It’s game night for the No. 1-ranked Wildcats, and the “Queen of McKale Center” is among her people.
Arizona gets off to a tremendous start and — like always — that gets Phyllis Goodman moving.
When Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, maybe her favorite player on the team, drives it in for a layup to put Arizona up 13-2 over Colorado, she throws her head back and cheers. When Nick Johnson finds Aaron Gordon for a slam dunk, she leaps out of her seat faster than Gordon.
“WOOOOO!” she screams at the top of her lungs. A short time later, Johnson finds Gabe York open behind the arc — a three-pointer — and she explodes again.
Each time something happens on the court that pleases her, she rises from a sea of seated fans like a sore thumb, all red and blue, her head topped — as always — with a blue beret.
And she dances. If you’ve watched the Wildcats play at McKale, you’ve seen Phyllis dancing — if not in the stands then on the giant Jumbotron screen, which catches her in action several times each home game.
“I’m an enthusiastic fan, and people get a kick out of it,” she says. “‘Where do you get all that energy?’ they ask. I have a lot, and I hope I keep it forever, or as long as I’m here.”
Sons went to UA
Both of Phyllis’ sons went to the University of Arizona as did her grandkids.
Her grandson used to drag her into the Zona Zoo, which parted like the red and blue sea when she entered, as if a duchess were in its midst. Now the college kids come to her seeking an autograph, a picture, a hug.
Before the game on Thursday she gets a hug from a friend, and a student approaches to shake her hand. Less than 10 minutes later, a television crew wants to chat. She has appeared in a newspaper and magazines, and was asked to be in a local commercial.
She hugs more strangers than a political candidate.
“It’s like sitting next to royalty,” says James Blair, her plus-one on Thursday. “People come up and pay their dues. Wilbur always comes by for a dance. It’s one of the great traditions of McKale Center. Phyllis. It wouldn’t be the same without her.”
Phyllis has two tickets to each home game. Hers, she doesn’t share. The other? It’s the hottest ticket in Tucson.
This is prime real estate, Phyllis’ sidecar; the only hazard is a wild elbow when Phyllis starts to dance.
She is absolutely in her element shaking to “Born To Be Wild.” It’s as if Steppenwolf wrote it just for her.
“Get your motor running,” she claps…
“Yeah, darlin’, gonna make it happen,” she leaps…
“Born to be wiiiiiiild,” she shakes her hips.
Even Icona Pop’s “All Night,” written 45 years later, makes Phyllis dance.
By now, the students in the Zona Zoo are seated.
Phyllis, 81, insists she’s not superstitious.
The hat and shirt say otherwise. That blue beret, she says she doesn’t exactly recall when she got it. Her son Dean thinks it’s from the Fred Snowden era, dusted off for use years later. But she’s as devoted to it as she is to the Arizona “No. 1” shirt she got the day the Wildcats moved to the top of the college basketball world again.
They’ve been there every day since, going on eight weeks, and she’s worn the shirt every time they play.
But those aren’t superstitions, she says.
She’s just a fan. The biggest.
“Every game is special to me,” she says. “There have been a couple times when I had to miss a home game and I want to tell you, it was not easy. It hurts.”
Sports were always a big part of her family life, as was the University of Arizona.
She was born in Brooklyn “a few years ago” but moved to Tucson when she was 11 in the early 1940s. She attended Wildcats games with her father as a girl; she and her husband, Leon, both attended the UA. They joined the Wildcat Club, and he eventually became president. They became close with Snowden and with athletic director Dave Strack.
Dean was a ballboy, and when Snowden introduced an “adopt-a-player” program, they hosted Bob Elliott and Jerome Gladney.
Phyllis was there when McKale Center opened in 1973, and still has a picture from the first game.
Back then, McKale was covered in sparkly new copper. Now the roof’s luster has faded, even if she hasn’t.
She’s been there in the good times, and the really good times, and, yes, the bad times.
She’s watched the Gumbies, both Stoudamires, and everyone from Pete Williams to Derrick Williams. She’s seen two generations of Harvey Masons.
She beams talking about Lute Olson and the 1997 national championship and Sean Miller, whom she adores. She’s written letters to both of them; gotten replies both times, she adds.
She gets disgusted talking about the lost season of 1982-83, when Ben Lindsey coached Arizona to a 4-24 record.
“It was terrible; lots of people gave up their tickets that year,” Phyllis said. “I wouldn’t give them up. There have been some down times, and you kind of go down with the team, but I always think that it’s gonna be a good year. I’m a very optimistic person, a very positive person.”
Keeps her Young
No way Phyllis would ever give up her tickets.
“I always said to my husband, if we ever split up, he could have the house, the kids, the car,” Phyllis says, “but I wanted the basketball tickets.”
They never split up, but Leon passed away 19 years ago, and Arizona basketball has helped fill the void. Dean thanks it for keeping his mother young.
“It’s vitally important,” Dean says. “She doesn’t have any other family down in Tucson, but she has this tremendous group of friends. This has become, I don’t want to say a second family – it’s an extension of her family. She considers everyone in her section as her friends.”
In her early 80s, she’s as vibrant as anyone in the Zona Zoo.
“If I had my druthers, I’d never sit down; I’d be in the student section, never sitting down,” she says. “There, you can stand up all the time.”
She still does, for the most part. “Sometimes that’s an issue,” she admits.
But she can’t help it. This is her passion.
Asked about hobbies, she scoffs. “I don’t garden. I don’t knit.”
She works as box office manager for Invisible Theatre. She takes walks. She vacations in Coronado and Mission Beach in San Diego. She stays busy.
But this is what she lives for.
For the dunks – “Ooh, I love the slams!” – and the three-pointers – “Ooh, I get excited by three-pointers!” – and the great passes.
For the hugs, the pictures, the music.
For the wins, for the team, for the family.
“Since my husband’s been gone, 19 years, I don’t miss a home game,” she says. “I work, but if I had my druthers I’d travel with the team. If they’d let me, I think I could still be a ball girl. I mean, I love it. It’s my favorite thing to do.
“That,” she adds, “and martinis.”