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6 embarrassing facts you didn’t know about the Arizona Wildcats

6) Depressed mascot

Rufus Arizona, UA’s first live wildcat mascot, hung himself from a tree limb on April 17, 1916—just months after being purchased as the school’s mascot. I suspect he was suicidal after he learned the story of how the university adopted the wildcats nickname.

5) Another dead cat

In 1885, when the 13th Territorial Legislature awarded Tucson the University of Arizona (instead of the higher prized appropriations that accompanied the insane asylum or the state capital), Tucson citizens were so angry at receiving a university no one wanted that they pelted their returning legislators with ripe eggs, rotten tomatoes and—foreshadowing their future mascot—a dead cat. Talk about wildcat pride…

4) Arizona’s First (Remedial) University

Nonetheless, U of A heavily promotes that it was Arizona’s first university. What they fail to mention, besides the less-than-proud tradition mentioned above, is that there was little need for a university in the Arizona Territory, which didn’t even have a high school at the time. While the “university” accepted students from its first day of class, the vast majority were placed in a specially established remedial prep school. It took 17 years for university students to outnumber those in prep classes, which were maintained for 23 years. It’s hard not to chuckle when you see a billboard U of A purchased to promote a less-than-proud beginning.

3) An obvious lie

The ubiquitous motto of Arizona Athletics is “Bear Down.” The basic story goes like this: star QB gets seriously injured in a car accident. On his death bed, he relays a message to his teammates through his coach, telling the team to “bear down” and inspiring the team to pull off a critical win. Unfortunately, virtually all of this is myth, pure and simple. Details are sketchy, but few comport with the mythology. At best, the motto wasn’t inspirational at all and the team grossly underperformed, nearly losing to a far weaker opponent. At best, it was all just made up by Coach McKale—which seems like the most likely truth.

2) High school colors

U of A’s original school colors were sage green and silver, representing sage brush and the state’s mining industry. However, in 1900, student manager Quintas J. Anderson was offered, at an extremely low price, a set of used solid blue uniforms trimmed in red. U of A bought the uniforms and changed their school colors to red and blue to match the sale-priced uniforms. So much for tradition, originality, or Arizona pride.

1) Maybe not the proudest moment

On November 7, 1914, the Arizona “Varsity” football team was shut out 14-0 by the team from Occidental College in California. Bill Henry, a student correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, tossing the visitors a bone after a sound defeat, wrote that the Arizona team “showed the fight of wild cats” while getting pummeled by Occidental. For some reason, the fans in Tucson were elated at the newspaper article and eager to adopt the throwaway line of an out of town student sports reporter as their school’s mascot. And it’s been Wildcats ever since.

Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.

➞ You might also enjoy my large collection of Wildcat jokes.

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