Editor's note: This summer, Star columnist Greg Hansen is counting down the top 10 of just about everything related to Tucson sports.
Today's list: The top 10 biggest heartbreakers in Tucson sports history.
The formula for Arizona’s historic Rose Bowl appearance was uncomplicated: if the Wildcats won at Cal on November 13, 1993, and followed by winning the Territorial Cup, they would finish 7-1 in the Pac-10 and ascend to football heaven.
It all became so simple after ASU stunned favored UCLA 9-3 that day. Arizona had to win out and its ticket to Pasadena would be punched.
The Wildcats led Cal 20-0 at halftime. The Bears were no one’s idea of a spoiler. They were coming off consecutive losses of 41-0, 42-14 and 34-7. (Nor did a follow-up engagement against ASU seem daunting; the Sun Devils would finish 6-5.)
And then it all went wrong.
Cal cut Arizona’s lead to 20-17 but Arizona was killing the clock with three minutes remaining. A seemingly harmless out-pattern to receiver Terry Vaughn appeared to get a first down, but a Cal defender knocked the ball from Vaughn’s hands. It bounced directly into the grasp of Cal’s Eric Zomalt, who ran unopposed 29 yards for the deciding score.
“It’s a helpless feeling,’’ said UA All-American defensive end Tedy Bruschi. “I couldn’t catch him.’’
Typical of Arizona’s historic football frustrations, the Wildcats drove for a first down at the Cal 19 with 1:08 remaining. But a referee erred, called a crippling unsportsmanlike penalty on Vaughn, pushing the ball back to the 34. Vaughn simply was trying to hurry back to the huddle, and in doing so inadvertently bumped into the ref.
The Wildcats reached Cal’s 14, but four passes into the end zone were incomplete. Cal won 24-20.
“I’m speechless,’’ UA tailback Chuck Levy said.
Arizona finished 6-2, tied with USC and UCLA atop the Pac-10, but the Bruins went to the Rose Bowl via tie-breaking procedures and Arizona, 10-2, went to the Fiesta Bowl where it beat Miami.
Heartbreaks? Tucson has known far too many in all manner of sports.