Rita Rodriguez stood over the Viking range inside her sprawling Catalina Foothills-area home Thursday and laughed.
Her husband, she said, is going to find this all very funny.
See, Rita - the wife of Arizona Wildcats football coach Rich Rodriguez - cooks only about a handful of things. During the football season, the Rodriguezes eat the "training table" spread inside the stadium club. When they're all home together for meals, which is rare, the family typically orders in.
But when "Miss Rita" does cook … wow.
Rita Rodriguez has turned a simple nacho dip recipe into one of the most coveted awards on campus. Each week, the Wildcats' coaching staff awards crocks of the orange, gooey stuff - along with a bag of chips - to two players who have overcome obstacles on and off the field. The tradition, a holdover from Rich Rodriguez's time at West Virginia, is a way for the Wildcats' "first lady" to connect with players who might not otherwise receive accolades.
The Star spent Thursday afternoon in the kitchen with "Miss Rita." Here's what we learned:
Ingredients for nacho dip: ground sausage, Velveeta, Ro-Tel tomatoes and sour cream (see recipe).
Who gets it: Rita is a constant presence on campus and at practice, so she has a good idea of players who are deserving of the dip. She suggests two players to her husband every Thursday afternoon, and he makes the final decision.
"I always trust Rich's judgment, always," she said. This week's winners were starting left tackle Mickey Baucus, who overcame an injury in spring, and walk-on safety Vince Miles.
But do they share? It depends. Some recipients go straight home and eat it all, while others are happy to give others a test. At the time he left practice Thursday, Baucus was unsure exactly what he would do.
"I'll probably give some to the rest of the O-line," he said. "We're all in it together."
Arizona's firsts: Linebacker Jake Fischer and cornerback Jonathan McKnight both received the dip before Arizona's spring game, the first of the Rodriguez era. Both players missed the entire 2011 season with knee injuries.
Most memorable: Former West Virginia safety Mike Lorello used to tease Rita, saying that while he wanted the nacho dip, "my life is just too good" to get it for hardship. Then in 2005, Lorello broke his arm in the Gator Bowl. Lorello got his dip after undergoing offseason surgery.
Origins: The idea to honor unheralded players struck Rita in 2001, after she watched a WVU player comfort Rich on the team plane following a loss at Notre Dame. The player put his hand on Rich's shoulder and kept it there for a few long moments.
"It was just the most special moment for me. It just felt good to know that that young man cared for my husband," Rita said. "I want these kids to know how much I appreciate them, and how much I care about them. At that moment, when Rich was upset, they made him feel batter."
The simple gesture inspired Rita to "pay it forward" to players.
The recipe: Rita received the nacho dip recipe from a friend while they vacationed together in Hilton Head, S.C. The original version called for ground beef; Rita substituted ground sausage as a way to add more flavor.
When she makes it: Rita makes a "double batch," sometimes more, every Thursday afternoon during the football season. She typically starts around 3 p.m. She packs the dip into two plastic containers at 4 p.m., quadruple-wraps them in aluminum foil and puts them in a heat-resistant bag before heading to practice. Each player also receives a bag of Tostitos Scoops.
And no … Giving chips and dip to players is not an NCAA violation. The Rodriguezes have checked.
Serious business: Rita's friends and family know not to interfere with nacho dip time. Rita sent a car to pick up her sister and mother from the Phoenix airport two weeks ago rather than compromise her cooking. They understood.
Taste-tester: The dip isn't officially ready until Rhett Rodriguez, Rich and Rita's 14-year-old son, gives it his stamp of approval.
"That way if it's poisonous, I'm the one taking the poison," Rhett said with a smirk. Thursday's batch "tasted normal," Rhett said, which is a good sign. Rhett Rodriguez has been eating the stuff since he can first remember. For Rich and Rita's 16-year-old daughter, Raquel, nacho dip is an acquired taste. She has only eaten it for the last year or two.
Why it's important: Sure, it's just dip. But for Arizona's players, the weekly award is a reminder that somebody's looking out for them.
"We just want them to know that we're really proud of them," she said. "A lot of them are a long way from home, and a lot of times they miss their mothers and some good home cooking, so we try to help that."
On StarNet: Follow all of the Wildcats' sports teams at azstarnet.com/wildcats
• Who: South Carolina State at Arizona
• Where: Arizona Stadium
• When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
• TV: Pac-12 Arizona
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Sp)
The Rodriguez report
UA coach Rich Rodriguez's injury report and team captains for this week's game:
• Out: LB Greg Nwoko (hip)
• Doubtful: None
• Questionable: OG Cayman Bundage (knee)
• Probable: TE Drew Robinson (pneumonia), DE Dan Pettinato (knee)
• Week 3: Wide receiver Dan Buckner, guard Shane Zink, defensive tackle Willie Mobley and placekicker John Bonano
Miss Rita's famous nacho dip
Recipe feeds two hungry, deserving football players - or about 10 "regular" people.
• 2 pounds Jimmy Dean or Bob Evans ground sausage (spicy is best)
• 2 pounds of Velveeta, sliced and melted
• 2 cans Ro-Tel diced tomatoes with green chiles
• Sour cream, a few ounces
• Brown sausage and melt cheese in separate containers
• Fold sausage mix into cheese and let blend for 10 minutes
• Re-heat cheese and sausage mix, then add Ro-Tel tomatoes
• Warm dip entirely then add sour cream to taste
• Serve with chips
Total cooking time: About 1 hour