Despite losses, Red Army support unwavering

By Michael Schwartz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, October 21, 2005

Since the dawn of the John Mackovic era in 2001, two constants have characterized the Arizona football team's home games: disappointing results on the field and the vociferous support of the Red Army in the stands.

Win or lose, the Army, a collection of past and present Wildcat students, attends every game at Arizona Stadium from the comforts of the first two rows of the Zona Zoo student section.

These knowledgeable fans pump up the stadium's volume, leading students in cheers and quieting them down at appropriate moments.

It all started with 26-year-olds Tim Hall and Derryl Friberg, friends since eighth grade. Hall, a physical education teacher at Tucson Country Day Charter School, joins other members in sporting a red jumpsuit with "Red Army" emblazoned on it - making him and others perhaps more appropriately dressed to fix toilets than cheer on a football team.

For his miner's outfit, Friberg wears a well-used red helmet with the name "Red Army" on the front and stickers urging the Wildcats to beat their opponent on top. A long, scruffy beard finishes the look.

"We just get the fans around us a little bit excited," Hall said. "We bring a little bit of spirit, hopefully. People tend to get excited when they see us."

Besides their wacky uniforms and shirts that read "Stoops before Hoops," the Army brings a pro-defense sign with a "D" and a cut-out fence that Friberg lifts in the air.

Often, Hall can be heard starting the "dee-fense" cheer before important downs for opponents.

After the Wildcat offense moves the sticks, the Army leads a "one, two, three, first down" chant, culminating in surrounding fans making the first-down signal.

"We keep the student section going," Friberg said. "We keep everyone up (and) cheering. We start all the chants. I think we keep everyone into the game and keep the student section a little more energized."

Most members of the group graduated from local Sahuaro High School in 1997, but the Army includes new members like mechanical engineering junior Brenden Dow.

Dow, in his second year with the Army, said his group's loud cheering works.

"If you turn around, you get the student section just going with our chants," he said. "It's pretty cool."

Besides starting chants, the Red Army kills ineffective ones.

After Stanford players said Washington State's fans fired them up in the Cardinal's 24-21 victory over the Cougars by chanting "U-C-Davis" - in reference to Stanford's loss earlier this season to the Division I-AA school - Hall said that cheer was not on the agenda for Saturday's game.

Sure enough, Hall and the Army quieted down some Zona Zoo members as soon as they heard a "U-C-Davis" chant during Arizona's 20-16 loss to the Cardinal.

The Army also helps quiet down the crowd after cheering a productive offensive play so the Wildcats can concentrate in the huddle.

Former Zona Zoo keeper Michael Biegelman helps the Red Army in this effort from his first-row seats next to the group.

"We collaborate before games on cheer ideas and things like that," said Biegelman, who was decked out in blue and red face paint Saturday. "Any time one of us wants to start a cheer, we help each other out.

"We all come together," he said. "We have one collective goal, and that's to see the Wildcats win."

Biegelman and the Army arrive at Arizona Stadium when gates open an hour and a half before kickoff to secure their prime seats.

The Army does it one better by tailgating six hours before game time, although tailgating is only supposed to start five hours prior to the game, Friberg said.

The Army, which numbered 10 bodies Saturday, consists of mainly regular fans with a few alternates.

Members said they have been in the stands every weekend except for the UCLA game in 2002, when a good friend of the group got married hours before kickoff.

In their time they've seen a number of blowouts leading to students leaving after halftime, but Hall said that changed with the arrival of head coach Mike Stoops.

"Before, people would go, we'd get blown out and they'd take off. We'd be left," Hall said. "Now we've got more people coming to the games, watching the games. We can get them doing some of our chants."

The Army's devotion took them to Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to watch No. 1 USC's 42-21 win over the Wildcats on Oct. 8 and last year's trip to the Rose Bowl - for a conference matchup against the Bruins rather than Arizona's first appearance in the legendary bowl game.

In 1998, when the Wildcats were a UCLA win against Miami away from the school's first appearance in the Rose Bowl, Hall said members of the Army were preparing for Pasadena, Calif., after the Wildcats whipped ASU.

"That ASU game we had a bunch of roses there. We thought we were going to the Rose Bowl," he said. "People were handing out fliers for tickets to the game. There was all sorts of excitement, and then we end up in the Holiday Bowl."

The friends still made the trip to San Diego to see the Wildcats defeat Nebraska 23-20 and now await a return trip to the postseason.

More than anything, the Army longs for the day when all those afternoons of staying through lopsided defeats in red jumpsuits with the Tucson sun bearing down on them really pays off.

The day Arizona's rose envy finally comes to fruition.

"We're mortgaging the farm to go to that game," Hall said.