HANSEN

Greg Hansen: New Arizona football facility ups ante

In bid to outdo other Pac-12 powers, UA builds it bigger, better
2013-04-16T00:00:00Z 2013-04-16T19:28:41Z Greg Hansen: New Arizona football facility ups anteGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 16, 2013 12:00 am  • 

In lieu of a Rose Bowl celebration, Arizona fans used to glorify landmark victories by uprooting the goal posts and carrying them around campus, sometimes until the following day.

The school's first consensus All-American, linebacker Ricky Hunley, remembers that after knocking Arizona State out of the 1982 Rose Bowl, the goal posts were soon on display at the intersection of Speedway and Campbell, sort of a carry-the-torch relay that lasted all night.

"Must've been 4 in the morning,'' recalled Hunley, who was on campus for the Spring Game last weekend. "Those were the good old days.''

Had Hunley and his former teammates walked across the street to Arizona Stadium over the weekend, they would've noticed something vastly different about the goal posts. They are now controlled by remote control. They are unassailable.

The next time the Wildcats knock off a ranking power, fans won't have a chance to either (a) climb the goal posts and party, as they did upon whipping No. 1 Washington n 1992, or (b) carry them off as spoils, as they did in 1986, routing Rose Bowl-bound Arizona State.

"You push a button and they collapse to the ground and are dismantled," UA athletic director Greg Byrne says. "I guess you could say we are thinking ahead, expecting to win a lot of big games."

The collapsing goal posts didn't cost more than a fraction of a percent from the $74 million Arizona is spending to overhaul the experience at Arizona Stadium. But they are significant because they reflect on the changing nature of college football.

Hunley's "good old days" are as dated as Art Luppino, the "Cactus Comet," living in the ancient dormitory embedded within Arizona Stadium, often bored because he and his teammates couldn't find much to do.

No longer will an Arizona football player have an excuse to be bored.

After taking a one-hour tour of the Lowell-Stevens Football plant Monday, I came to a pair of conclusions:

One, the excesses of modern college football, the arms race of facilities, has reached the point of absurdity.

Two, not even Nike built a bigger and better football mousetrap for the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium.

Eric Grenz, our tour guide from Mortenson Construction, motioned to the football team's singular weight room in the 183,000 square foot building and said, with slight exaggeration, "this is probably 10 times larger than the weight room at McKale Center.''

It was only 11 years ago that the Estes Family Strength and Conditioning Center, part of the Eddie Lynch Pavilion project at McKale Center, was viewed as state-of-the-art.

Now, like Ricky Hunley's 1982 victory over the Sun Devils, it's part of the "good old days."

There is a 4,000 pound "A" logo, backlit, that will be built into the ceiling of the football team's new locker room.

There will be a player's lounge, player's meeting rooms, player's dining hall, player's computer center, player's medical center, player's cardio mezzanine, and a 120-seat player's auditorium. There will even be an escalator, the only one on campus.

And that's just the big stuff.

Rich Rodriguez's office, tucked away on the third floor, northeast corner, has the best views on campus out of two windows the size of Maine.

This all took me back to a visit to USC, where I was to meet Trojan quarterback Rodney Peete for an interview in advance of the 1989 USC-Michigan Rose Bowl game. After a Q&A session, Peete, a former Sahuaro High star, asked if I wanted a tour of Heritage Hall, which was then the most revered building in college football.

We walked up and down the cramped hallways, sniffing cigar smoke from the coaches' offices, and, after viewing the Heisman Trophy collection, I asked: "Is that all?"

The Trojans were housed in a semidump for 30 years until they spent $70 million last year to build the John McKay Center, which isn't even football-only, as are most of the new Pac-12 facilities, including Arizona's Lowell-Stevens masterpiece.

The arm's race in college football didn't begin in earnest until the turn of the century. That's when the Oregon schools changed their images by spending hundreds of million dollars to attract recruits who for decades wouldn't give the Ducks and Beavers a look.

Unimaginably, Oregon State has spent more than $115 million to redo its entire football operation, and now, 10 years later, is playing catch-up with Stanford, Cal, Washington, USC and Arizona, all of whom have built (and are building) bigger, better and more player-friendly football plants.

UA's Lowell-Stevens building goes on and on, 400 feet wide and six stories high, a monument to college football and the chase to be No. 1.

The view from the sixth story Sands Club will match any in the Pac-12, any in the SEC, any anywhere. It looks out over the stadium, which is being fitted for a FieldTurf surface, the type 14 NFL teams use, and directly into a $5 million video board, which is the best of its kind in college football.

At Arizona, these are the good old days.

"I can't wait until we get in that building, it's going to be a blast," says UA quarterback B. J. Denker. "It's going to be even louder in there. It's going to make it harder for our opponents. It's going to give us the facility of an elite Division I program."

All that remains is for the Wildcats to win a game worthy of collapsing those funky goal posts.

Contact columnist Greg Hansen at ghansen@azstarnet.com or 573-4362. On Twitter @ghansen711

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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