In account of the 20th anniversary of the 1998 Arizona Wildcats — the best aggregation in affairs history — the Star is attractive aback at that band and those times. The aboriginal in a four-part series…
When did Dick Tomey aboriginal get an clue that his 1998 Arizona Wildcats ability be article special?
Heading into the season-ending Arizona State game, Arizona bare a win to become bowl-eligible. Tomey told his top quarterbacks, Ortege Jenkins and Keith Smith, that if the Wildcats won, neither would alpha in the basin game. That appointment would go to fifth-year arch Brady Batten, who had absent best of the division because of injury. The way Tomey saw it, Batten — who remained absolutely upbeat while bottomward — adapted to start. Jenkins and Smith saw it the aforementioned way.
“They were amazing,” Tomey afresh recalled. “They both said, ‘He abiding does.’
“When I brought it up to those two guys, they were very, actual supportive. They were admiring all through basin practice, and we won the basin game.”
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Arizona defeated New Mexico 20-14 in the Insight.com Bowl. Batten didn’t accomplishment the game. Tailbacks Trung Canidate and Kelvin Eafon were the abhorrent standouts. None of that mattered.
What did was how Jenkins and Smith handled Tomey’s QB decision. Their accommodation set the accent for a aggregation that would be authentic by that affection — a aggregation that would become the greatest in UA annals.
Twenty years ago, Arizona football accomplished aberrant heights. The Wildcats accomplished 12-1. They capped the year with a achievement in the Holiday Basin over Nebraska, which had won the civic championship the antecedent season. Arizona landed at No. 4 in the final Associated Columnist Top 25.
“It was a bewitched season,” said Barrett Baker, a assurance and special-teams captain for the ’98 Wildcats. “We had some astonishing aptitude on that team. But we additionally had 105 guys area it came calm the appropriate way.”
Tomey accomplished for about 50 years. He knows that teams like that one don’t appear about actual about — a angle accurate by Arizona’s annal afore and since.
But aggregate formed that year, from anarchistic amateur platoons to a allegorical bound of faith. The columnist of the closing was a accommodating actor in the former. Nothing exemplified the selflessness, brotherhood and allure of the ’98 Wildcats absolutely like their QB co-op.
Arizona’s Keith Smith aims for the ambition band during the 1998 Holiday Bowl, which akin Arizona adjoin Nebraska and was one of the best acknowledged Holiday Bowls ever.
If you accept two …
Unlike best added positions, agreeable snaps at quarterback about doesn’t work. Knowing how important it is to accept a atypical on-field leader, best coaches won’t go there.
Tomey isn’t best coaches. Heading into the 1998 season, Tomey bent that both Jenkins and Smith would play.
“I acquainted they were both starters,” Tomey said. “They both adapted to play. They both admired anniversary other. And that was ratified during the advance of the season.”
Dino Babers was Arizona’s abhorrent coordinator and quarterbacks drillmaster from 1998-2000. He was in the allowance with Jenkins and Smith. Babers never acquainted any pushback from either player.
Quarterbacks Keith Smith, left, and Ortege Jenkins of the 1998 Arizona Wildcats football team.
“They were absolutely acceptable friends,” said Babers, now the arch drillmaster at Syracuse. “Maybe a mom or a adherent ability accept been unhappy. I anticipation it was an honest, authentic relationship. They absolutely did cull for anniversary other.”
Never was that added axiomatic than in the after-effects of Arizona’s signature achievement — “The Bound by the Lake” at Washington on Oct. 3. As all Arizona admirers know, the Wildcats defeated the Huskies 31-28 via Jenkins’ beauteous somersault into the end area with four abnormal remaining. They apparently don’t apperceive what happened aback the media interviewed Jenkins afterwards the game.
Recalled Tomey: “The columnist awash about him (and) he affective Keith: ‘We’re a team.’ Because Keith was allotment of that drive.”
Indeed, one of the key plays in the drive was a canyon achievement from Smith to — of all bodies — Jenkins, whose casework were bare at receiver because of injuries at the position. Aback Jenkins alternate to the amusement afterwards his leap, Smith was the aboriginal to accost him, animadversion him bottomward with a blissful jump-hug.
For the season, Smith anesthetized for 1,712 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Jenkins anesthetized for 1,011 yards with bristles TDs and four picks. They accumulated for bristles hasty touchdowns. Smith started 10 games, Jenkins three.
“The O.J.-Keith affair absolutely formed because we had a aggregation abounding of guys authoritative sacrifices,” Eafon said.
Arizona football players Trung Canidate, Ortege Jenkins, Jeremy McDaniel, Dennis Northcutt and Keith Smith in 1998.
He would know. Eafon was allotment of addition army in the actual aforementioned backfield — addition animated archetype of the 1998 Wildcats’ teamwide charge to the team-first concept.
Canidate, a approaching first-round NFL abstract pick, had rushed for 804 yards in ’97 and was abreast for an alike bigger breakout. But Eafon, a chunky adapted basketball player, bedevilled a commutual accomplishment set.
“Kelvin bare to play,” Tomey said. “We fabricated a boxy decision. Aback it’s fourth-and-2 on the ambition band and we accept to accomplish it, we’re activity to booty Trung out. Like with the quarterbacks, Trung stepped up and accustomed that.
“Those kinds of attitudes from what some bodies would alarm prima donna-type positions were (what) accustomed that aggregation to be special.”
Canidate led Arizona with 1,220 hasty yards, averaging 7.3 yards per carry. Eafon averaged aloof 3.7 yards per attack but paced the Pac-10 with 16 hasty touchdowns.
“It was a alternate respect,” said Eafon, a bounded trainer, adolescence basketball drillmaster and radio analyst for UA football and basketball games. “Both of us were attractive for a role. We didn’t care.”
Canidate played one added division at Arizona and was taken with the 31st aces in the 2000 abstract — one of 11 Wildcats called amid 1999 and 2001. (To put that amount in perspective, six UA players accept been best over the accomplished six years.) Eafon did not get drafted.
Stars and role players administration the fruits of success was a accustomed accident for the ’98 Wildcats. One of their captains was cornerback Chris McAlister, a first-team All-American and the 10th aces in the ’99 draft. The others were Eafon and Baker, a aloft walk-on.
“What aggregation in America is activity to accept a aloft walk-on represent them?” asked Baker, now a army arch with the Tucson Fire Department. “That’s the way it was on that team. We didn’t affliction area you came from. We cared about what you were.”
The UA aegis was about overshadowed by the breach for abundant of the 1998 season. But the Wildcat defenders, adumbrated by Joe Tafoya’s capacity of Nebraska’s Mic Boettner, above, took the spotlight, attached the Cornhuskers to 87 hasty yards in the Holiday Bowl.
More than anything, the 1998 Wildcats cared about winning. They were accommodating to accomplish claimed concessions for the account of aggregation glory.
And boy, did they win a lot.
The achievement at Washington — Arizona’s aboriginal in Seattle in 10 years — upped the Wildcats’ almanac to 5-0. Their abandoned accident came the afterward anniversary adjoin UCLA, which blitzed Arizona in the fourth quarter, axis a 28-24 arrears into a 52-28 runaway.
Disappointed but determined, the Wildcats bound to backlash and reeled off six beeline wins, including a agrarian 50-42 celebration over battling ASU to achieve the approved season.
Eight canicule later, the Cats would apprentice whether they’d accomplish the Rose Basin for the aboriginal time in academy history. All they bare was for UCLA to exhausted Miami in a bold adjourned from September to December because of Hurricane Georges. The Bruins, winners of 20 in a row, would go to the BCS appellation bold with a win, aperture the Rose Basin aperture for second-place Arizona.
It wasn’t meant to be. Led by Edgerrin James, who rushed for 299 yards, Miami rallied to defeat UCLA 49-45. The Bruins would go to the Rose Bowl. Arizona would comedy in the Holiday Basin adjoin Nebraska.
That aftereffect would analysis the Wildcats’ appearance on two fronts. First, they had to affected the annoyance of falling abbreviate in their Rose Basin bid. That wasn’t as difficult as you ability think. For the best part, the players accustomed their fate, acknowledging that the albatross lay with them, not the Bruins.
“You can’t be acquisitive somebody abroad is activity to do your job for you,” Tomey said. “You’ve gotta do it yourself.”
“I was disappointed,” abhorrent lineman Edwin Mulitalo recalled. “But aback they said it was Nebraska, I was OK with it.”
Although they were in the bosom of a bottomward year — for them — the Cornhuskers were at the acme of their admiral at that time. The 1998 division apparent the 30th in a row that Nebraska won at atomic nine games.
When the two teams convened in San Diego for pre-bowl activities, Tomey couldn’t advice but apprehension how big the Cornhuskers looked — and how abounding of them there seemed to be.
“I bethink activity the aforementioned thing,” said Mulitalo, who played for 10 years in the NFL and is in his aboriginal division as the arch drillmaster at Southern Virginia. “When we to the zoo or Sea World and we absolved accomplished them, it was like a parade.”
It would booty a collaborative accomplishment to alter the accepted anecdotal entering the game, which Eafon abbreviated as follows: “We were the West Coast guys. They were declared to cycle over us.”
It didn’t about-face out that way. Befitting the team’s contour — abysmal and assorted — a aggregation of players contributed decidedly to a gritty, come-from-behind 23-20 UA victory.
Canidate rushed for 101 yards. Eafon, arena on a bum ankle, denticulate the acceptable touchdown.
Smith accounted for 168 absolute yards and was called the game’s Abhorrent MVP. The defense, overshadowed during the division by the star-studded offense, captivated Nebraska to 87 hasty yards.
Receiver Brad Brennan, addition ex-walk-on, bent Smith’s abandoned touchdown pass, which gave Arizona a 17-13 fourth-quarter lead. McAlister, the All-American, fabricated the absolute interception, his additional of the game.
“It was a applicable way to accomplishment it,” Baker said. “That was that team.”
Arizona quarterback Ortege Jenkins flies over the Washington arresting band in the final moments of the game. Jenkins went over the linemen, formed out and fabricated a touchdown acceptable the bold on 10/3/98.
Dennis Northcutt beats Northeast Louisiana University players (3) Dee Jefferson and (25) Brian Taylor to account during the additional division on 10/24/98.
UA’s Jeremy McDaniel #15 is addition out as far as he can to bolt a canyon befuddled by QB Keith Smith as a Washington State apostle grabs on to his jersey on 11-7-98.
Arizona Drillmaster Dick Tomey directs the Wildcats adjoin UCLA on 10/10/98.
Arizona football players Trung Canidate, Ortege Jenkins, Jeremy McDaniel, Dennis Northcutt and Keith Smith in 1998,.
Iowa Hawkeye active aback Ladell Betts chock-full by UA (31) DaShon Polk, (56) Keoni Fraser, (99) Joe Tafoya, and (48) Daniel Greer in 1998.
Trung Canidate rushed for 1,229 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 7.3 yards per backpack at Arizona in 1998.
UA’s Jeremy McDaniel catches the brawl in advanced of UCLA’s Ryan Roques on 10/10/98.
UA bound end Mike Lucky (88) downs Washington State Cougar Grady Emmerson (44) as he active for the end area during aboriginal bisected activity on 11/7/98.
UA receiver Dennis Northcutt active downfield forth the sidelines adjoin UCLA on 10-10-98.
UA football amateur Kelvin Eafon stretches over the ambition for a touchdown with 40 abnormal larboard in the third division adjoin Oregon in 1998.
Wildcats players elevate their helmets in abutment of their teammates aboriginal in the aboriginal division adjoin UCLA at Arizona Amphitheater on 10/10/98.
UA’s Dennis Northcutt is aerial by teammates afterwards scoring a touchdown in the additional division adjoin Northeast Louisiana on 10/24/98.
Kelvin Eafon (38) array the Wildcats’ aboriginal touchdown in the aboriginal division of Saturday’s bold at Arizona Amphitheater adjoin the UCLA Bruins on 10/10/98.
ASU QB Ryan Kealy #8 is actuality sacked by UA’s Mike Robertson #55 on 11-27-98.
Quarterbacks Keith Smith, left, and Ortege Jenkins of the 1998 Arizona Wildcats football team.
UA’s Keith Smith tries to escape the butt of Oregon’s Chris Vandiver during the third division on 10/31/98.
rung Canidate looks aback to see if anybody is activity to bolt him as he is off to the contest for addition touchdown adjoin the Sun Devils on 11-27-98.
UA’s #40 Marcus Bell lowers the bang on ASU’s #20 Gerald Green on 11-27-98.
UA’s arresting players Joe Tafoya #99 and Daniel Greer #48 abutting in on Oregon quarterback Akili Smith during the aboriginal bisected of activity on 10-31-98.
UA’s Brandon Manumaleuna signals a touchdown to the army as he emerges from the ambition band backpack adjoin UCLA on 10/10/98.
Iowa Hawkeye Bashir Yamini gets tackled by UA’s LaChaux affluent afterwards a canyon on 9/19/98.
UA advanced receiver #13 Brad Brennan aloof had to get in on the fun and action of aggressive up the ambition column with the added admirers as the Cats won a candied animus over the Sun Devils on11-27-98.
UA active aback Trung Canidate runs adjoin the Washington State Cougars at Arizona amphitheater on 11/7/98.
ASU’s Kareem Clark, #26, pulls bottomward UA wideout Dennis Northcutt as he hauls in a canyon for a aboriginal bottomward in the aboriginal bisected on 11/27/98.
UA admirers during UA vs. Oregon football bold on 10-31-98.
1Makoa Freitas (left) and Trung Canidate jump for joy about one of Canidate’s three touchdowns. Trung Canidate celebrates a continued run and touchdown with Makoa Freitas in the third quarter.
UA active aback Trung Canidate gets interviewed by a Fox Sports analyst afterwards UA’s win over ASU as Candidate claws a rose in his easily on 11/27/98.
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