Team Ka’Deem’s newest creation is so slick and clever, so Heisman-caliber, that you almost forget the man in jersey No. 25 flipped into the end zone and fumbled against UCLA.
The marketing staff at McKale Center continues to set new standards for imagination; this week Ka’Deem Carey is outfitted as Captain All-America, wearing a black mask, wielding a red and blue shield.
It is part Batman, part Superman, all super-hero.
No one in UA history, not Sean Elliott, not Tedy Bruschi, not Annika Sorenstam and not Terry Francona, has been marketed this way.
I get it. It’s 2013. Modesty is your grandfather’s concept.
And, besides, I began this football season writing on a “Jordan Lynch for Heisman” notepad sent gratuitously through the mail on behalf of the Northern Illinois quarterback.
Over the last few weeks, Team Ka’Deem has upped its game. It is aggressively fronting No. 25’s campaign for (a) the Doak Walker Award, (b) the Walter Camp Award, (c) the Maxwell Award and (d) the Myles Jack Award.
OK, I made the last one up, but to its credit the UA is not about to let Carey’s well-earned candidacy for football sainthood, and the school’s attendant recognition, slip away.
But every time someone suggests that Carey is the best offensive player in school history, better than Art Luppino and Trung Canidate, surpassing Nick Foles and Bobby Thompson, I shake my head.
No. Not yet.
Carey is still without a signature play and a defining victory.
Canidate ran for 288 yards against Arizona State in 1998, the capstone to an 11-1 regular season. When the Sun Devils rallied in the fourth quarter, Canidate ran 46 yards for a touchdown. He earlier scored on runs of 80 and 66 yards.
That’s a John Hancock game.
One could argue (and I do) that David Adams’ 1986 season exceeds those of Carey simply because Adams was blessed by better timing. As Arizona challenged for the Rose Bowl, Adams gained 100 or more yards seven times, rising to the occasion in the year’s biggest games.
Adams gained 1,129 yards on a defense-first, old-school team that averaged 72 plays a game.
But there was no UA offensive player, not even the great Cactus Comet, Luppino, twice the NCAA’s leading rusher, who had signature plays and defining victories the way Bobby Lee Thompson did in 1960 and 1961.
Arizona went 15-4-1 in that period and “The General” set a standard that escapes even Team Ka’Deem. In terms of big games won and big plays made, Thompson is the best offensive player in UA football history. No contest.
In his second-ever game at Arizona, Thompson was carried off the field by his teammates after a stirring 21-19 comeback win over Wyoming, which was the Boise State of that era. Thompson ran 48 yards to the Wyoming 11 in the final two minutes and scored the winner from 3 yards out.
A month later he ran 80 yards to beat West Texas State 21-14 with 7:35 remaining. The Star published a photograph of that run upon which it diagrammed a jagged path, as Thompson dodged “a half-dozen tacklers.”
Banner headlines in the ’60 season included “Cats Toast the General.” It included a school-record 88-yard touchdown run against UTEP.
A year later, Thompson took it to an unprecedented level on an 8-1-1 team, then the school’s best-ever.
In the opener, he returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown and caught a 54-yard touchdown pass to beat Colorado State.
A week later, in a 14-14 tie at Nebraska, Thompson outgained the entire Husker team, 177 to 79, running for touchdowns of 44 and 24 yards.
Two weeks later, at Oregon, he returned a punt 75 yards for a late touchdown to beat the Ducks 15-6.
A week after that, he caught a two-point conversion pass to beat New Mexico 22-21 with 48 seconds to play. “It was the greatest comeback I ever saw a team make,” said UA coach Jim LaRue.
Two weeks later, against undefeated Wyoming, Thompson caught a 33-yard touchdown pass with 1:32 remaining to stun the Cowboys 20-15.
Finally, in Thompson’s last game at Arizona, a come-from-behind 22-13 win at Arizona State, he produced the school’s most famous play of the pre-Pac-10 days, a zig-zagging 67-yard burst for a touchdown with 5:48 remaining.
I’ve watched that play, that Frank Kush killer, on old black-and-white film a dozen times over the years. Thompson was stopped at the line of scrimmage. He spun away from two tacklers.
The Star again published a front-page photo tracing Thompson’s jagged, historic route to the end zone. A headline said: “The General Leaves Them Guessing”
No one at the school has been that good, in the right time at the right place, since.
Now, 52 years later, Team Ka’Deem has come calling and opportunity knocks. The Ducks and Sun Devils remain on the schedule.
For Captain All-America, now’s the time.