On a visit in June to central New York State, where his son, Rich, was pitching for an independent minor league baseball team, Arizona coach Dick Tomey took a side trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. "I was like a kid in a candy store," says the 57-year-old Tomey, which is no surprise because he still plays baseball in the Tucson City League with players half his age. At the Hall of Fame, at a booth that measures the velocity of pitches, Tomey threw baseballs for 20 minutes, until he clocked the fastest pitch ever—64 mph—for a person his age.
All this makes Tomey sound like a stubborn man with something to prove, and it's an apt description. Apt for Tomey's team, too. A year ago SI picked Arizona to win the national championship, and most other prognosticators thought the Wildcats would finish in the Top 10 and play in their first Rose Bowl. Instead, they lost to Colorado State early, to Utah in the Freedom Bowl late and to Oregon and USC in between. Arizona wound up 8-4.
The Wildcats never adjusted to the role of being the hunted. 'A lot of us are unrecruited guys who never got credit for anything," says senior All-America defensive end Tedy Bruschi. "All of a sudden we wake up one day last year and everybody says, 'You're top dog. How are you going to handle it?' Looking back, not very well."
The season wasn't entirely a disaster. The Wildcats' 6-2 Pac-10 record matched their conference best, and had they reversed the 10-9 loss at Oregon, they would have gone to Pasadena. Nonetheless, the sudden vulnerability of the Desert Swarm defense, which baffled and intimidated Pac-10 teams the three previous years, was a major source of concern around Tucson. Arizona remained tough against the run (second in the nation), but gave up an average of 220 yards a game in the air.
The falloff was partly due to league opponents' having learned the oddball tendencies of the Wildcats' double eagle-flex defense. "Sure, they understand it better now," says Tomey. "But we understand it better, too." Expect only minor changes in how the unit operates. "Good defense still beats good offense," says Tomey.
Heading the defense once again will be Bruschi, the 6'1", 245-pound Tasmanian devil who has 51� tackles for losses, including 37� sacks, in three years. Constant talk that he is too small to play in the NFL has obscured his brilliant college career. "I've never heard another player get asked so much about his weight," says Bruschi.
He bulked up to 255 pounds in the off-season only to find that he was slowed by the extra weight. This year he's back to his old playing weight, a sure headache for offensive coordinators. Most often he'll be up front with junior tackle Joe Salave'a and senior nosetackle Chuck Osborne. No team has a better front core.
Senior strong safety Brandon Sanders, the 5'10", 177-pound big-hit specialist, anchors a secondary that was burned for 13 touchdowns last year. He's duly embarrassed. "The wheels came off, I don't know why," Sanders says. "But I do know we'll be much better." Senior quarterback Dan White, who completed 57% of his passes in '94, will be expected to do what Tomey's quarterbacks are always expected to do: Play it safe and not lose games. He will work with a rebuilt offensive line.
The Wildcats' most useful weapon may be the perception that they blew their chance last season. "People either slap you in the face or pat you on the back," says Bruschi. "I don't like being slapped, but I really don't like being patted on the back."
That won't be a problem this year—at least until the Wildcats start winning games.