Greg Hansen: Should RichRod falter, it's just par for the curse

2011-12-13T00:01:00Z Greg Hansen: Should RichRod falter, it's just par for the curseGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 13, 2011 12:01 am  • 

Now that he has moved in, kicked off his shoes and begun to spend the $2 million he was afforded for a coaching staff, Rich Rodriguez is sure to look around and ask some questions about his new place of employment.

In the spirit of full disclosure, we must tell him about the Curse of Arizona Football before he actually signs a contract.

We anticipate five questions:

1. What's with that sign at Arizona Stadium that says "1993 Pac-10 champs?"

The Wildcats began the season 7-0, catapulted to No. 7 in the polls and went to UCLA to all but put the Rose Bowl champagne on ice. Arizona had already whacked USC 38-7, and spent the week posing for ESPN, which sent a crew to Tucson to capture the Desert Swarm buzz.

The Bruins weren't that good, either, opening the year 0-2.

But then The Curse kicked in. UA quarterback Dan White injured his knee early in the game and the Wildcats were forced to use true freshman Brady Batten, who wrecked his shoulder and was replaced by walk-on Ryan Hesson.

UCLA rolled 37-17, and The Curse was emphasized when the star of the game became Bruins QB Wayne Cook, son of 1962 UA football captain Ken Cook. Arizona had not recruited Wayne Cook.

That "Pac-10 champs" sign? Arizona, UCLA and USC finished in a three-way tie at the top. UCLA got the Rose Bowl berth by virtue of its victory over Arizona. Someone hammered up a sign anyway.

2. Did Rob Gronkowski break all the receiving records here?

Gronk's most productive season at Arizona, 2008, was painfully modest: 47 receptions for 672 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has already dwarfed those numbers this season at New England (71 catches for 1,008 yards and 15 TDs).

Even when Gronk was healthy, the UA was slow to recognize his prowess and throw to him. In a 2008 late-game, goal-line, win-or-go home situation at Stanford, Arizona used Gronk as a blocker. It lost 24-23. Typical.

The Curse prevailed again in 2009 when Gronkowski required back surgery and didn't play a single down as the Wildcats finished second in the Pac-10. Had he been healthy, it wasn't much of a stretch to picture Arizona beating Oregon in that epic 44-41 double-OT loss that determined the Pac-10 champ.

How often does Arizona have a player like Rob Gronkowski? Once, so far.

3. Is there anything to those rumors about Arizona being a Land of Cursed Quarterbacks?

In 1926, with UA seeking its first undefeated season under Pop McKale, starting quarterback Button Salmon was killed in an automobile rollover. It would go 5-1-1, losing to Occidental.

In 1947, quarterback Fred W. Enke, the school's top athlete of the 1900-50 period, eschewed his final two years of eligibility to sign a $12,000 contract with the Detroit Lions. His coach, Miles Casteel, who had been 40-21-3 to that point, was fired a year later. Casteel became a fundraising executive at Arizona State and was on the scene as ASU emerged for the next 30 years as a football program superior to Arizona.

In 1975, Arizona was ranked No. 12 with a school-best 9-1 record when QB Bruce Hill threw a 77-yard touchdown pass to Scott Piper that would've given the Wildcats a 21-10 lead over No. 8 ASU. It was, to that point, the Game of the Century in this state. Alas, an official ruled Piper to be offside, although replays showed that he was not. ASU won 24-21, and Hill left school with a 26-7 record - but was not drafted by the NFL and never played in a bowl game.

In 1983, ranked No. 3 to open the season, Arizona was placed on NCAA probation for sins committed during the Tony Mason reign of the late 1970s. Senior quarterback Tom Tunnicliffe, who set school records in passing yards and TD passes, was denied a bowl game and, further, was not drafted by the NFL.

In 2011, Nick Foles broke virtually every passing record in school history. His coach was fired at midseason and his team went 4-8.

Short answer to the Curse of QBs: yes.

4. Did that team that was on the cover of Sports Illustrated avoid the cover jinx?

The "Rock Solid" cover of 1994 - SI listed Arizona No. 1 in its preseason rankings - manifested itself on third-and-long at Autzen Stadium. The Wildcats were leading Oregon 9-3, in the fourth quarter of an Oct. 29, 1994 game.

When UA safety Mike Scurlock was called for pass interference - a questionable ruling, at best - the Ducks got a first down inside the UA 10, scored and won 10-9.

That one-point loss kept Arizona out of the Rose Bowl by, yep, one game. The Ducks went instead.

5. Has Arizona ever actually been to the Tournament of Roses House?

On the afternoon of Dec. 5, 1998, the UA sent cheerleaders and an administrative staff to Pasadena, Calif., in anticipation of accepting a Rose Bowl invitation.

All that needed to happen was for undefeated UCLA to beat a non-vintage Miami Hurricanes team to earn a spot in the BCS championship game. Strangely - cursed, perhaps? - that game had been postponed from Sept. 26 when Hurricane Georges roared through South Florida.

The Bruins had to wait two weeks after beating USC to play a young Miami team, one that was coming off a 5-6 season and a 2-2 start. But by December the 'Canes had matured and, even though they trailed by two touchdowns, roared from behind to stun UCLA 49-45.

The crestfallen UA entourage returned to Tucson minus a bouquet of roses.

An ESPN film crew that had gathered at the apartment of several key Arizona players, poised to capture the joy of the school's first-ever Rose Bowl berth, packed up and drove away having filmed the Curse of Arizona football instead.

So welcome to Tucson, RichRod. The curse is now in its second century and rolling. Each time a UA football team has reached the doorstep of greatness, the door has been shut in its face.

And you thought life was tough at Michigan.

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

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