Dear Mr. Football: How do you get one of those $250,000-a-year jobs as a defensive coordinator like Cal's Clancy Pendergast?
A: In the summer of 1988, Pendergast was a UA student majoring in agriculture. He was from the rural Buckeye area, son of an old-school Arizona farmer. Clancy chose not to grow cotton, but to coach football.
Amphi was the ranking high school football power in Tucson in 1988, led by future NFL stars Michael and Mario Bates. No dummy, Pendergast decided if he was to be a coach, he should start at the top.
"He came through the door cold," Amphi coach Vern Friedli said. "He told me, 'I want to be a coach.'" In short order, Pendergast was assigned to the Amphi junior varsity. Pay: none. Fringe benefits: a green Panthers coaching shirt and a whistle.
The only other coaching Pendergast did in Tucson was for his UA intramural fraternity team, the Fiji Purple Haze. He got his start as a graduate assistant at Mississippi State, accepted a similar position at USC and thereafter worked in the NFL for the Chiefs, Browns, Cardinals, Cowboys and Oilers.
Now, in his first term at Cal, Pendergast qualifies as the league's celebrity defensive coordinator. We won't hold those 52 points Pendergast's defense yielded to Nevada last week against him. Fluke.
Dear Mr. Football: Is UA kickoff returner Travis Cobb the fastest man in the Pac-10?
A: According to UA track coach Fred Harvey, Cobb's 100-yard kickoff return against Iowa was probably somewhere between 11.8 and 12.8 seconds. Cobb didn't run a straight line the way he did to finish sixth in the Pac-10 100-meter final last year at 10.73. He swerved right to avoid some Iowa interference and probably ran an extra 10 yards against the Hawkeyes.
Cobb is extremely fast, but he might not be the fastest Wildcat. That would be freshman receiver Garic Wharton who ran a 10.39 for 100 meters, the Nevada high school record while at Valley High School in Las Vegas. Wharton might be the fastest football player in the Pac-10, although Oregon's LaMichael James edged Cobb in the Pac-10 finals last year, 10.72 to 10.73.
Dear Mr. Football: Could Cobb break the Pac-10 record for touchdowns on kickoff returns?
A: Cobb's total is now at two, which ties him with Chris McAlister, Art Luppino and Rick Stevenson for the school record. The Pac-10 record is unassailable; USC's Anthony Davis returned six career kickoffs for touchdowns, including three in 1974.
Asked if opponents might start kicking away from him now, Cobb nodded. "Hope not," he said.
Dear Mr. Football: Has Tucson become a football town?
A: Some sobering news: Arizona has sold out back-to-back football games just once, 1994, in school history, a three-game run against UCLA, Cal and Arizona State. That's it. Never again. Not even two games in a row. Compare that to the McKale Center basketball streak of 19 seasons.
The glitch to selling out Arizona Stadium again this week is that the economy stinks, and it is unusually difficult to sell football tickets three weekends in succession. They're not cheap. The three-game '94 sellout streak was accomplished from Oct. 22 to Nov. 25, over five weeks.
Dear Mr. Football: Is it possible for a center to break any records?
A: UA senior center Colin Baxter is expected to start his 41st consecutive game tonight, which would be a school record for offensive linemen. He surpasses the top center in school history, Joe Tofflemire, who started 38 in succession before missing one game to injury in 1986.
"Colin hasn't even missed a practice in four years," said UA co-offensive coordinator Bill Bedenbaugh. "He'll play with a broken leg, if he has to. You just don't see that stuff."
It's entirely likely that Baxter will become Arizona's all-time Iron Man and extend his consecutive starts string to 50 if he remains healthy and the Wildcats reach a bowl game. The existing record is 46, set by a relative unknown player, cornerback Wilrey Fontenot, from 2004 to 2007. Safety Brandon Sanders, blood and guts leader of the Desert Swarm, started 46 of 47 in his career, and was on the sideline only for the start of the 1995 Cal game after 40 starts.
Dear Mr. Football: How often does Arizona beat somebody, anybody, with clutch, fourth-quarter touchdown drives the way it did against Iowa? Which one was the best?
A: In its Pac-10 years, Arizona has produced precious few Elway-esque drives. Almost all of them (1989, 1998, 2007) have been against Washington.
Ortege Jenkins' 1998 "Leap at the Lake" to beat the Huskies will remain No. 1 on the UA charts until further notice.
Nick Foles' 72-yard drive to beat Iowa was a beauty, but the most difficult and unexpected Arizona touchdown drive to win a game came in a nationally-televised 19-14 win at Georgia Tech in 1994.
After making the cover of Sports Illustrated, the Desert Swarm-ites trailed Tech 14-13 with 5:46 to play and drove 60 yards in 13 plays to win. True freshman running back Kevin Schmidtke ran the final six plays in the drive, all rushes, to beat the Ramblin' Wreck with 29 seconds to play.
Alas, the Wildcats lost to Colorado State five weeks later, finished 8-4 and Schmidtke was never able to recapture that magic.
Dear Mr. Football: What does that have to do with tonight's game against Cal?
A: Arizona has never been able to enjoy prosperity in college football, and the team that most interrupts those happy days has been Cal. When 4-0 Arizona shot to No. 3 in the polls in 1983, it tied a middling, 5-5-1 Cal team 33-33.
When 8-1 Arizona needed only to beat Cal in 1993 to get insider's rights to a Rose Bowl bid, it lost 24-20. And last year Arizona (6-2) needed only to beat Cal to, it turns out, get the edge it needed to get to the Rose Bowl. The Bears, who finished tied for fifth in the Pac-10, won 24-16.
The difference is that all of those games were in Berkeley.
In times of crisis, especially against the Bears, go with the home team and the better quarterback. Arizona 30-27. Or maybe closer.