Commentary: If you build it, they will come
Tuesday September 11, 2001
They couldn't wait any longer.
If it meant showing up a full hour before the game, so be it.
In what turned into one of the loudest and rowdiest crowds in Arizona Stadium's recent history, there was one common sentiment among Arizona fans during Saturday night's 36-29 victory against Idaho: Arizona football is worth getting excited over again.
The jam-packed Arizona student section, all clapping in sync a full hour before the kickoff, couldn't wait to witness new UA head coach John Mackovic's pro-style offense.
As the freshmen were in awe of the heart-thumping intensity of the stadium, the new field - highlighted by a cutting-edge 'Arizona' in each end zone - seemed to state the obvious: This is a new-look Wildcat team.
When the traditional pre-game video came to a close, the entire stadium jumped out of its shoes as explosive fireworks led the 2001 Arizona football team onto the field.
However, the fireworks didn't only signal the arrival of the players - it also introduced the "Red Zone," a section of seats in the south end zone designed for the loudest UA fans.
"The Red Zone is the bomb, baby!" said self-proclaimed "hardcore fan" Anthony Wilhite. "Keep this up and I'm going to sit in the Red Zone all the time!"
The Red Zone was the main component of the new, "fan-friendly" atmosphere that the Arizona football program is trying to promote. Arizona fans can not only wear construction hats, bow ties, watermelons, red wigs or any other manner of costuming they deem will help the team to victory, but they also get to create a hostile environment for the opposing team, not unlike the "Dawg Pound," a group of fans who gave the NFL Cleveland Browns a home-field advantage for so many years.
"I think it adds a nice little flavor to the game," said Arizona Stadium security guard Charles McClinic. "It definitely makes our job a little bit harder, but we can deal with it. As long as they keep it within the legal ramifications, everything is cool."
Apparently, the legal ramifications that McClinic was referring to included drunkenness, usually a key ingredient to fanaticism. It's an interesting paradox - the school wants the fans in these sections to act like they've got an imbalance, apparently without the chemicals that make it possible. Common sense would dictate that something's got to give.
The rowdy UA crowd even caught the eye of UA athletic director Jim Livengood, intoxicated or not.
"The crowd was - I think - fantastic," Livengood said. "The student crowd was phenomenal. The students were a real big factor in this football game. They stayed, they stood up, and they were really a part of it. I can't say enough about the student crowd. It was awesome."
Livengood could only smile when he was talking about the Red Zone.
"I think that's part of football and the pageantry that comes with college athletics," Livengood said. "I think it's going to help us. I think it will be fun for the fans to watch that."
Even the alumni - a group of people who traditionally haven't been that easily excited in past seasons - seemed to be buzzing with excitement.
The alumni were as impressed with Mackovic's new pro-style offense as they were with the new field.
"He's more aggressive than (former UA head coach Dick) Tomey," said Robert S. Watson, who graduated in 1997 with a degree in exercise sports science. "He's more 'go for it' rather than being passive. He's more involved with the offense, and I really like that."
While the end of the game didn't necessarily go the way the fans would have liked, one thing is clear - interest in Arizona football is on the rise.