'Tell the team to Bear Down'

old-main-special-collections-bear-down-gym
Panoramic view facing southwest from Beardown Gymnasium taken in September 1968. In the background are downtown Tucson, St. Augustine Cathedral and ‘A’ Mountain.

University of Arizona Homecoming allows new and old Wildcats to celebrate and take part in the various traditions that UA has come to hold. 

These traditions are told to incoming students and UA visitors taking a tour of the campus with Arizona Ambassadors, a team of student tour guides who work to introduce the UA campus to visitors and teach them the important history and traditions of the university, one of which is the phrase “Bear Down.”

This phrase, as told by the ambassadors, comes from a fallen football player by the name of John Byrd “Button” Salmon who was, in 1926, a recently elected student body president and, most notably, the varsity quarterback on the UA football team. 

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As Salmon and a group of friends were driving back to Tucson after a win over a freshman team in an annual matchup, he was critically injured in a car accident near Florence, Ariz. 

Salmon died on Oct. 18, 1926. A memorial for Salmon was held on campus that week, with students and faculty coming to mourn the loss of the young athlete. 

The UA football coach of the 1926 team, coach J.F. “Pop” McKale, had visited Salmon in his last days in the hospital. He heard the last words Salmon had to say to his team. 

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.

“Tell them … tell the team to Bear Down.”

That piece of history stayed with the university, and to this day, the phrase is said on a day-to-day basis, according to Melinda Burke, the Alumni Association president. 

Students, faculty and alumni that attend the UA now or who have come back recognize the phrase, and it brings a sense of pride.

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“Bear Down has come to represent more than just a rallying cry for the football games,” Burke said. “Bear Down means do your best, it might be hard, but when it really gets hard, that’s when you’re going to prove you’re a Wildcat.”

Another tradition has to do with anyone who is enrolled as a student or who graduated from UA. They are a “Wildcat for Life.” 

What it means to be a Wildcat for Life is to always carry the pride of being a UA Wildcat with you everywhere you go and to take the school’s pride and show it off, according to Burke. 

“It’s a way we share that identity [with] people all around the world. Saying ‘Bear Down’ is an instant way to connect with someone you don’t know, if they’re a Wildcat.” Burke said. 

Any student who is currently enrolled at the UA is already a Wildcat for Life, according to Burke.

Alumni visiting campus for homecoming weekend will bring meaning to both of those phrases, “Bear Down” and “Wildcat for Life,” Burke said. 

UA Homecoming is Oct. 21 through Oct. 27, and it kicked off with the lighting of “A” Mountain on Oct. 21. 

Other Homecoming activities include the Homecoming Parade and the football game, finishing off the weekend with a bonfire and crowning of Homecoming royalty Oct. 27. 


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