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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Homecoming reminds Wildcats everywhere to “bear down”

Alex McIntyre

A bust of John “Button” Salmon sits on a pedestal outside Arizona Stadium. Salmon’s famous advice for Pop McKale and the Arizona football team, “Tell them … tell the team to bear down,” still stands as a motto and way of life for Wildcats.

With Homecoming week upon us, it is a great time to engage in school spirit, go tailgate-hopping, converse with alumni about the “good ole days” and engage in traditions both new and old that are associated with the UA.

One of them, the motto “Bear Down,” can be found on a daily basis on the Arizona campus and throughout the city of Tucson in every form possible, from t-shirts to tattoos to roofs.

To be honest, before attending the UA, I had never even heard of bear down, where it came from or why a team called the Wildcats would associate themselves to a motto involving another animal.

I thought it was a silly saying at first that lacked any true meaning or backstory, and I never really cared about how it originated. I had only heard it from the Chicago Bears and assumed it was taken from them when, in actuality, Arizona had coined the phrase 15 years prior to Chicago’s own version in 1941.

The originator of bear down, 22-year-old John “Button” Salmon, was one of the most colorful and decorated students Arizona has ever seen. Aside from being a popular student on campus, Salmon also served as the student body president, catcher for the baseball team, starting quarterback for the football team and member of Sigma Nu, according to the Arizona Athletics website.

His season was cut short after he was involved in a car accident one day after the 1926 football season opener. The others involved in the crash were not harmed but Salmon suffered a serious spinal cord injury that would prove to be fatal.

Before he died on Oct. 18, Salmon told football head coach J.F. “Pop” McKale, “Tell them, tell the team to bear down.”

McKale relayed Salmon’s words to his team before their meeting with New Mexico State.

The Wildcats would emerge victorious in a hard fought 7-0 matchup. After Arizona defeated the Aggies, Salmon’s battle cry spread across campus and the school’s motto was born.

The gym where Salmon regularly trained would become the Bear Down Gymnasium a year later and the student body would vote bear down as the official slogan for Arizona athletic teams. In 1952, Jack K. Lee wrote “Bear Down, Arizona,” which still serves as Arizona’s official fight song.

“To me, bear down means stay strong or keep pushing on, even if it’s tough,” said Jared Engstrom, a 2014 Arizona music graduate.

To outsiders, bear down is a weird phrase they could not care less about. But to us Wildcats, past and present, it is a way of life.

Follow Ivan Leonard on Twitter.

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