Greg Byrne's Wildcat Wednesday

The Story Behind Bear Down

bear-down photo

The Wildcats' battle cry of "Bear Down" comes from the dying words of a popular student-athlete. John "Button" Salmon was president of the student body, starting quarterback, and three-year catcher for the baseball team. Nicknamed for his small frame (5'8", 145 pounds) and impish good looks, he was very popular with his teammates, coach, and fellow students.

The year before his death, Salmon dazzled 30,000 Trojan fans at USC with his powerful punts and fearless defensive play. The recklessness of this hard-rock kid with the curly reddish hair inspired his teammates to nickname him "The Leaping Tuna."

Salmon was also a talented baseball catcher. In the spring of 1925 his clutch two-base hit drove in the winning run against USC. When he was elected student body president a few days later he referred to that hit as "the 200-vote double."

The day after the 1926 season's opening game, Salmon was driving with three friends when he missed a treacherous curve and spun over a ravine. Although others were not seriously injured, he suffered a serious spinal cord injury and died on October 18, 1926, at St. Mary's Hospital. His final message to his teammates, given to coach McKale, who visited Salmon everyday in the hospital, was "Tell them...tell the team to bear down."

At Salmon's funeral service, a three-mile line of cars snaked from downtown Tucson to the cemetery.

A year later the student body voted to make "Bear Down" the official slogan of all Wildcat teams and in 1939 the State of Arizona issued a proclamation declaring the phrase "Bear Down" to be the sole and exclusive property of the University of Arizona.