Arizona's present is a wide, dry practice field in early summer, where roughly 35 players—many of them starters and fifth-year seniors—are working out on their own in bludgeoning heat. They play lively games of touch, survive agility drills, and at the finish they gather in a tight circle and chant, "Cats, Cats," as if breaking a midseason huddle rather than putting themselves through drills four times a week in summer school.
Sanders drops himself onto a mat against a chain-link fence and surveys the gathering. It has happened quickly. He and Bruschi still call each other "youngster," from their days as freshmen forced into the fire.
"I remember after the Miami game in '92, sitting on the grass in the Orange Bowl with all the lights off, all showered up, waiting for our bus," he says. "I was thinking. We had this place on tilt for a while. Right then we all realized what we had. We can beat everybody."
The present is the sweet smell of fresh roses, beckoning. It is players unwanted, grown to maturity and striking back. It is the first time to the top, the best time of all.