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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Remembering Joe Cavaleri: the Tucson icon that was the ‘Ooh Aah Man’

Tyler Baker
The Ooh Aah Man stands and expresses his anguish during the game against the University of Oregon in McKale Center on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016. Fans saw their home team lose in McKale Center for the first time in almost three seasons.

Regular attendees of Arizona men’s basketball games in McKale Center will undoubtedly see familiar faces in the crowd. Whether it’s friends or standout fellow fans, the recurring faces bring comfort and excitement to the massive crowds that fill the seats.

No superfan was more iconic than Joe Cavaleri, better known as the “Ooh Aah Man.”

His name hasn’t been talked about in the dorm hallways in the last few years; it will generate confused looks from many modern students and fans. He performed as the “Ooh Aah Man” for the final time in 2013 when most current students were still in elementary and middle school. For Wildcat fans who remember the late 1980s through 2000s, however, his presence in the crowd was absolutely electrifying. During Arizona’s 1994, 1997 and 2001 NCAA Final Four runs, Cavaleri was always given one of the 12 complimentary travel vouchers reserved for cheerleaders.

“[Cavaleri would] get the crowd to chant ‘Ooh! Aah! Sock it to ’em, Wildcats,’ and it ended up catching on,” Tucson local Paul Harris said. “They would have him on the floor as a sort of mascot amping up the crowd.”

Cavaleri, born on March 2, 1952, in Mt. Kisco, New York, never attended UA. He was raised in Pawling, New York, where he graduated high school and attended Dutchess Community College in Dutchess County, New York, for two years. Only then did he move to Tucson, joining a sister who had already established roots in the desert. 

Even before the local fame, he was well-known to many Tucsonans as a friendly face behind the bar at the Solarium, the Bum Steer or Carlos Murphy’s. It wasn’t until May 28, 1979, that he became an iconic superfan when he showed up to the NCAA baseball regionals in a red and white shirt with “Ooh Aah” emblazoned on it. The Wildcats defeated the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa to clinch a College World Series appearance – the 11th in program history and the first since the 1976 National Championship season.

He was hoisted onto the shoulders of Wes Clements, Clark Crist and Terry Francona, and the rest is history. Overnight, Arizona fans had raised enough money to send Cavaleri to the College World Series alongside his beloved Wildcats.

One of his most iconic moments came a decade later at an Arizona men’s basketball game against a formidable Oregon State University team in the 1989 season. Cavaleri strutted to midcourt and began stripping off layers of t-shirts and athletic shorts. Guard Steve Kerr, who was injured at the time, joined Cavaleri on the court and used the rags to spell out “A-R-I-Z-O-N-A” amidst a roar of excitement from the crowd. 

Arizona defeated Oregon State 71-61, and Cavaleri’s signature routine was born. He performed for 30 years at all sorts of Arizona sporting events, stripping t-shirts off and starting the “Ooh Aah” chant. Cavaleri performed until he was physically unable to as he began to suffer the effects of Parkinson’s Disease.

Aside from the fandom, however, Cavaleri was a well-respected community figure known for his love for and gentleness with children. He frequented elementary schools in the Tucson area where he would perform as the “Ooh Aah Man” doing small pep rallies and signing autographs.

“He raised his kids up the street from me when I was growing up,” Harris said. “He would walk to school with us and talk about Wildcat basketball because I was super into basketball at the time. He would always drop free tickets to my dad and me — good seats, too.”

Cavaleri organized special events and fostered a connection between Arizona sports and the greater Tucson community.

“[When I was] in kindergarten, he and some of the teachers at Richardson Elementary got the [1997 National] Championship ‘Cats to play my class in a game,” Harris said. “It’s only a microcosm of what he did for UA and Tucson.”

Cavaleri passed away at 71 on Saturday, July 8, due to respiratory failure stemming from Parkinson’s disease at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tucson. Although he’s no longer with us, his legacy in Tucson and in the Arizona athletics department lives on.

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