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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘Sea of red’ flows strong

    Arizona students pack the Arizona Stadium student section to capacity Saturday to watch Arizonas season opener against Brigham Young. The Wildcats sold out their first home opener since they played Ohio State in the first home game of 2000.
    Arizona students pack the Arizona Stadium student section to capacity Saturday to watch Arizona’s season opener against Brigham Young. The Wildcats sold out their first home opener since they played Ohio State in the first home game of 2000.

    Fifty-eight thousand, four hundred and fifty fans.

    Forget for a moment the fact that it was the ninth-largest crowd in the history of Arizona football – or that it was the most fans that had ever shown up for a season opener in Tucson. The fact of the matter is that they came out to see a team coming off two straight 3-8 seasons.

    Regardless of how you slice it, the Arizona fans – and especially the Zona Zoo – had a major impact on their Wildcats’ 16-13 win over Brigham Young on Saturday.

    “”It was awesome,”” quarterback Willie

    Tuitama said of the student section’s sea of red. “”They really don’t know how much they actually help us – but it was big.””

    Added cornerback Antoine Cason: “”It was amazing, but when the game started, we can’t look up no more. The game is on.””

    But for the more than 10,000 students who packed the lower level of the east stands from the north end zone to the south, the game started more than two hours before kickoff, as students began filing in and warming up their vocal chords.

    When the specialists took the field 45 minutes prior to kickoff to practice snaps, holds and kicks, they were greeted with a more than warm reception.

    Those specialists were soon joined by the rest of their teammates, and as each new Wildcat took the field, the crowd grew louder, letting their team know they were behind them.

    “”I can feel the support on and off campus,”” senior safety Michael Johnson said after the game. “”People in Tucson really love U of A football.””

    That’s right, he didn’t say basketball.

    No, people in Tucson still love their basketball – very much so, in fact. (What other team has fans follow it to Canada for five preseason games in three days?) But what Johnson referenced is that Tucson is well on its way to no longer being a one-sport town.

    This summer, season tickets were selling like water bottles in the Sahara. This summer, record crowds showed up to preseason scrimmages. This summer, hundreds of fans lined a remote practice area during fall camp for hours to catch a glimpse of their Wildcats.

    UA head coach Mike Stoops knows it’s a two-way street. If he wins football games, people come out to see his team play. But winning football games is surely a lot easier in front of 58,450 fans.

    “”To win at this level, you need the support of everyone,”” he said. “”We said that when we came here two years ago. … These fans really showed up and supported us. It means a lot to the game and a lot to our kids.””

    Perhaps even more important than coming to the game in the first place is staying from start to finish.

    Even when the players couldn’t bear to watch – “”I was just looking down, and I heard the crowd start cheering. It’s the happiest I’ve been since I’ve been here,”” linebacker Spencer Larsen said of Nick Folk’s game-winning kick – the fans remained diligent.

    It’s been a problem that’s plagued the student section for years: “”Halftime? Let’s go.””

    Hopefully it won’t be the only time this season, but for once, the partying was put on hold for another hour and a half as the 10,000 students remained strong until Folk’s blast with one second left on the clock.

    “”They were behind us,”” Cason said. “”No one left, and we played to the finish and fought hard.””

    BYU quarterback John Beck even chimed in on the crowd, expressing his thoughts in what is quite possibly the understatement of the early season.

    “”There were some times that the stadium got pretty loud,”” he said.

    Yeah, it did, didn’t it?


    Ryan Casey is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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