was the 1991 national champion and played in three consecutive Rose Bowls. In 1994, the Dawgs ended Miami's vaunted win streak at the Orange Bowl. Names like Napoleon Kaufman, Bob Sapp, Mark Brunell came from the program.
By 1998, UW was not the same national powerhouse, but remained a benchmark in the Pac. Were it not for a two-year bowl ban in '94/'95, UW would have ended an impressive bowl streak of 14 after 2002. With the ban, the Huskies still appeared in 16 bowl games starting in 1979, to UA's visit in October '98.
And the haunting aura of Husky Stadium remained a vexing presence for visitors. UW went undefeated there two seasons prior, including a 31-17 defeat of UA that was indicative of the series in the '90s. Arizona had not win in the Cat-Dawg fight since 1992, and the last victory notched in Seattle came in 1988.
Leap days are rare. Arizona's Leap Day is one-of-a-kind.