Arizona offers that chance in some creative ways, none more intriguing than its inscrutable double-eagle flex defense, which has held opponents to 11.3 points and 45.5 rushing yards per game over the last two seasons, and which, says Oregon coach Rich Brooks, "people just haven't figured out how to attack." And which has six starters returning from last year's 10-2 Pac-10 co-champions.
On defense or offense the Wildcats are a melting pot of personalities, with players from such far-flung beginnings as Lebanon and Samoa, and from as near as eight Tucson high schools. They include a fierce defensive end (Tedy Bruschi) who rides a tiny motor scooter and blanches at the sight of a spider, a transfer quarterback (Dan White) who only recently began beating his blockers in the 40 and a throwback guard (Smith) who is called Chewbacca by his teammates, in homage to the forest of red hair that covers his squat, 290-pound body.
"We've got guys who are just out there," says Bruschi. "But when you've got a bunch of characters acting as one character, then you've got some good football team. We're going to get to the Rose Bowl, and why not throw the national championship in there too? Our goal is to win every game. This is the year."
The climb began with Tomey, a native of Bloomington, Ind., who, as certification of his roots, was in the Butler University gym that March night in 1954 when Milan High upset Muncie Central in the basketball game that inspired the movie Hoosiers. Tomey himself was duly inspired to spend predawn winter mornings shooting free throws in the Elston High gym in Michigan City, Ind., but for the past 32 years he has been strictly a football coach. Tomey took over the Arizona program in 1987, after six years as an assistant at UCLA and 10 years as the head coach at Hawaii (Los Angeles, Honolulu, Tucson: Have Sunscreen, Will Travel). He has moved the Wildcats into the elite: from an injury-scarred 4-7 in '91, to 6-5-1 and the John Hancock Bowl in '92, to last year's 10-2 and that stomping of Miami.
Tomey is no more run-of-the-mill than his players. On spring and summer nights he plays in the Tucson City Baseball League, and on June 20, 1993, his 55th birthday, Tomey played all nine positions in a game, including an inning as catcher for his then 23-year-old son, Rich, a former Arizona pitcher with a nasty split-fingered fastball. "I just tried to keep everything in front of me," Tomey says. The summer before that Tomey was hit on the chin by a pitcher less than half his age, throwing heat.
"A lot of us thought the kid hit Dick on purpose," said teammate Greg Hansen. "We started to run out of the dugout, but Dick stands up and yells, 'Get back! Play ball.' He's got blood running down his face, and he just stays in there." Two days later the outline of a baseball's seam was still visible on his chin.
"Hanging on to youth." says Oregon's Brooks, a close friend of Tomey's from their days as UCLA assistants. Tomey says, "I don't do things the same way as a lot of people."
To be sure. He doesn't sleep on his office couch at night, and, in fact, after beginning his day at 5 a.m., he chases his assistants out of their McKale Center cubbyholes at dinnertime, so they can spend evenings with their families. As for his own family, Tomey is in the final stages of his second divorce; the first, in 1982, he calls "one of the most painful things I've ever been through." He remains close with his two children from that first marriage—Rich, a graduate student at Arizona, and Angie, a 20-year-old sophomore-to-be at Prescott (Ariz.) College, with whom Tomey spent six days in July hiking in Alaska—and with his 15-year-old stepson, Sonny Arquette.
Tomey's softer side is turned at times to his players. When a promising 1992 season started 1-1-1 before a game against No. 1 Miami in the Orange Bowl, Tomey called each member of the traveling squad into his office for individual confidence-building sessions that went on until 1 a.m. "He's always used positive reinforcement." says Cedric Dempsey, the Arizona athletic director who hired Tomey and who is now executive director of the NCAA. Last spring, when undrafted defensive end Jimmie Hopkins was cut in minicamp by the Miami Dolphins, Tomey called several NFL teams, telling them that, yes. Hopkins was too small to play defensive line, but that he was versatile enough to try at tight end. (So far, no team has taken his advice.)
But Tomey is very much two people. Seen from his other side he is a square-jawed, militaristic football man, a guy who would rather punt on third down than risk an interception and who once worked under Bo Schembechler (at Miami of Ohio, in 1963). Ask Tomey what he expects from a quarterback and you get the following response: "Leadership, judgment and toughness. The world is full of quarterbacks with great arms who look good but who can't get anything done."