In the 50 days leading up to Arizona’s season-opener against Toledo, on Sept. 1 at Arizona Stadium, TucsonCitizen.com and its affiliate WildAboutAZCats.net will rank the Top 50 games in the history of the football program. The ranking is at No. 35 as the kickoff to the Wildcats’ season — and the start of the Rich Rodriguez era — is only 35 days away.
SCORE: California 56, Arizona 55, 4 OTs
DATE: Nov. 2, 1996
SITE: Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif., 35,000 in attendance
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: In the first year of overtime in college football, Arizona and Cal took it to the extreme. Arizona quarterback Keith Smith completed five touchdown passes and ran for two more but it was not enough in what was the longest game in major college football history at that point. In a risky move that resulted in the loss for Arizona, coach Dick Tomey elected to go for the victory rather than send the game into a fifth overtime after the UA scored a touchdown to cut the lead to 56-55. Arizona lined up for the extra point, but holder Ryan Hesson took the snap and flipped it over his head to kicker Matt Peyton, who was tackled immediately by a Cal defender to end the game.
“Even though this is a devastating feeling, someday someone will say that’s the greatest college football game ever played,” Tomey told reporters after the game. “I guess it’s better than both teams walking off the field talking to themselves (after a tie).”
The more apt wording is perhaps “wildest” college football game ever played. Arizona’s failed fake point-after-attempt adds to the craziness. Tomey later was one of the coaches who called for the rule mandating automatic two-point tries in third overtimes and beyond, which was passed by the rules committee. Cal played in the previous longest game in college football history earlier that season in a triple-overtime 48-42 victory over Oregon State.
Smith threw for 418 yards while Cal quarterback Pat Barnes threw for eight touchdowns and 503 yards, both school records. Jeremy McDaniel, who entered the game with 119 yards in receptions, set school records with 14 catches for 283 yards.
“It took guts,” Smith told reporters about Tomey’s risky decision to go for the win. “We make the play, and we all go crazy.”
Arizona did not recover afterward, losing two of its last three games — including a 56-14 defeat against ASU in Tucson — to finish 5-6. Cal apparently ran out of gas after the 3-hour and 56-minute game with Arizona. The Golden Bears lost their last four games after playing the Wildcats. They allowed an average of 39.9 points in those four games.
No. 36 — Veal to Hill “Hail Mary” pass highlights “The Streak” reaching seven games against ASU (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 37 — USC outlasts Arizona 48-41 in one of most wild games played in Tucson (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 38 — Arizona shows signs of life under Stoops with rout over No. 7 UCLA (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 39 — Art Luppino “The Cactus Comet” rockets toward 38 yards per carry and five touchdowns (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 40 — Fumblerooski enables Arizona to sweep USC, UCLA in L.A. for first time (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 41 — Sun Devil nemesis Dan White quarterbacks Arizona into Fiesta Bowl with win over ASU (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 42 — Struggling UA gets improbable win against ’83 Pac-10 champ UCLA (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 43 — Closing chapter of “The Streak” includes Arizona’s dramatic fourth-quarter heroics (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 44 — Arizona overcomes rival Texas Tech with unfathomable late-game rally (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 45 — Dick Tomey, the Desert Fox, does a number on UCLA by changing offense in midseason (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 46 — “The Streak” reaches three games, UA achieves best Pac-10 finish (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 47 — Arizona’s first game at Arizona Stadium in 1929, a 35-0 win over Cal Tech (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 48 — Underdog Arizona’s 2011 thriller over arch-rival Arizona State (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 49 — Arizona’s first win over arch-rival Arizona State, then known as Territorial Normal (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 50 — Arizona’s first win in program’s history: 22-5 over Tucson Indians (TucsonCitizen.com)