In Olden Lee's three years as a linebacker at Arizona the football team never had a winning season, but the Wildcats did pull off one of the great upsets in school history.
On Saturday afternoon, Sept. 30, 1967, in front of 77,468 fans at the famous horseshoe-shaped Ohio Stadium in Columbus, one of the most recognizable landmarks in college athletics, the Cats stunned the Ohio State Buckeyes, 14-7.
What the sports world didn't know was, Arizona had a little unexpected motivation going for it. Well, actually, a lot of motivation.
Lee, who lives in Dallas and is retired after 28 years with the holding company, Pepsico, recalled that special Wildcat inspiration in a telephone interview.
"We came in to Columbus on Friday evening before the game," Lee said. "And it isn't hard to remember the thing that sticks out the most from that trip.We were sitting around the hotel watching television and pretty soon they were interviewing Woody (legendary Buckeye Coach Woody Hayes). He was talking about the tradition Ohio State had, of winning its first game each season.
"The interviewer said something like, 'Well, Coach, do you tend to schedule a weaker opponent for the opener?' And Woody didn't necessarily confirm it -- but he didn't do a lot to dispel it, either."
The result was an unbelievable upset by the Wildcats.
As big as that victory was, however, it didn't take away the sting of a 3-6-1 record under first-year coach Darrell Mudra.
"You know, you remember a lot of things from your college days," Lee said, "and most of them are good. But what bothered me the most from the time I was at UA was, we didn't have a winning season.
"So the Ohio State win was big, but it's hard to say you did something special when you didn't have a winning football season. Great as that victory was, we'd rather have won it in the Western Athletic Conference."
While the Cats defeated teams such as Ohio State, Air Force and Utah during Olden¡¯s three seasons of eligibility (freshmen couldn¡¯t play in those days), they also lost to San Jose State, Wyoming and Indiana. Worse yet, they were beaten three times by arch-rival Arizona State.
¡°For some reason, we had great players but not a great team,¡± Lee said. ¡°A lot of our guys went on to play pro.¡±
Olden didn¡¯t. Nor did he coach. He went into the world with a business degree and enjoyed a fine career.
Some of his best buddies at UA were Bill Lueck, a first-team all-Western Athletic Conference guard, drafted by the Green Bay Packers; Ron Gardin,a running back who also enjoyed a fine NFL career; Tom Nelson, John Jones, Sam Castle, Woody King and Rusty Tillman.
¡°Rusty was an interesting guy,¡± Lee said. ¡°He came to UA as a high school all-American quarterback, but he added weight and strength and became a linebacker. He played for a while in the NFL then wound up as one of the top special-teams coaches in pro ball.¡±
Among those who had a positive influence on Lee during his time at UA were Marvin ¡°Swede¡± Johnson, vice president for university relations; Royal ¡°Sharkey¡± Price, a tough but popular assistant football coach; Robert S. Svob, dean of men and his assistant, William T. Foster.
Then there was the wonderful equipment manager, Ed Thomas, who helped helped a generation or two of African-American athletes adapt to college life.
¡°Ed was the ¡®ambassador¡¯ for black athletes,¡± Lee said. ¡°He was our father figure. He was tough -- he used tough-love on us -- but he was a great man and he helped us keep our feet on the ground.¡±
Lee said he always felt ¡°there was a lot of support for us at the university and in the community as student-athletes and as minority athletes.¡±
He gets back to Tucson ¡°quite a bit.¡± He has received numerous awards from his alma mater, served as president of the Alumni Association for a time and is now on the advistory board of the business school.
¡°I was also fortunate enough to win the CATS Award,¡± he said. ¡°And it added to the honor that I received it from Tedy Bruschi of the New England Patriots, who is such a fine young man.¡±
After graduating from UA, Lee went to work for General Dynamics in Fort Worth. Later he was recruited to Pepsico, where he was assigned to the Frito Lay division. He worked in Dallas, southern California and Louisville in addition to Texas.
Lee and his wife, Carol, have two sons, Mark and Jason. Jason graduated from Arizona in the late 1990s and Mark attended the University of Texas at Austin.
Olden initially retired to Scottsdale but moved to Dallas a couple of years ago.
His main recreational activity now is skiing, and his favorite spot for it is Colorado.