Remembering the past: Desert Swarm

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Eric Jukelevics and Eric Jukelevics | The Daily Wildcat Then UA head coach Disck Tomey address the football team following a scrimmage at Arizona Stadium in 2000.

A name that stands out in itself: Head Coach Dick Tomey’s defense between the years 1992-94 was unparalleled and unrivaled. Opposing teams averaged barely 30 yards rushing a game, which was some of the best rush defense in 30 years. According to the late Tomey, the defense was very simple, as it had the same front every play and almost never blitzed. The defense almost never changed personnel, and formations by offenses never changed their scheme.

One of the greatest things about the Desert Swarm was the fact they played with so much passion. While the defense led by College Football Hall of Fame player Tedy Bruschi was not the tallest, the team played with so much heart and never gave up on a play. They all did their own roles while not trying to do others' jobs and trusting in each other. In this Desert Swarm defense, you needed a very active linebacker, which you were able to find in Bruschi, and a very aggressive nose tackle, which you found in Rob Waldrop.

Bruschi wasn’t a four- or five-star prospect out of high school, however. The thing that drew interest from Tomey was the fact that Bruschi had such a high motor and always played 100 miles per hour.

"Once you started feeling like you could dominate people, you just went out and did it," Tomey said. "It's immeasurable what confidence can do. Then we came in in 1992, and you could not move the ball on us."

In the 1992 season, the Wildcats were playing University of Washington, who was then led by Napoleon Kaufman, Lincoln Kennedy and Mark Brunell. Washington was coming off of a National Championship season after winning it in 1991. Coming into the game, No. 1 Washington had beaten No. 15 Stanford 41-7. Washington came into the game with a 22-game winning streak, a team who had outscored then Pac-10 teams 524-130 during that span.

The crowd here in Tucson knew that Washington was a very powerful team; Washington had demolished Arizona 54-0 and 54-10 the two previous times they had played them. The Desert Swarm was in full effect, however, when Arizona prevailed 16-3 over Washington. 

After the game, Tomey was nothing short of humble as he just praised his team.

“This team now has beaten Washington in three of five games,” Tomey said. “It has beaten UCLA three out of four, and USC two in a row. At some point, the Arizona program needed to get some credit for what it’s been.”

The Desert Swarm was then talked about on ESPN’s college football program the next morning, and what was their first topic? The Desert Swarm and this Arizona team who kept No. 1 Washington to three points.

That season, Arizona defense became the story of the year, even being covered nationally because they were allowing so few yards. Tomey first heard about this new nickname by the media and wasn’t a fan of it because he was afraid the team was going to embrace it and start falling off track. However, the Wildcats did the opposite of that; the team went to the 1994 Fiesta Bowl, beating Miami by a final score of 29-0. Yes, the team they lost to by one point earlier that season, they shut out.

Tomey was the perfect coach for this defense because it was simple, but he had the athletes that played hard and tough all game long that it was perfect.

"The legacy of that team is the ferocious way that they played," Tomey said. "Sometimes coaches will say 'we really played hard,' but our scheme was so simple. We knew what we were doing and you had to beat us. We rarely made mistakes, too. I was the head coach, but our defensive coaches did a fabulous job. They were the right guys and they put Arizona on a national stage."

The late Tomey will be remembered for this defense — it was simple, yet the players fully bought into it and played their hearts out every single game.


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