PHOENIX – Anyone who regularly attended basketball games in the last four decades at McKale Center in Tucson could expect to see more than just one performance.
Fans could of course expect to see the Arizona Wildcats basketball team play, but if they ever needed that extra spark late in a game, there was a sixth man fan named the “Ooh Aah Man” perfect for the job.
“He would pick the right moment. He knew when the crowd needed to get off their asses,” said Tom Duddleston, a longtime Sports Information Director at Arizona. “He had a good sense of when it would work.”
Joe Cavaleri, better known as “Ooh Aah Man,” recently died at 71 after receiving a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis in 2010. The legendary superfan became well known at University of Arizona sporting events starting in 1979.
Born in New York in 1952, Cavaleri moved to Tucson in the 1970s. He was famous for leading crowd chants throughout the 1990s, starting at an Arizona baseball game in 1979, when his chants to the crowd were followed by the team rallying back from a deficit to win. From there, he became a regular at Wildcats sporting events, especially during basketball season.
“He was Arizona’s. He was unique to them. He was the rally guy,” said Steve Rivera, a longtime sportswriter in Tucson. “If Arizona needed a jolt on the court, he’d come out and give them that jolt.”
His popularity skyrocketed into more than just chanting. At basketball games, it became a tradition for him to come onto the court during a timeout, taking off articles of clothing that revealed his “Ooh Aah” T-shirt to hype up the crowd. Adding to the intrigue, no one could predict when the Ooh Aah Man would come out – he decided when he wanted to get the crowd going.
“He was like a Superman coming out of the phone booth at the right time,” said Javier Morales, another longtime Tucson sportswriter.
Even Arizona players and coaches grew aware of his impact and looked forward to his appearances.
Wildcats legend Steve Kerr was very fond of the Ooh Aah Man, and the two shared some memorable interactions.
During a game late in the 1987 basketball season against a tough Oregon State opponent, the Arizona Daily Star reported, the Ooh Aah man appeared at midcourt, removing layers of clothing to hype up the crowd. Kerr was injured at the time, so he saw the Ooh Aah Man and joined him to help him spell “A-R-I-Z-O-N-A.” The crowd became energized, and the Wildcats ultimately came back from a deficit to win that game.
The next season, in 1988, the Wildcats brought the Ooh Aah Man to the Final Four in Kansas City. At the time, the NCAA allowed each school complementary travel for 12 cheerleaders, and Caveleri was always one of the 12.
At the Final Four, another interaction involving Caveleri and Kerr occurred at a Kansas City hotel following a loss to Oklahoma where Kerr had shot 2 for 13 from the field. Javier Morales mentioned in the Arizona Daily Star that Kerr saw the Ooh Aah Man on the balcony directly below him and asked if he was going to jump, to which the Ooh Aah Man replied in a joking manner, “No, are you?”
Not only did basketball players love the Ooh Aah Man, but so did Arizona’s baseball players. After Arizona once beat Hawaii to clinch a spot in the Men’s College World Series, Wildcats players Clark Crist, Terry Francona and Wes Clements raised Cavaleri onto their shoulders and carried him throughout the infield, feeling that his cheers that night gave them the boost they needed to win.
That same night, Wildcats fans started a fundraising campaign to pay for Cavaleri’s trip to the College World Series.
Cavaleri’s presence at Arizona games for over 30 years culminated in him being honored at the halftime of his last basketball game in 2013. He blew kisses to the Tucson crowd as he walked off the court one final time. Cavaleri had encountered health issues, including Parkinson’s, which prevented him from attending Arizona sporting events after 2013.
His love of sports in combination with how funny people say he was, helped create the Ooh Aah Man persona.
“There is no doubt that he was an eye-attracter because he was so funny,” Rivera said. “There’s no question Arizona fans loved him.”
His humor was something that stood out, and those who knew him raved about it. Greg Hansen, a local sports columnist, recalled a funny interaction with the Ooh Aah Man in a recent article. Cavaleri once got an email from an Arizona fan who called him a “middle-aged clown.” He responded to Hansen with a grin on his face, saying, “I’m not middle-aged, I’m 60 with a busted back and torn up knee.”
In addition to being a well-known superfan, Cavaleri was also a bartender and disk jockey at a local Tucson restaurant called the Solarium, as well as other popular spots such as Bum Steer and Carlos Murphy’s, expanding his recognition beyond just sports.
To this day, Cavaleri’s Ooh Aah Man legacy lives on as one of the most popular fans the collegiate sports world has ever witnessed.
As Hansen said in a recent article, “The most recognizable man in the 50-year history of McKale Center is Lute Olson, but you might not get an argument if you said Joe Cavaleri, the Ooh Aah Man, was No. 2.”