Five on Friday: Fun facts about the 1998 Arizona football team

1998 Arizona media guide cover. Front, from left: Chris McAlister, DaShon Polk. Middle: Dennis Northcutt, Trung Canidate, Edwin Mulitalo. Back: Ortege Jenkins, Keith Smith, Marcus Bell.

Trung's runs, Marcus Bell's pregame ritual, team slogans and more

The 1998 Arizona Wildcats football team is holding a 20-year reunion and will be honored during the Homecoming game on Saturday night.

Those Wildcats went 12-1 and finished fourth in the AP poll following a 23-20 Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska.

"I'm really excited for it," former head coach Dick Tomey said of the reunion.

"It will be great to be with them, but the thing that thrills me most is how happy they are to see each other. I think that's the best thing you can say about any program -- how happy the former players are to see each other. I'm excited to be a small part of it."

The highlights of the season were the Leap by the Lake victory at Washington, the thrilling 50-42 win over Arizona State to end the regular season ... and the bowl victory was the whopper of a topper on the best season in school history.

Here are five fun facts from 1998:

1. NFL talent

Including starters and key backups -- but not even counting several others who were in camps or on rosters -- 16 players from Arizona's 1998 team played in the NFL. Six of them played at least 95 games in the league.

Running back Kelvin Eafon, who was in Raiders camp in 1999, said the Wildcats knew at the end of the 1997 season that they had something special.

"We were looking at every position and we were two-deep everywhere. We felt chemistry-wise, we were tight -- we were always there for each other -- but the talent was just abundant. And the proof was in the pudding by how many guys ended up having good careers in the NFL."

The list of 16 includes linebacker Antonio Pierce, who redshirted in 1998 after transferring from junior college.

Here is the list of 1998 Wildcats, in order of games played in the NFL:

158 -- TE Brandon Manumaleuna

144 -- WR Dennis Northcutt

137 -- CB Chris McAlister

132 -- OL Edwin Mulitalo

124 -- LB Antonio Pierce

95 -- LB DaShon Polk

76 -- DE Joe Tafoya

46 -- RB Trung Canidate

46 -- TE Mike Lucky

45 -- LB Marcus Bell

28 -- OL Makoa Freitas

24 -- WR Jeremy McDaniel

24 -- OL Yusuf Scott

20 -- TE/HB Paul Shields

4 -- OL Marques McFadden

1 -- OL Steven Grace

In all, that's 85 years and 1,104 games in the NFL.

2. Trung's runs

Trung Canidate, who was tried at receiver and cornerback early in his Arizona career before asking for one more opportunity at tailback, made the most of his second chance. Tomey always called him a "home-run hitter" and the stats back him up -- Canidate averaged 43.8 yards on his 26 career touchdown runs.

In 1998, he was even better.

Canidate usually gave way to the more-powerful Eafon in goal-line situations, but he did have a 1-yard scoring run early in the season.

The rest of the TD runs that season: 38 yards, 37, 71, 75, 45, 54, 80, 66, 48.

That's an average of 51.5 yards on 10 touchdown runs.

3. Bell's tackles and pregame ritual

Marcus Bell, a junior linebacker, made 139 tackles, the most in a season during Tomey's 14 years as head coach of Arizona.

His performance that season against Washington often gets overshadowed because of Ortege Jenkins' game-winning flip into the end zone, but don't forget this: Bell made 21 tackles and blocked a 19-yard field goal.

"Marcus Bell ... beast," said UA quarterback Keith Smith.

Tomey, after the 1998 regular season, called Bell the best inside linebacker he had coached at Arizona, and that included guys like Sean Harris and Brant Boyer.

One more "fun" fact about Bell: He threw up before every game, which also served as a signal to his teammates.

"He throws up every week," Tomey said in 1998. "After that, we're ready to play."

4. The great front line

The Arizona media guide lists starting lineups, dating to the 1992 season. Only once in that time did the Wildcats start the same offensive line in every game. It should come as no surprise that it happened in 1998.

"That was super important," Eafon said.

"You know what happens? When you're winning, it just cures little injuries. You can practice through stuff you never would have practiced through. When you feel something special, you want to be there. You don't want to miss a second."

Actually, the UA's front six, including tight end Mike Lucky, started every game -- left tackle Edwin Mulitalo, left guard Steven Grace, center Bruce Wiggins, right guard Yusuf Scott and right tackle Manuia Savea.

Makoa Freitas and Marques McFadden were key backups.

"Guys were afraid to lose their spot, that a guy would come in and play so good it would be hard to put you back in the starting lineup," Eafon said. "So, guys were playing through all kinds of injuries. The training room was as empty as I ever saw it."

5. Team Motto: "Stay together"

Tomey, during preseason drills at Camp Cochise, might have sported a T-shirt that said "RIGHT NOW" on it, but the real team slogan was "Stay Together."

"That was all Dick Tomey," Smith said.

"He would always say, 'The worst thing that you can imagine is going to go wrong.' And things would happen in a game and you're like, 'Oh, god.' And he would know it. He would call it out: Stay together.

"He had just said it in the team meeting right before we got on the bus, and here it is again, right in front of our face. He would just start shouting it out on the sideline. 'Stay together. Stay together. It's not over. Stay together. Move on to the next play. Stay together.'"

Tomey also relied on his senior leaders, none more prominent that Eafon, who reinforced the "Stay together" mantra.

"To us, that was our thing," Eafon said.

"Coach Tomey did a great job of letting us be a team-led team. That was something that I made sure I said every time: 'Stay together, stay together. ..."

And Tomey might have saved his best motivation for last.

During preparations for the Holiday Bowl, he told his Wildcats that the "N" on Nebraska's helmet stood for "Not today."

"Every time we saw that helmet, he wanted us to think, 'Not today, not today,'" wide receiver Brandon Nash told me in 2008. "You look back at that now, and it sounds so corny, but that has stuck with me forever and it was very motivating back then."

Smith said: "I swear, Coach pulled that out of nowhere. 'That N -- not today, not happenin.' As a kid, what that does to your adrenaline ... I mean, we're still talking about 20 years later. That's crazy."

Comments