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"Bear Down" is the official motto of the University of Arizona (U of A), located in Tucson, Arizona. It is the inspiration for "Bear Down, Arizona!," the unofficial fight song of the school's Arizona Wildcats. The official fight song is "Fight! Wildcats! Fight!" written by Douglas Holsclaw.
The battle cry was created in 1926 by a popular student athlete, John "Button" Salmon. Salmon was the student body president, as well as the starting quarterback for the Wildcat football team and the catcher for the Wildcat baseball team, and member of Sigma Nu fraternity.
The day after the first game of the 1926 football season, Salmon and two others were involved in an automobile accident, in which their vehicle flipped over in a ravine. Although Salmon's friends were not injured, Salmon suffered a severe spinal cord injury. In the aftermath of the accident, football coach Pop McKale visited him in the hospital every day. During McKale's last visit, Salmon's last message to his teammates was, "Closer...come closer...Tell them…no closer... tell the team to bear down." John Salmon died on October 18, 1926. Following Salmon's funeral, McKale reportedy told the team what he had said in a Las Cruces, N.M., locker room before a football game against the Aggies of New Mexico State, and U of A won a hard-fought victory, 7-0.
The following year, the University of Arizona student body decided that "Bear Down" would be the new slogan for all Wildcat athletic teams. That year, the Chain Gang, a junior honorary organization at the UA, held a dance in the newly-constructed university gymnasium to raise funds to paint the slogan on the roof of the building at coordinates . The words are still featured on the roof of the gymnasium, now known as Bear Down Gym. In 1939, the Arizona state legislature issued a decree that "Bear Down" would be the exclusive property of The University of Arizona.
The song "Bear Down, Arizona!" was written by Jack K. Lee, the university's future band director, in 1952. As related by Lee himself in later years, Lee was only one of several applicants for the position of Director of Bands at the U of A. During his visit to the university for his job interview, he was given a tour of the campus and was told the story of the Bear Down slogan. As his flight home to Michigan left from the Tucson airport, it banked over the university campus, and Lee saw the slogan painted on the roof of the university gymnasium. He was struck by inspiration, took an airsickness bag from the seat pocket of the plane and wrote, in pencil, the lyrics to "Bear Down, Arizona." Shortly thereafter, Lee was offered the band director job, and his song was performed by the U of A band for the first time publicly in September 1952 during a pep rally in downtown Tucson. A replica of the original manuscript, created by Lee on a paper sack, is displayed in the Alumni Heritage Lounge on the main floor of the Student Union Memorial Center on the university campus.
Although the following coda is not actually a part of the song, the band (along with the crowd) sometimes chants it immediately after they have played "Bear Down". Part of the chant originates in a 1988 rap song about the Arizona basketball team, written by Harvey Mason, Jr.
The verse of the song is rarely sung. At most athletic events, the chorus is sung twice, followed by the chant.
Students will often replace the lyrics, "Hit 'em hard, let 'em know who's who", with "Kick the shit out of ASU!", whether or not an Arizona athletic team is playing against the school's in-state rivals, the Arizona State Sun Devils.