July 9, 2006
Summer in Arizona is all about survival, especially if you are a college sports fan. In order to beat the heat of boredom, it helps to find an athletic oasis.
To pass the time I tried to get into this World Cup stuff but it's pretty confusing. At first I thought it was some sort of fire-building competition since everybody starts with three matches. Then I learned there's a pitch, but you can't touch the ball with your hands. My American brain, it hurts.
But not as badly as my American pride. Our other-football team didn't beat anybody, not even Ghana, a country with a population of barely 21 million whose top exports are timber, cocoa, and communicable diseases.
Man, I miss real football.
Speaking of the real deal, I have to send some public thanks to Sean Mooney and Fox Sports Arizona for the "In My Own Words" special on Mike Stoops. It's barely July and I got to watch a brand new TV show in which we see my school's football coach making diving touchdown catches in the Arena League. That's good stuff.
But the show was only thirty minutes long. Now what am I going to do? How am I going to feed my Wildcat hunger?
The answer is a trip to Jim Click Hall of Champions.
No, it's not a collection of best car salesmen of all time, it's the museum on the U of A campus on the south side of University Blvd., just west of Campbell, dedicated to our unique southwestern athletic history.
I'm a little embarrassed to admit I had never been there before. I walk by it on the way from tailgating to Arizona Stadium all throughout the fall, but had never taken the time to step inside. But I am glad I waited. You don't want to be in a hurry when you first visit. Majesty takes time.
As you travel up the walk to the main entrance of the Eddie Lynch Athletics Pavilion, past the statue of the playing wildkittens (which I've never understood. It's like welcoming gladiators with a pinwheel), be sure to take in the personalized tiles of Legacy Lane. You'll see names you recognize and touching dedications to family members and friends.
Before you go through the glass doors of glory, take a right and browse the plaques on the wall outside with the names of every person and team in the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame. A name destined to join them soon is Shawntinice Polk, and fittingly her jersey is the first thing you see in see a display to the right when you enter the Hall. Bear Down, Double-Zero.
As you continue your journey into Wildcat past you see larger-than-life pictures of football greats like Art Luppino, Bobby Wade, and Clarence Farmer….oops. They might want to kick that last picture off the team.
The historical features of the museum are excellent. There is an A sweater from our second football team ever in 1900. You can admire Pop McKale's awesome 1914 baseball jacket with buttons almost as big as the ball. Button Salmon's catcher's mitt from the '20s is also present, as well as Art Luppino's old student I.D., and the overly-fanged Wilbur costume head from the '80s.
Today's programs are represented with a display for each sport featuring modern tools of the trade. If you've ever wondered about your chances of fitting into an Arizona swimming Speedo, you can finally get a (very small) frame of reference.
There is also a very nice collection celebrating some of our pro athletes, with items like Steve Kerr's Bulls jersey and Trevor Hoffman's Padres jersey. Golden Spikes-winner-turned-World-Series-winning-manager Terry Francona has a display of his own including a picture of him wearing his UA hat during the Red Sox championship parade in 2004. The bust of Ricky Hunley looks ready make a big stop on the gridiron, and the Olympic shirt off Jennie Finch's back could stop traffic.
My favorite part however is the hardware. You have the very impressive Holiday Bowl trophy from 1998, which is a metallic football riding a crystal wave. Another item solves one of the great mysteries of the world: What do they do with the trophy when a bowl game ends in a tie? The 1985 Sun Bowl trophy is present and, since it's not cut in half, we now know they give out two trophies. Either that or they just let the cooler team have it.
The plunder gets better. Some of our national championship trophies are casually displayed uncovered on the wall so you can get up close to them. What's odd is the men's trophies feature the image of a nude athlete playing that particular sport so, for example, our 1986 baseball trophy shows a pitcher wearing nothing but his glove. The figures are anatomically correct which is extra puzzling. Let's just say the guy on our 1992 golf trophy isn't exactly using a 4-wood.
You continue walking and…there it is. The crowning achievement of our athletic history. The 1997 Men's Baskeball National Championshp Trophy. It too is uncovered so I could have touched it if I were taller and/or wanted to make a scene. Halle-Lute-jah.
If you visit during the summer, make sure you take a walk out the back entrance, which leads you to the upper level of the McKale Center, between the Elliot and Kerr retired jerseys. There is something magical about staring out into an empty McKale with the court still lit.
(Random note: How good have we been under Coach Olson? We haven't even bothered to put our 11th Pac-10 championship from 2005 on the banner yet. Maybe they're waiting for the next one to save on labor costs.)
The Hall of Champions staff has done an excellent job putting together a memorable tribute to our past. The quality of the museum is especially impressive considering our relative lack of big-time success. It makes you wonder what it's like at schools like UCLA. "Welcome to the Bruin Sports Hall of Fame. Here's a map and your complimentary women's water polo national championship trophy."
How much would you pay for the chance to view all this Wildcat history? Fifty bucks? A thousand dollars? 2.5 million big ones? Well, put that checkbook away, my friend, because this baby is free. (I kid you not.) In fact, act now and you also get a free poster of a topless Ryk Neething. (Weird, but also true.)
So if you're looking for something to do between now and September 2nd, the UA's Hall of Champions is waiting for you.
Sometimes the best way to pass the present time is to take a trip back in time.
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