The athletic teams at the University of Arizona are known as the Arizona Wildcats, a name derived from a 1914 football game with then California champions Occidental College, where the L.A. Times asserted that Arizona "showed the fight of wildcats."
The University of Arizona participates in the NCAA's Division I-A in the Pacific 10 Conference. Arizona joined the PAC-10 in 1978 along with Arizona State University, bringing the conference to its current 10 teams. The school colors are cardinal red and navy blue, and the fight song is "Bear Down, Arizona!"
The University mascot is an anthropomorphized wildcat named Wilbur. The identity of Wilbur is kept secret through the year as the mascot appears only in costume. In 1986, Wilbur married his longtime wildcat girlfriend, Wilma. Together, Wilbur and Wilma appear along with the cheerleading squad at most Wildcat sporting events.
The basketball team has been one of the nation's most successful programs since Lute Olson was hired as head coach in 1983. As of 2006, the team has amassed 19 consecutive 20-win seasons, and reached the NCAA Tournament 22 consecutive years, which is the longest streak in NCAA history. Lute Olson has taken the Wildcats to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament in 1988, 1994, 1997, and 2001. In 1997, Arizona defeated the University of Kentucky, the defending national champions, to win the NCAA National Championship. Prior to winning the championship in 1997, UA won a thriller game in the Elite Eight in double overtime to take them to the Final Four (NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship).
The football team began at the University of Arizona in 1899 under the nickname "Varsity" (a name kept until the 1914 season when the team earned the name "Wildcats"). The football team was notably successful in the 1990s under head coach Dick Tomey and his "Desert Swarm" defense that was characterized by tough, hard-nosed tactics. In 1993, the team had its first 10-win season and drubbed the powerhouse University of Miami Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl by a score of 29-0. In 1998, the team posted a school-record 12-1 season and made the Holiday Bowl in which it defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Arizona ended that season ranked 3rd nationally and 2nd in several publications.
The baseball team has captured three national championship titles in 1976, 1980, and 1986. Arizona baseball teams have appeared in the NCAA National Championship title series a total of six times, including 1956, 1959, 1963, 1976, 1980, and 1986 (College World Series).
The Arizona softball team is among the top programs in the country and a perennial powerhouse. The softball team has won seven NCAA Women's College World Series titles, in 1991, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001 and 2006 under head coach Mike Candrea. The team has appeared in the NCAA National Championship in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, and 2006 a feat second only to UCLA. Mike Candrea also led the 2004 U.S. Olympic softball team to a gold medal in Athens, Greece.
Men's and Women's Golf
The university's golf teams have also been notably successful. The men's team won a national championship in 1992 (NCAA Division I Men's Golf Championships), while the women's team won national championships in 1996 and 2000.
Although surprising to some, the University of Arizona has a strong history in ice hockey. The school's team, known as the Icecats, has won over 520 games since its inception in 1978. The Icecats defeated Penn State for the National Collegiate Club Hockey National Championship in 1985. More than 100,000 fans attend Icecats home games each year, the third largest draw in all of college hockey. It should be noted, however, that the Icecats do not compete at the NCAA level.
Men's NCAA National Titles
Women's NCAA National Titles
Individual NCAA National Champions:104
A strong athletic rivalry exists between the University of Arizona and Arizona State University located in Tempe. Rivalries have also been created with other Pac-10 teams, especially University of California, Los Angeles which has provided a worthy softball rival and was Arizona's main basketball rival in the early and mid-1990s. UCLA fell off somewhat over the next decade, while Arizona maintained its basketball prowess, appearing most recently in the Elite Eight of the 2005 NCAA tournament. With UCLA's 2006 Final Four appearance, the rivalry will likely be revitalized in the near future.
History of Bear Down, Arizona!
In 1952 Jack K. Lee, an applicant for the UA's band directorship, departed Tucson by air following an interview with UA administration. From his airplane window, Lee observed the huge letters on the roof of the UA gymnasium reading "BEAR DOWN". Inspired, Lee scribbled down the music and lyrics to an up-tempo song. By the time his plane landed, he had virtually finished it. A few weeks later Lee was named the UA band director, and in September 1952, the UA band performed "Bear Down, Arizona!" in public for the first time. Soon thereafter, "Bear Down, Arizona!" became accepted as UA's fight song.
History behind the motto Bear Down
The battle cry was created by a popular student athlete, John "Button" Salmon, who was the student body president, as well as the starting quarterback for the Wildcat football team and the catcher for the Wildcat baseball team.
The day after the first game of the 1926 football season, Salmon and three friends were involved in an automobile accident and their vehicle flipped over a ravine. Although Salmon's friends were not injured, Salmon suffered a severe spinal cord injury.
In the aftermath of the accident, football coach Pop McKale visited him in the hospital every day. During McKale's last visit, Salmon's last message to his teammates was, "Tell them...tell the team to bear down." John Salmon died on October 18, 1926.
The following year, the University of Arizona student body approved that "Bear Down" would be the new slogan for all Wildcat athletic teams. In 1939, the Arizona state legislature issued a decree that "Bear Down" would be the exclusive property of the University of Arizona.