By James Kelley
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY JACOB KONST/Arizona Summer Wildcat
A bust of former UA football star John "Button" Salmon sits on the south side of McKale Center, adjacent to the McKale Ticket Office. Salmon's inspirational last words, engraved on the base of the bust, were ultimately used as the basis for the UA's fight song.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Cardinal and Navy
The UA's original colors were sage green and silver, but in 1900, student manager Quintas J. Anderson was offered inexpensive solid blue jerseys trimmed in red. The football team needed new jerseys, so they took the offer. The school immediately changed its colors to red and blue, eventually settling on cardinal red and navy blue. While navy is the dominant color of uniforms, fans usually wear red to games.
In 1914, Arizona traveled to play football powerhouse Occidental. Despite long odds, the UA played a close 14-0 game. Covering the game for the Los Angeles Times was a young Bill Henry. Henry, who would later become an internationally known journalist, wrote, "The Arizona men showed the fight of wildcats and displayed before the public gaze a couple of little shrimps who defied all attempts of the Tigers to stop them." The UA quickly adopted the nickname.
In 1926, on the day before the first football game of the year, John "Button" Salmon, a football and baseball player and student body president, suffered a serious spinal cord injury in a car accident. Just before his death on Oct. 18, athletics director and football coach J. F. "Pop" McKale visited his starting quarterback in the hospital and asked if he had a message for the team. Salmon said, "Tell them ... tell the team to bear down." A year later, "Bear Down" was painted on the roof of the gymnasium, and the student body voted to make "Bear Down" the official slogan for all UA teams. In 1939, the state declared "Bear Down" to be the sole and exclusive property of the University of Arizona.
'Bear Down Arizona'
In 1952, following his interview for the UA's band directorship, applicant Jack K. Lee saw "Bear Down" painted on top of Bear Down Gym from the window of his plane as he was flying away. Inspired by the quote, Lee wrote nearly all of what would become the UA's main fight song. Under Lee, the UA band rose to national prominence, performing at events like Super Bowl I and the Jimmy Carter inauguration parade.
Following a big win over Pomona College on Thanksgiving in 1914, UA students were inspired to build a huge "A" on Sentinel Peak overlooking Tucson. Albert H. Condron, a civil engineering student who was on the 1914 team, suggested to a professor that surveying the peak to find a location ought to be a class assignment. After months of work by students, the 70-foot wide and 160-foot tall "A" was finally whitewashed on March 4, 1916. The basalt rock removed from the mountain was used to build most of the rock wall around the university's historic district, including the main gate located on East University Boulevard.
Arizona State has an "A" mountain as well, although it was built after Arizona's and originally featured the letter "N" for "Tempe Normal," the school's name at the time.
Traditionally, during the week of the UA-ASU football game, fans guard "A" Mountain from being painted by ASU fans, and Wildcats attempt to paint the Sun Devils' yellow "A."
Normally white, except for being painted green for St. Patrick's Day, the "A" was painted red, white and blue shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. In 2002, ruffians from Tempe painted the white stripe yellow. Then it was painted all white and later green. Just prior to the War in Iraq, protestors painted it black. Kappa Sigma fraternity tried to paint it the less controversial all white but was stopped in the process. Then, a local radio station led a group that included four city council members to make it red, white and blue again, but right afterward a black peace sign was painted in the middle. Eventually the city council called an emergency session to vote on it, and red, white and blue were chosen.
Wilbur and Wilma
In 1915, the UA began using a real desert bobcat named Rufus Arizona as its mascot. The original Rufus died a few months later, and the Wildcat chronicled the event: "While endeavoring to perform gymnastic stunts in the limbs of a tree to which he was tied, Rufus Arizona ... fell and was hung." In 1959, the first costumed student mascot, "Wilbur," debuted, and the practice of using live wildcats was discontinued in the mid-1960s. In 1986, while trying to make a new Wilbur costume, designers accidentally created Wilma and, in a span of time quicker than a J-Lo courtship, the two were married at the UA-ASU football game that November.
J. F. "Pop" McKale first came to the Old Pueblo in 1911 to coach Tucson High School. After routinely embarrassing the UA and Tempe Normal, Arizona hired McKale to be athletics director and coach of all UA teams, after a student petition convinced President A. H. Wilde, though he was opposed. McKale's first team earned the Wildcats' nickname and his legend grew. McKale Memorial Center, the hub of UA sports activity, opened in 1972.
-Compiled by James Kelley.
Editor's note: This story was originally printed in the July 28, 2004, "Campus Guide" issue of the Arizona Summer Wildcat.