One of my bucket list items was to go to the Rose Bowl and to see the rivalry game between USC and UCLA. Back in 1986, I did that very thing.
A friend and I flew out and stayed with my sister and we all went to the game. It wasn’t the best of seasons to hit this game with the USC Trojans coming in with a 7-2 record and they would lose the rest of their games that year and finish 7-5. The Bruins of UCLA came in with a mediocre 6-3-1 record. But, I could knock the game off my bucket list and it was still a fun outing.
It was rivalry week across the country, and the Arizona Wildcats were playing the Arizona State Sun Devils in their Territorial Cup. These two teams were pretty good in 1986 with the Wildcats being coached by future USC and Missouri head coach, Larry Smith. The Sun Devils countered with future Ohio State head coach John Cooper. Arizona finished the 1986 season with a 9-3 record and Arizona
State finished with a record of 10-1-1 and a big Rose Bowl win over Jim Harbaugh, Bo Schembechler and the Michigan Wolverines.
Arizona was ranked 14th and Arizona State was the 4th rated team in the nation.
The rivalry game was on the television at the house we were staying with my sister and her roommates. One of the roommates was a black woman which doesn’t matter at all other than the words that she yelled. Arizona State was driving and about to score. Sun Devil Quarterback Jeff Van Raaphorst dropped back to throw and his receiver was covered apparently and he scrambled a bit under heavy pressure.
He threw the ball into the end zone and Arizona Safety Chuck Cecil ran in front of it and picked it off. He caught it at almost a dead run and he was off to the races. He had to work his way past some linemen and cut to the outside to get out of traffic, but he was gone.
The black roommate, and I don’t know if she was for either team, started yelling ‘look at that white boy go. Go white boy, go! Look at that white boy!’ I am not even sure how many times she yelled white boy, but we all found it rather amusing.
That white boy, Chuck Cecil, took it the distance with only teammate Martin Rudolph running with him.
The score had been 24-10 in favor of the Wildcats. If the Sun Devils had scored they close the gap to 7 points, and we have a possible big finish and a come back. But, Cecil’s big play pretty much closed the door on the Devils making it 31-10.
The television camera showed Arizona State fans leaving by the hundreds and heading back to Tempe with the only loss of the season. I never believed in leaving early.
Chuck Cecil had ruined their day, but he wasn’t finished. As the game continued, Van Raaphorst gallantly continued to fight. He threw to his receiver a little high, and Chuck Cecil hit the receiver as the ball arrived. The ball was tipped into the air and Martin Rudolph picked that one off and ran it back to the Arizona State 12 yard line.
Arizona beat Arizona State that day, 34-17.
Cecil was just a junior that season and he came back the following to grab 9 more interceptions with a
record 4 against Stanford.
His pick I wrote about above has been voted greatest play in Arizona Wildcat history. Chuck Cecil was a consensus All American in 1987. He was a 2 time All Pac 10 Safety and a 3 time All Academic Pac 10. He is in the University of Arizona Hall of Fame and also in the college football Hall of Fame.
Chuck Cecil must have been a hot shot recruit out of California, right?
Nope, he was 6-0, 150 senior that obviously nobody wanted. So, he walked on at Arizona. He took advantage of the Arizona weight room and eventually built himself up to 6-0, 205.
He worked his way into the starting lineup for the Wildcats and his way to stardom. He became a game changer, by blocking punts and kicks and timely interceptions like the one in the Arizona State game that allowed the Wildcats to put away their arch enemy.
Cecil was also a super heavy hitter. A few years later at Arizona, head coach Dick Tomei had his defense that was called the Desert Swarm. Led by Defensive Tackle Rob Waldrop who was nearly unblock able and Outside Linebacker/Defensive End Tedy Bruschi those defenses were incredible. Chuck Cecil would have fit right end with his play making abilities and his hard hitting game.
The former scrawny 150 senior worked his way to All American and then he was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 4th round of the 1988 NFL Draft. He was with the Packers for 5 seasons and earned the nickname ‘Scud’ for the way he launched himself at opponents. He was a vicious hitter at that level as well. He played for the Phoenix Cardinals for a season and then the Houston Oilers before quitting
and getting into coaching.
Chuck Cecil was another one of my all time favorite players and I loved him for the way he hit mostly. He was just the classic over achiever much like a Tedy Bruschi, only maybe more so because he overcame so much size deficiency to become a ‘look at that white boy go’, All American college football player and to actually make it into the NFL.
I don’t really have a favorite NFL team, I just watch the ones with players that I like on them. I loved to watch the Green Bay Packers when Chuck Cecil was there hoping he would get a pick, or hit somebody so hard you could hear it on the television and the crowd would go nuts. Cecil only played 7 years in the NFL, but he had 16 Interceptions and he was credited with 461 tackles.
Not bad for a skinny white boy from California. Way to go Chuck Cecil.