Bowl stadium site of historic CSU win over Arizona

Colorado State University Head Football Coach Sonny Lubick coaches at football game at Hughes Stadium during a game against UNLV, 1997.
CSU coach Sonny Lubick led the Rams to an upset win over Arizona in 1994.

When the CSU Rams first step on the field on at the Arizona Stadium to take on Nevada in the inaugural Arizona Bowl, most of them will have no clue about the significance of the turf beneath their cleats.

On that same field – before many of them were born – a group of upstart Rams upset sixth-ranked Arizona in a game that changed the course of the program. The stunning 21-16 win in 1994 still is considered by most CSU fans the greatest win in school history.

“I’ve been asked about that game a lot over the years,” said Sonny Lubick, the legendary CSU coach who engineered the victory in Tucson. “That game really put us on the map. It was a victory that paid dividends for our program for the next 10 years, at least.”

Even though the Rams came into that game 5-0 and sporting their first Top 25 ranking in 17 years, they were given little chance to beat Arizona. The Wildcats, after all, were ranked No. 6 nationally and had been Sports Illustrated’s preseason pick to win the national championship.

The ‘Desert Swarm’

The Wildcats and coach Dick Tomey were known for their famed “Desert Swarm” defense that many consider one of the best defensive units in college football history. Six players on that defense went on to play in the NFL, including Tedy Bruschi and Rob Waldrop – both later were inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

“I remember talking to the players on Thursday before the game, telling them that we could hang with these guys (Wildcats), but I’m not sure I believed it myself,” Lubick said. “Arizona was a great team, and I had no idea how we were going to get a first down against that defense. But (offensive coordinator) Dave Lay came up with a couple of bootleg pass plays for touchdowns, and (quarterback) Anthoney Hill played a great game.”

Hill, the director of player development and community/alumni relations, is one of two members of current Rams coach Mike Bobo’s staff who has a connection to the game. Tom Ehlers, CSU’s director of football operations, was the defensive line coach in 1994.

Anthoney Hill, now a member of Mike Bobo's coaching staff, as the winning quarterback in CSU's 1994 victory over No. 6 Arizona.
Anthoney Hill, now a member of Mike Bobo’s coaching staff, was the winning quarterback in CSU’s 1994 victory over No. 6 Arizona.

A couple of little-known tidbits from that game:

  • Most CSU fans remember the game turning when blitzing linebacker Garrett Sand forced a fumble deep in Ram territory that defensive end Sean Moran scooped up and scored on a 77-year romp. Lubick laughed when he recalled that Sand actually blitzed in the wrong gap, which led to an open shot at the quarterback. “We got a little lucky there,” he said.
  • Unlike most road trips, which have the team departing for home immediately after the game, the Rams spent the night in Tucson. The players and coaches were so excited after the game that an all-night party ensued in the team hotel. “It was epic,” Hill said of the celebration. “Nobody got much sleep, that’s for sure, and we had bunch of guys nearly miss the bus for the airport in the morning.”
  • While the Rams were partying, fans in Fort Collins started their own celebration on Elizabeth Street west of campus. Hundreds of fans poured into the street, shutting down traffic in a spontaneous display of emotion rarely seen in the city.

The ’94 Rams would end up putting together one of the greatest seasons in school history, winning their first Western Athletic Conference title, cracking the top 10 for the first time and winning 10 games for the first time. At least 12 players on that team ended up playing in the NFL, including CSU legends like Moran, fellow defensive ends Brady Smith and Adrian Ross, and defensive backs Greg Myers and Ray Jackson.

Hill, who that night threw two touchdown passes to tight end Justin Shull, said he’s looking forward to returning to Arizona Stadium for the first time in 21 years.

“Stepping on that field for the first time, I know I’m going to get chills,” he said. “I know I’ll be able to walk to the exact spot where Justin scored those two touchdowns. It will bring back a lot of great memories.”

Game information

Colorado State (7-5) vs. Nevada (6-6)
Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015 | 5:30 p.m. MT
Arizona Stadium | Tucson, Ariz.
 KDVR (Fox 31)
Radio: ESPN 105.5 FM

Ticket information

If you’re interested in attending the game, tickets can be purchased through the CSU ticket office either online, by phone at (800) 491-7267 or in person at the McGraw Athletic Center ticket windows during regular business hours. Fans can best support CSU athletics by purchasing their tickets, which start at $25, through the Rams ticket office, and purchasing from the official CSU allotment ensures the best seat locations and seating with fellow Rams fans.

If fans are unable to attend but still wish to support the bowl effort, they may do so by donating to the Ram Club .