Looks like it took an Arizona State guy to get some recognition for a bunch of University of Arizona football players.
The school hires a new athletic director, an ASU alum, and all of a sudden there are seven new Wildcat jerseys to retire. It has been more than a decade since the last jersey was hoisted above the football field.
OK, so we’re just playing with the Wildcat faithful.
Greg Byrne, who was selected in March to replace outgoing AD Jim Livengood, officially started his new job May 1. In all likelihood, the idea for the jersey retirements was hatched well before Byre came on board.
The seven new retirements will take place at halftime of the USC game on Nov. 13. They include Ricky Hunley, Chuck Cecil, Darryll Lewis, Rob Waldrop, Steve McLaughlin, Chris McAlister, and Antoine Cason.
Cecil was just in the news for his induction into the college hall of fame, which is arguably an even bigger honor. A consensus All-American as a safety in 1987, Cecil was also the Pac-10 Defensive Back of the Year that season.
He set school records for career passes defended (38), single-game interceptions (four), and career interceptions (21) – and then went on to play seven years in the NFL. Today, he’s an assistant coach with the Tennessee Titans.
Cecil is perhaps the most-watched player in Wildcat history.
Most people don’t realize it, but Cecil is the runner shown on the team video so many times before UA home games, as he runs full field for a score. The camera caught his 1986 game against ASU when he returned an interception 106 yards for the score.
It’s hard to argue with Cecil being worth of having his jersey retired. And the other six have legitimate claims also.
But the question that still arises is, why did it take so long?
Until now, the only jersey retired was that of Art Luppino, who played in the ’50s and during his Wildcat career he became the first player in NCAA history to lead the nation in rushing – not once, but twice. His jersey was retired in 1999.
Luppino started to get noticed in his sophomore year when he turned six carries into 228 yards and 32 points. He went on to wrap up a tie for the national title in all-purpose running and was third in overall scoring.
Again, no argument here.
It’s good that the athletic department has finally made the effort to recognize these players. But are there only eight worthy of the honor?
And what happened to all those who carried the ball, passed the ball, and caught the ball? The eight recognized so far are all defensive players.
Scott Terrell, in an article in the Tucson Citizen, makes a good argument for Trung Canidate, who left Central High School in Phoenix to become one of the most prolific runners in UofA history, scoring 26 times in his career. But the astounding part of that statistic is that he averaged almost 44 yards per carry to the end zone.
The requirements that were established to qualify a player for having his jersey retired included winning a national honor, or being inducted into the hall of fame. As far as we know, Canidate, who went on to a brief pro career that was shortened by recurring injuries, doesn’t meet that criteria.
Maybe that’s also what is keeping many others from the honor. Particularly some of the school’s best offensive players.
For instance, how about those that followed Luppino, the first recipient, and broke his records. Max Zendejas, a kicker, broke Luppino’s career scoring record in the ’80s and Ontiwaun Carter broke his career rushing record in the ’90s.
Let’s go back in time for those players who have long been forgotten – and maybe wouldn’t be if their jersey were hanging in the stadium. In 1930, Bill Hargis was the first UA player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, and Fred Enke led the nation in total offense in 1947. Heck, a road was named after Enke down in Maricopa.
In 1974-75, Jim Upchurch duplicated Luppino’s feat of rushing for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, only the second Wildcat to do so.
There are, no doubt, others whose exploits have helped fill the UA record books. Maybe some of them are just as deserving of this lasting honor.
Maybe that’s something else Byrne should think about as he goes about shaking up the established order of things in Tucson.
If for no other reason than to show the college football world that Arizona had some good offensive players, too.