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Arizona football is back (literally, at least).
And so am I.
The Wildcats began their potentially promising third season under coach Jedd Fisch on Saturday night, beating NAU 38-3 (more on that in a bit), and there I was in the Arizona Stadium press box representing PHNX Sports for the very first time.
But not the last.
I’m jumping on the PHNX train to write a couple of stories a week about University of Arizona athletics, complementing the near-daily podcasting and good guest-getting of Mike Luke. I’ll also be doing a weekly newsletter and popping on Mike’s podcast when I cave in and can no longer ignore his text-messaging pleas.
My timing seems good. Is there anything to talk about this season?
There’s time to get to all that in this school year, but let’s go ahead and make this first story mostly about me.
Because although I’ve been around for a while , it’s been a while.
I’ve been out of the regular sportswriting biz for more than three years (it is like riding a bike, right?), as I was lucky enough to get myself one of those more-steady guvment jobs. But before that, I spent more than three decades — I will have no current pop culture references as I am the living embodiment of the Steve Buscemi “How do you do, fellow kids?” meme — around Arizona athletics.
I started as a student intern in the Arizona sports information office in the late 1980s and landed a job on the Arizona Daily Star copy desk in the summer of 1990. Several months later, sports editor Mark Stewart was looking for a new Arizona football beat reporter. He asked the best sports journalist in the office to take the job. That person said no. Mark then asked the second-best sports journalist in the office to take the job. That person also said no.
Running out of options, Mark then asked 23-year-old me.
My first big break.
I was the Arizona football beat writer for the Star from 1991 to 1998, and it would be impossible to slice up a better period of time to write on Wildcats football. Dick Tomey. The Desert Swarm. The shutout of Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. Rob Waldrop. Tedy Bruschi. Sean Harris. The win over No. 1 Washington in 1992. Chris McAlister. Brandon Sanders. Tony Bouie. The Leap by the Lake. Keith and OJ. Trung Candidate. Dennis Northcutt. Captain Kelvin Eafon. Top national top 10 finishes. Wrapping up a 12-1 season by beating Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
You want an answer as to which was the best team in Arizona history – 1993 or 1998? I’ll tell you (but not right now).
Some of the other UA fan old-timers might remember me from elsewhere: The Tucson Citizen newspaper (2004 to 2009), including following the great Corky Simpson as columnist, or putting together a competitive sports blogging network at TucsonCitizen.com, the online-only version of the Gannett property that got shut down in early 2014. I toiled for FoxSportsArizona.com for a spell, freelanced a few UA stories a week for KOLD’s website for a hot minute, wrote at AllSportsTucson.com, and spent several years with Mike Luke and Kelvin Eafon on the Arizona basketball pre- and postgame show on 1290-AM.
I’ve been the college football editor at CBSSportsLine.com (1999 to 2002) and have been chugging away as the senior editor at Lindy’s College Football Annuals for more than two decades (blame me for any poor rankings). I covered seven of Arizona softball’s eight national championship seasons, wrote a cover story for the Sporting News on the 1998 men’s basketball team, and co-authored a book with another longtime scribe, Steve Rivera – 100 Things Arizona Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die.
I was perfectly fine NOT writing about Arizona athletics, and was willing to let this obituary on Dick Tomey be my drop-the-mic moment on my sportswriting career. Until this opportunity came around. I’ve known some of the PHNX folks for quite some time; I know this is a winning team.
OK. That’s enough about me.
Is Arizona football back, as in back back?
The opening game was a no-conclusions Saturday night. Arizona’s plan was mostly fine but more-than-occasionally sloppy. I’m sticking with a six-win season, but this week’s foe (Mississippi State) and the Pac-12 are too good for these kind of killer mistakes: a turnover on downs at the NAU 35, a lost fumble at the NAU 7 and a roughing-the-punter penalty that kept alive the Lumberjacks’ only scoring drive.
But there’s a long way to go, and there’s hope, intrigue and increasing fan interest in Arizona football. Love that. And then we’ll transition into coverage of men’s and women’s basketball and the spring sports here at PHNX Sports.
It’s a great time to be covering the Wildcats.