Two days before it hit the newsstands, the first copies of Sports Illustrated arrived at the Arizona football office, via special delivery. August 23, 1994.
The cover of SI’s 1994 college football preview said: ROCK SOLID. Arizona is No. 1.
Against a backdrop of saguaros and desert scrub, Tedy Bruschi scowled. Tony Bouie, arms folded to accentuate oversized biceps, rubbed dirt onto his white game pants.
It was the greatest year in Tucson sports history, 1994, and SI sent photographer Peter Read Miller to capture our signature event, the celebration of Desert Swarm.
Inside was a photograph of Desert Swarm standouts Sean Harris and Jim Hoffman scrunching a USC running back. Another image captured Dick Tomey, in full catcher’s gear, cap on backward, getting dirty in a city league baseball game.
The headline: RAISING ARIZONA.
The official date on the ROCK SOLID cover is Aug. 29, 1994, but it rolled off the presses in New York City exactly 20 years ago today.
The ’94 Wildcats couldn’t match the buildup, losing a late-season 10-9 game at Oregon that put the Ducks and not Arizona into the Rose Bowl. It was one of the few disappointments of a year that, in my opinion, became and remains the greatest in Tucson sports history.
Sports Illustrated two weeks ago celebrated its 60th anniversary by reflecting decade-by-decade on what it considers the seminal years in American sports. In Tucson, even though Desert Swarm finished an unfulfilling 8-4, the year in sports, 1994, became the most remarkable in our history.
UA distance runner Martin Keino won the NCAA cross country championship.
Rincon High School won state championships in three events: girls tennis, boys golf and boys swimming.
Tucson Toros outfielder Brian Hunter hit .372, tied for tops in club history, and he led the Pacific Coast League in hitting, runs and stolen bases.
And that’s just the tip of it.
Behind its “Thunder and Lightning” guards, Khalid Reeves and Damon Stoudamire, Arizona bulled its way in to the Final Four, overpowering No. 1 seed Missouri in the West Regional final, 92-72.
“It was almost a perfect game,” UA assistant coach Jesse Evans said.
Mike Candrea’s Arizona softball team went 64-3, including a 27-game winning streak, setting NCAA records for batting average (.380) and home runs (93). UA pitcher Susie Parra was the NCAA Player of the Year, and why not? She went 33-1.
“I should probably retire,” Candrea said then. “It’s not going to get any better than this.”
You could say the same thing for the full calendar of Tucson sports, 1994.
The Copper Bowl featured two of the game’s best ranking names, Oklahoma and BYU, which drew 54,054 fans to Arizona Stadium.
The Colorado Rockies, featuring Blake Street Bombers Dante Bichette, Andres Galarraga, Vinny Castilla and Ellis Burks, began their second spring training session at Hi Corbett Field, averaging a record 7,003 fans.
But the baseball game of the year in Tucson didn’t involve the Rockies. It involved Michael Jordan. On Nov. 28, 1994, Jordan and the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League played a regular-season game at Hi Corbett Field.
The old ballpark was full, at capacity, 45 minutes before the 5 p.m. start. Fans began lining up at 11 a.m. Jordan, on a year’s sabbatical from the Chicago Bulls, had one hit in four at-bats, a single to left-center, and twice put an exclamation mark on his appearance by sliding head-first into second base.
In 1994, Tucson hosted both a PGA Tour event and an LPGA Tour event. In the Northern Telecom Open at Tucson National Golf Club, a rookie named Jim Furyk was one stroke off the lead entering the final round and finished seventh. The field included Phil Mickelson, Payne Stewart and virtual unknowns David Feherty, Vijay Singh and Steve Stricker.
The headliner of the Ping/Welch’s LPGA Championship? Former UA star Annika Sorenstam.
How good was 1994 in Tucson?
The UA’s Jim Gault was named Pac-10 Gymnastics Coach of the Year.
UA golfer Jason Gore won the Pac-10 championship.
UA swimmer Chad Carvin was named the Pac-10 men’s Swimmer of the Year.
Green Fields Country Day School gymnast Kerri Strug won a silver medal at the World Championships.
In an all-Tucson showdown, Sunnyside High School edged Flowing Wells for the state wrestling championship.
Canyon del Oro High School won the state baseball title, one of eight state championships won by Tucson teams, finishing with a school-record 26 victories.
“It’s almost like a dream,” CDO coach Phil Wright said. “We had such high expectations and there was so much pressure on us.”
The Game of Year, 1994, was probably the state football championship game, underdog Sahuaro against 12-1 Peoria at Sun Devil Stadium. Sahuaro coach Howard Breinig had taken the Cougars to three previous championship games without winning.
This time, trailing Peoria 17-9 with 1:27 remaining, Sahuaro scored to close the margin to 17-15. Breinig huddled with quarterback Aaron Dumsch and called play “59” for the two-point conversion.
Dumsch ran around the left end with the state title at stake. He scored. State officials ruled Sahuaro and Peoria co-state champions in the 17-17 game.
“I can die now,” said Breinig. “This all makes it worth it.”
Rock solid, indeed.