July 30, 2006
by Scott Terrell
The Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor. The United States joins World War II. And the University of Arizona wins its last outright conference football championship.
Wait a second, you say, I've looked around Arizona Stadium while the band was playing some song I'd never heard of, and I know we've won league titles in both the WAC and Pac-10.
This is true. Six conference titles are displayed during home games. The first three - 1935, 1936 and 1941 - from the Border Conference are pure since all three were the result of undefeated league records. But after that it gets dicey.
In 1964 the Cats went 3-1 in WAC play, which was good enough for a three-way tie for first with Utah and New Mexico. We lost to Utah at home in the first game of the year, and later beat UNM to start a six-game winning streak to end the season.
The 1973 team posted a more impressive 6-1 conference record. But that one loss was a 55-19 thrashing at the hands of ASU. Considering that defeat left the two teams tied for first, it's pretty safe to say the Devils were the better team that year.
Twenty years later we won the Pac-10. Kinda. Heading into the 1993 homestretch, Arizona, UCLA and USC were tied atop the standing with one loss apiece. On November 13 the Cats took a 20-0 halftime lead at Cal, only to give up 24 second-half points and lose. Later that day ASU did us a huge favor by beating UCLA, meaning Arizona would have controlled its own destiny thanks to an early-season victory over the Trojans. The following week UCLA beat USC to go to the Rose Bowl, and we beat ASU by two touchdowns for a three-way tie and a hollow co-championship.
We had a close call under Larry Smith in 1985 with a five-point home loss to eventual champ UCLA relegating us to second place. In 1994 a one-point loss in Eugene was all that separated 7-1 Oregon and 6-2 Arizona. It was our turn to go 7-1 in 1998, but naturally Cade McNown and UCLA went 8-0.
And that's it. Sixty-four years and counting. It has been 64 years since the Wildcats could say without a shadow of a doubt they were the best football team in the league.
There's got to be a logical explanation, right? And when logic doesn't work, there's got to be a paranoid conspiracy theory…right?
The concept of a sports curse certainly isn't new, so the first task is to see if Arizona Football fits the cursed profile. Probably the most famous alleged hex was "The Curse of the Bambino," which was said to have stemmed from the Boston Red Sox selling Babe Ruth to New York in 1920. The Sox went a total of 85 years before winning another World Series while the Yankees became the most dominant franchise in history. I don't recall the UA disrespecting the greatest player of all time, so unless we sent a poorly worded recruiting letter to Red Grange, I don't think this one applies.
The other Sox of Major League Baseball suffered for 87 years supposedly as a result of the Chicago "Black Sox" accepting money to throw the 1919 World Series. I know the way some of our teams have played offense it looked like we were trying to lose, but I do not believe the Wildcats have tarnished the integrity of the game. Unless you want to count the I-bone.
Another Chicago baseball team is still trying to break its curse. The story goes that a fan brought a goat with him to the 1945 World Series. He was removed from Wrigley Field against his will, and the Cubs haven't been back to the Series since. All told, the Cubbies are in their 98th year without a championship. I know some Wildcat football players were caught stealing chickens in the '50s, but I don't think any of the offended fowl were season ticket holders.
(If we are however cursed like the Cubs, who is our Steve Bartman? The ref who called the personal foul on Terry Vaughn? Hurricane Georges? One of the greatest quotes of all time came from Trung Canidate after watching UCLA lose to Miami in 1998 to knock Arizona out of the Rose Bowl: "It was a great roller-coaster ride. But it looks like the train went off the track at the end, and everybody died.")
Another possibility is the entire city is cursed. Cleveland is the most obvious example when you note that the Browns haven't won an NFL championship since 1964, the Indians haven't won the World Series since 1948, and the Cavaliers haven't won the NBA ever.
There just isn't a more plagued pro city than Cleveland. What's the most famous moment in Cavs history? Jordan over Ehlo. What are the modern-day Browns known for? The Drive and The Fumble against the John Elway Broncos, losing their team, and being color blind. The Indians best season in almost 60 years happened in a movie. Ungood times. I am not aware of any curse however, unless you count making pro athletes live on the banks of Lake Erie. Tucson may not be Shangri-La, but it's better than Cleveland.
Did you know that the home-state Cardinals of the NFL have a curse of their own? In 1925, while still in Chicago, the Cardinals and the Pottsville Maroons where the best two teams in the fledgling National Football League. Pottsville beat the Cardinals on the field, but Chicago took advantage of lax rules and subsequently scheduled two additional games against a couple of the worst teams in the league to re-pass the Maroons in the standings. Yeah, the Cardinals later won another championship in 1947, but the people of Pottsville, Pennsylvania protest the 1925 season to this day, so they've had plenty of time to work their Maroon voodoo.
So, stealing from a small-town team that would soon pass out of existence. Now we're getting somewhere.
The possibility of a UA football curse exists, and all signs point to a small school on the dusty plains of West Texas. Why?
See you next week.
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