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 teams in Arizona Wildcats history after Arizona’s 1997 men’s national champions.
The prospect of winning the school’s first-ever Pac-10 championship was a powerful lure to UA fans in 1980, especially when Arizona State occupied the opponent’s dugout.
For three consecutive nights at what was then called Wildcat Field — later Kindall/Sancet Stadium — attendance grew from 6,936 to 8,732 to 9,722. It remains the largest attendance for a UA baseball series not played at Hi Corbett Field.
Not only did attendance grow, so did the tension.
Arizona State won the first two games, establishing a winner-takes-all showdown against No. 6 Arizona on Saturday night, May 10, 1980.
“We’re right in the middle of the toughest job we could imagine,” said UA coach Jerry Kindall.
The crowd was so rowdy at Friday’s game, won by the Sun Devils, that ASU coach Jim Brock accused UA fans of throwing beer and cans at his players.
Kindall agreed. “I looked over there and saw it,” he said.
As a result, the Saturday night championship game required extra security personnel near the ASU dugout.
“It’s a reflection on our club and the players don’t like it,” Kindall said. “They’re embarrassed and so is the university.”
The suspense didn’t last long. Arizona scored 10 runs in the second inning, keyed by a Don Hyman home run. UA players surrounded home plate as Hyman rounded third base, waiting to celebrate. The greeting was so enthusiastic that Hyman was knocked on the seat of his pants, on top of home plate.
He hit another home run later in the game and Arizona won 22-4, its largest margin over ASU in modern history. It clinched the Pac-10 South championship and triggered an epic Arizona run to the national championship.
Was it the best team in school history, any sport? It’s in the conversation. The ’80 Wildcats finished the job in Omaha, which wasn’t true for the 1956 Wildcats (49-7) and the 1974 team (58-6), both of which probably had the top regular seasons in school baseball history.
Here are my rankings of the school’s 10 leading teams in history. Please note, the list does not include the team that changed everything: Arizona’s 1997 men’s basketball national champions: