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The real story behind Arizona’s “Bear Down” motto

UA loves the Bear Down story, even though it’s far less appealing than the myth and probably isn’t true.

The story goes, star QB and class president “Button” Salmon gets critically injured in a car wreck. His dying words are to Coach McKale at his bedside, telling the team to “bear down” in their upcoming big game. Coach tells the team while they’re at the stadium, and they proceed to valiantly pull off the upset win due to their motivation and grit—inspired by their dead teammate’s dying words.

Good story, huh?

The truth is far less appealing. First, UA now admits that it doesn’t actually know which game that season it reportedly happened at—a rather important detail in the story. Maybe it was New Mexico State the week after the funeral, maybe it was New Mexico several weeks (and a couple of games) later, possibly it was one of the other three games (only one of which was a win). What we do know is that McKale didn’t say anything about Button’s words until he reportedly told the team at the game.

If it had been New Mexico or one of the other games, then it seems a bit unlikely that the coach would have forgotten to honor Button’s dying wish and relay his “bear down” to the team before the next game. Simply put, it was probably just something he simply made up as a good story. But UA isn’t sure which game. Uh huh.

But even if it was against New Mexico State the week after the funeral, the inspirational words shouldn’t have played much of a factor. First of all, the team had already played two games while Button laid paralyzed in the hospital. They had won 54-0 and 35-0, so I guess they didn’t miss their starting QB as much as one might think. And, remarkably, he apparently didn’t give any words of encouragement to the team during that time. According to McKale, he saved that until the coach had to specifically ask him the day before he died if he had any words for the team.

New Mexico State was winless on the season and undefeated UA was already heavily favored, even without Button. That’s not surprising, UA was on a nine-win streak against lowly NMSU, winning by a combined score of 265-14 with shutouts in all but two games. UA went on to play a terrible game against a weak opponent, but managed to eek out 7-0 win in what should have been a blowout.

So even if the “best case” scenario for this is actually true, it involved a poorly played, lackluster win over a creampuff opponent. It’s actually rather clear that the team did not honor their teammate’s words to “Bear Down.” They very narrowly escaped doing the literal opposite: a embarrassingly loss to a far inferior opponent. Simply put, the message wasn’t inspirational to the team; they did not play close to their ability and certainly not “inspired football,” and they let down their dead teammate.

Nonetheless, UA proudly celebrates its own failure to live up to the so-called inspiring words of its fallen player. In many ways, #beardown is as much an insult as it is the school’s athletic motto.

So yes, UA, #beardown. Bear down indeed.

You might also want to read about 6 embarrassing things about the Arizona Wildcats or my collection of U of A jokes.

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