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By Scottie Bricker
Arizona Daily Wildcat
December 8, 1997

Wildcats bowled over by invitation


Karen C. Tully
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Dick Tomey speaks to the media at the Viscount Suites Hotel about the upcoming Insight.com Bowl game. The Wildcats got word Sunday that they will meet New Mexico in the Dec. 27 game held in Arizona Stadium.

The wishes of the University of Arizona football team came true yesterday, when the Insight.com Bowl committee formally invited the Wildcats to take part in the postseason.

"We are happy to invite a team that most of us here locally are very familiar with," said Howard Volin, 1997 Football Chairman for the Insight.com Bowl, formerly known as the Copper Bowl.

UA President Peter Likins and Athletic Director Jim Livengood accepted the invitation on behalf of the University yesterday afternoon at the Viscount Suites Hotel.

"We are wonderfully grateful to accept this invitation," said Likins. "This is a proper reward for the coach and the team and it will stimulate a lot of interest in the community."

Livengood agreed.

"We are excited to be here and it is a wonderful tribute to the team and a great close to the season," said Livengood.

The Dec. 27 game at Arizona Stadium will put the Wildcats against the University of New Mexico Lobos, who took second place in the Western Athletic Conference.

The bowl will mark the first postseason Arizona appearance since the 1994 Freedom Bowl. That year, the 14th-ranked Wildcats took an 8-3 record into the game and lost to Utah 16-13.

Arizona's selection hinged on yesterday's alliance bowl pairings, when two Big 12 teams were selected. The Insight.com committee had a contract with the conference that demanded the bowl take the last postseason qualifier from the Big 12. All five qualifying Big 12 teams found bowl games and the Insight.com committee was allowed to take any at-large team. A team needs six wins against NCAA Division I opponents to be eligible.

Arizona head coach Dick Tomey, who arrived with some of his players in tow, said the invitation is a much-deserved reward.

"This is a great way for us to end our season, especially for the seniors," said Tomey, who will coach his sixth bowl since his arrival in 1987. "We had heard there was a 99 percent chance we would be invited but that wasn't enough. We are thrilled to death to be here."

Senior captains wide receiver Rodney Williams, defensive linemen Joe Salave'a and Jimmy Sprotte and center Rusty James all expressed disbelief and excitement about the opportunity to play one more game.

"We are all in shock. It's kind of a weird feeling," Salave'a said. "We will definitely be ready to play."

The bowl game marks the culmination of a remarkable season for Arizona.

The Wildcats started the season 1-3 after tough, disappointing losses at Oregon, Ohio State and UCLA, and sandwiched around a home victory over Alabama-Birmingham.

Arizona went on to win five of its last seven, including an icing-on-the-cake win at arch-rival Arizona State. The win in Tempe gave Arizona the mandatory sixth win needed for postseason consideration.

Tomey said that despite the team's early season woes, his players never gave up.

"If you would have taken a vote earlier this season to see if this team would make a bowl, not many hands would have gone up," said Tomey. "The only hands up would have been the guys in this room (his players)."

The players agreed.

"We just kept on believing in each other and this team," said James. "We are so ready to play another game."

New Mexico lost to Colorado State in the conference championship game Saturday. The Insight.com bowl appearance is the team's first since 1961, when they defeated Western Michigan 28-12 in the Aviation Bowl.

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