Now that the Los Angeles Times has compared a Game Day experience at Arizona to that of a "high school stadium," UA athletic director Greg Byrne has struck back.
Starting Sept. 11 against The Citadel, the "Wildcat Walk" will commence two hours before kickoff. Who cares that Arizona is probably the last college football team in America to stage some sort of grand arrival, feted by cheerleaders, tailgaters and the marching band?
Next year, a Jumbotron video board that could cost as much as $8 million is expected to be in place, blotting out the southern skyline, or at least a view of South Tucson.
By the 2012 home opener, it's conceivable that the Wildcats will take the field through a strategically placed tunnel in the $85million North End project, commanding the attention of UA fans the way similar "Tunnel Walks" are orchestrated at Nebraska, Michigan and in precincts where college football is a holy experience.
How valuable can that be? Remember when Russ Pennell ordered his basketball team, led by Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill, to enter McKale Center through the Zona Zoo before a 2009 game against UCLA?
It created a frenzy, noise volume and energy rarely seen at McKale. The Wildcats rolled.
If Byrne has his way, it won't be long until it's impossible to get into your automobile at 4:37 p.m. from any point in greater Tucson and still get to your seat for a 5:05p.m. kickoff.
Since Arizona Stadium was built in 1928, the working theme has been "there's nothing going on before the game that I don't want to miss." Or something like that.
Now that Byrne has made the first moves to establish some serious Game Day tradition - he previously announced the school will put on display the retired jerseys of seven former players - he probably won't mind a few suggestions. Such as:
• Open the tailgating lots Friday night at 6 rather than the school's limit-the-fun, five-hours-before-kickoff routine. Even Stanford, an academic titan, opens its tailgating RV lots the day before games.
The Game Day culture in Tucson is in its developmental stages, but it doesn't have to stay that way. When the Wildcats played at Penn State in 1999, Dick Tomey arranged to fly his team into State College, Pa., a mere 20 hours before kickoff. By then, the tailgating lots at Beaver Stadium already had more than 10,000 Nittany Lions fans in place. When the Wildcats showed up for a quick walk-through rehearsal, it was an intimidating setting.
• Put the visiting fans anywhere but Section 17. The UA has been way too hospitable to visiting fans, especially those from USC, Iowa, ASU and Ohio State, who attend in larger numbers. Section 17 is immediately above the visitor's locker room, allowing its fans to impact the game when their team is rolling. It's a rallying point.
Put visiting fans in the upper deck, east side, in the sun. When Arizona fans are at USC, Oregon, Washington, Cal and UCLA, they are seated in the most remote section of the stadium. Don't be Mr. Nice Guy.
• Expand on the Bear Down Legend. With video board technology, it is now possible to pump up your home fans with some manufactured home theater.
Here's how you do it: Hire two local actors to reprise the 1926 death bed scene at which UA quarterback "Button" Salmon tells coach "Pop" McKale "tell them … tell them to bear down."
Play the video just as the Wildcats assemble to take the field. Cue the school fight song, "Bear Down, Arizona." Goose bumps guaranteed.
• Celebrate your history. Oregon and Washington routinely introduce (and show highlight videos of) a former all-star during home games. It gives the fans a sense of belonging to something special.
It doesn't necessarily have to be fronted as "Tedy Bruschi Day" or "Art Luppino Day" but why not? Too often a former Wildcat standout such as Ricky Hunley or Byron Evans stands on the UA sideline with no public recognition.
• And while you're at it, put the Territorial Cup on display. It's the most cherished football trophy in Tucson (until a Rose Bowl trophy comes along) and it signifies that the Wildcats have beaten the Sun Devils.
Have someone construct a huge likeness of the Cup each time Arizona beats ASU and have it placed in the stadium for posterity, with the year stamped on each one. Baseball ballparks put up a K for each strikeout and they attract great attention. A celebration of Territorial Cups would increase the sense of tradition.
Football at Arizona does not have a song like Tennessee's "Rocky Top," an identifiable horse, dog, buffalo or longhorn that it can parade around the field, and it would be silly to order the band to dot the i in Arizona.
But it has reached the point where Game Day needs some creative work.
Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or firstname.lastname@example.org