Wildcats haunted by 'The Phrase'

For over eight years, "The Phrase" has haunted the Arizona football team. Though the back cover of the media guide says "Wildcat football, it's more than a game!", the folks at media relations could've just slapped "The Phrase" on there and got it over with.

After all, it would've gotten rid of a lot of wasted time checking facts, making calls , asking around (right after the obligatory response of "Really? No ... really?"). It would've given the team a goal a hard, concrete one, because "The Phrase" is nothing to be proud of. In fact, "The Phrase" could just as easily be "The Stigma," following around the Wildcats like it was stitched into Wilbur's tail.

Picture it: Wilbur the Wildcat at a football game, doing push-ups on the make-shift stretcher while numerous Arizona cheerleaders prop him up for the students to count off the number of points the Wildcats have scored to that point, the words "Arizona is the only team in the Pacific 10 Conference never to make a Rose Bowl appearance" stitched in black, or red, or maybe even blue, the tail cascading off the stretcher onto the ground and around someone's leg (it'd have to be a pretty long tail it's a pretty big phrase), waiting to be yanked off, thrown away and told, "We don't need you anymore."

But the team does. For the time being, at least.

Because no matter what the Wildcats do, "The Phrase" is there. It doesn't matter that the team trounced that perennial powerhouse Miami less than two years ago in the Fiesta Bowl. It doesn't matter that the team made the cover of Sports Illustrated. It doesn't even matter that the Rose Bowl's lustre has diminished in past years.

All that matters is "The Phrase."

The Wildcats have tried to shake it. Oh, how they've tried. Ever since the team opened eyes with the "morally victorious" 8-7 loss to No. 1 Miami in 1992, ever since that same team powered over No. 1 Washington five weeks later, ever since "Desert Swarm" was born, it's been an uphill battle.

And Arizona is still climbing.

The Wildcats were almost at the top of the mountain after the Washington game in '92. All they had to do was win their last two games. They didn't. In '93, same situation, same result.

And last year they made it a tradition. Though the motto last season was "Finish it," the Wildcats just couldn't seem to do that, losing two of their last four games and settling for the Freedom Bowl. Which they lost. Against Utah.

So without the hype of the Sports Illustrated cover, without the great expectations of years past, the Wildcats will take the field tomorrow night against Pacific in hopes that not too many people will remind them of "The Phrase."

They don't even want to remind themselves. Their new motto, "In it to win it," doesn't even remotely make a reference to that event on Jan. 1 in Pasadena. In fact, it doesn't say anything. Why else would they be "in it"? To lose? To tie? Or maybe just to distract people from the real issue, that Arizona has never been in the Rose Bowl.

And time may be running out. With the departure of defensive linemen Tedy Bruschi and Chuck Osborne after this year, Desert Swarm will effectively be over. But for now, the Wildcats will have to contend with the fact that they are a relative dark horse in the conference. In other words, that they have nothing to lose.

Except that tail.

Monty Phan is sports editor of the Arizona Daily Wildcat.

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