By Eric Wein
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Not too long ago, the Arizona football team closed out the last game of its season by walking somberly off the Sun Devil Stadium field.
Like the fans that cheered the Wildcats last year at the Fiesta Bowl, the ones at this game were experiencing euphoria Ä only on this occasion, the celebration was created by a crowd decked in maroon and gold apparel.
In 1991, the Wildcats left Sun Devil Stadium with the scoreboard showing ASU 37, Arizona 14. That loss capped a dismal 4-7 season and marked Coach Dick Tomey's only losing season at Arizona.
Three years later, the UA football team doesn't seem to resemble the hapless squad that suffered through a forgettable season. But the current juniors who sat out as redshirts that year and most of the seniors recall that disappointing campaign.
"It was a nightmare," said right guard Warner Smith. "To just get drubbed week in and week out really hurt a lot. That's still in all of our heads. The teams that were whipping us then Ä we're getting payback and we still want more from the embarassment they caused us."
To put it simply, in '91 the Wildcats rarely won.
"No matter how hard we tried, we couldn't get things right," safety Tony Bouie said. "That year was pretty much doom and gloom. Every week we were like, 'We have to go out and play again?' We have tons more confidence now than we did then."
Despite the disappointing results, Tucson didn't get too frustrated with the program. Locals generally had expected '91 to be a rebuilding year because of injuries and a young roster.
Arizona's schedule that season wasn't easy either. The Wildcats faced two tough non-conference opponents Ä Ohio State in the opener and Miami. Their only Pac-10 bye was lowly Oregon. At one point late in the season, the UA was beaten quite handily in three consecutive games Ä by Washington 54-0, by UCLA 54-14 and by Miami 36-9.
The Wildcats' only victories were over Stanford, Oregon State, Southern Cal and Long Beach State, whose program has since become defunct.
"That year was a refer ence to this because everybody says, 'What's it like being top dog?'" said defensive end Tedy Bruschi, who played two games and eventually redshirted that season. "We remember what it's like to be the bottom dog. We remember getting our butts kicked week in and week out."
Tomey has called the 31-14 win over USC at Arizona Stadium that season the most cherished victory of his Arizona tenure.
"We had trouble winning and we beat them with a bunch of freshmen on the line," Tomey said. "There has not ever been a win that's more gratifying than that one."
Ten true freshmen were forced into the starting lineup. Others had to move into new positions. Mike Scurlock, a 5-foot-11 197-pound cornerback these days, made 67 tackles while playing the entire season at inside linebacker in 1991. Heath Bray, a first-year graduate assistant this year, moved from safety to linebacker.
The Wildcats' record in 1991 didn't really matter as much. Arizona was generally known for basketball. Period. Football was something to watch in the off-season.
A few things have changed.
As successful as the program was last year at 10-2 and whatever record it may finish with this season, the 1991 season is for some a vivid memory of what it was like to be the underdog every week and of having most of its wins be considered upsets.
For others, it's a distant memory.
"It was tough but it's ancient history now," center Hicham El-Mashtoub said. "I don't even think of it. We've got confidence. It's a different team this year."
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