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Is Arizona close to realizing its Rose Bowl dream?

October 22, 2008 |  8:35 pm

Trung Canidate of Arizona is tackled by Nebraska defensemen during the 1998 Culligan Holiday Bowl.

Gary Klein, who covers USC football so thoughtfully and thoroughly for The Times, points out in a story today that Arizona is the only Pac-10 team never to have played in the Jan.1 Rose Bowl.

This is relevant because Arizona is 5-2 and tied for the conference lead as No. 6 USC heads to Tucson on Saturday night.

It's true Arizona has never received that grand invitation from the Granddaddy, but I'll never forget how close the Wildcats once came.

Would you believe one, stinking tackle? (ah, my kingdom for a horse collar).

That's right, had UCLA made one tackle when it counted on Miami tailback Edgerrin James in December 1998, Arizona would have gone to the Rose Bowl.

The Wildcats that week were rooting hard for UCLA to beat Miami in a game that was rescheduled because of Hurricane Georges.

A UCLA win would have sent the second-ranked Bruins to the first Bowl Championship Series national title game ever played. It was hosted that year by the Fiesta Bowl.

Arizona was 11-1, with the lone loss to UCLA, so the Wildcats were on deck to replace UCLA in a Rose Bowl match-up against Wisconsin.

I spoke with Arizona tailback Trung Canidate before the game and he could almost feel the roses in his teeth.

"It's like you want to celebrate, but you don't want to celebrate," Canidate said by phone from Tucson back then. "Because you know, in college football, anything can happen."

It sure can.

In one of the craziest, sweatiest  days in UCLA history, the Bruins squandered their national title chance by losing to Miami, 49-45.

James gained 299 yards against a slipshod UCLA defense that couldn't make a tackle to save its season.

UCLA did NOT go to the BCS title game and Arizona did NOT go to the Rose Bowl (the Wildcats defeated Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl that year to finish 12-1).

Ten years after '98, maybe the Wildcats will finally reserve a Rose Bowl date in '08.

-- Chris Dufresne

Photo: Running back Trung Canidate of Arizona is tackled by Nebraska defensemen during the 1998 Culligan Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Credit: Tom Hauck / ALLSPORT