‘Desert Swarm’ mourns tough-guy Osborne
Chuck Osborne’s last game in an Arizona uniform put his career in its clearest light.
Osborne capped a relentless four years by recording three sacks in a 31-28 victory over Arizona State on Nov. 24, 1995, at Sun Devil Stadium. His fourth-quarter sack was the game-changer – he knocked the ball loose from ASU quarterback Jake Plummer on a third-down pass attempt. Fellow defensive lineman Joe Salave’a picked it up and returned it eight yards for a touchdown to the tie game at 28-28 before a last-minute field goal won it for the Wildcats.
“It’s almost in slow motion. It’s always in your memory,” former teammate Joe Smigiel said Wednesday.
Cherished memories overflowed Wednesday for the valiant competitor who volunteered to serve in Arizona’s “Desert Swarm” in 1992.
Osborne, who stood alongside Tedy Bruschi and Rob Waldrop as anchors of the defensive line on coach Dick Tomey’s vaunted “Desert Swarm” defense in the mid-1990s, was found dead at his La Jolla, Calif., home on Tuesday night at the age of 38.
No cause of death had been determined.
“When I was a kid, my father told me that you can always trust the tough guys. There is no one who ever personified that more than Chuck. Chuck was a tough guy,” said former teammate Heath Bray, who played and coached at Arizona during Osborne’s stay from 1992-95 and lived in the same Phoenix neighborhood with Osborne at one time.
“He was an extremely bright guy and an extremely good man. A wonderful friend.”
Somewhat undersized but highly motivated, Osborne did not receive the national acclaim that was awarded teammates such as All-Americans Bruschi and Waldrop, but his performance Tomey’s 3-4 scheme spoke for itself. Osborne, who played at 255 pounds, had 21 career sacks. Most came from the nose tackle position, where a player typically has to fight through two or three blockers to reach the quarterback. Bray affectionately called him Baby Huey.
“You just remember him being a tough son of a bitch,” said Smigiel, an offensive lineman who went against Osborne in practice for three years.
“He was like a bull in a china store. He just wrecked everything. He was going a hundred miles an hour. He was trying to kill you. He had a great motor. He was kind of a puppy on that (veteran) defense, but he fit in. To really succeed and be a beast like he way, you have to love it.
“He loved football, and he loved his teammates.”
The feeling was mutual. The UA football community was in mourning Tuesday night, passing text messages of sympathy and disbelief, grieving with Osborne’s family and friends after hearing the news. Some did not sleep.
Former teammate Richard Dice stayed with Osborne’s mother in Los Angeles on Tuesday night. Osborne’s death came nine months after his wife passed away unexpectedly, which was a devastating blow, friends said. Osborne, who worked for IBM, recently had moved to the San Diego area from San Francisco. The couple had no children.
“I don’t care how it happened. I feel for his parents and his family,” Smigiel said.
As a junior, Osborne led the 1994 team with 11 sacks, one more than Bruschi, and he tied Bruschi for the team lead with 15 tackles for loss on a unit that limited opponents to 65.3 rushing yards per game and a measly 1.9 yards per attempt.
Osborne, who played at Canyon High in suburban Los Angeles, turned down a heavy recruiting push from USC to attend Arizona. He was one of two true freshmen who played in 1992 rather than being redshirted, contributing immediately.
He played three years in the NFL, two with the Oakland Raiders, after being selected by St. Louis in the seventh-round of the 1996 draft. He was not as decorated as some of the UA linemen of his time, but teammates said that was not important to him.
“Sometimes life is weird like that. The real respect is what you get from your teammates, and everybody respected him,” Smigiel said
Added Bray: “The thing I appreciated was the way the Raiders thought of him. It was very similar to the way we thought of him. Tough may be over-used, but he could have played in the ’50s, the ’60s, the ’70s, the ’80s, today.
“The guy would jump on a grenade for you.”