Arizona Cardinals 'rolled out the red carpet' for grief-stricken Arizona Wildcats football team

Posted at 2:04 PM, Sep 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-03 17:08:59-04

It had been a miserable two days for the Arizona Wildcats football team.

On Monday, Aug. 8, the team was stunned by the news that senior offensive lineman and Chandler High School grad Zach Hemmila had suddenly passed away in his sleep.

"Zach was a fifth-year senior. The guys on the team absolutely were devastated with the news," UA athleltic director Greg Byrne told ABC15.

The next day, the Wildcats woke up to see their stadium and practice facility flooded and unusable due to a massive rainstorm.

Byrne knew something needed to be done. 

"We had three inches of rain in literally three hours in Tucson. Arizona Stadium was flooded, the practice fields were completely saturated. We had no place to practice," he said. 

"I’m sitting there going, 'OK, let me come up with some solutions.'" 

That's when Byrne reached out to his friend, Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim, to pitch an off-the-wall idea.

"I said, 'Steve, let me throw something crazy at you,' Byrne said. "He said 'Hey, I’m walking into (Cardinals president) Michael Bidwill’s office right now. I’ll call you back.'

"Ten minutes later, Michael called me and he said, 'Greg, what can we do to help you?'"

Byrne explained the Wildcats' situation, and Bidwill and the Cardinals promptly sprung into action.

Since the Cards were practicing at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale during training camp, their regular practice facility in Tempe was free. Not only did the Cards allow the Wildcats to move in for a couple days; they did everything in their power to ensure Rich Rodriguez's team felt at home.

"They rolled out the red carpet," Byrne said. "They had signage for us. They cleared out their locker room at the Tempe facility and said, 'It’s yours.'

"What a first-class organization. We could not be more appreciative of the hospitality they showed during a very challenging time."

The team was still shaken from Hemmila's loss, but the ability to practice at a pro football facility for two days has helped bring the Wildcats together as they prepare for their regular-season opener -- fittingly, on the Cardinals' home field in Glendale on Saturday night.

"They’ve done a good job of having each other’s backs, and the coaches have, too, rallying around each other and providing that sense of strength and unity," Byrne said of the Wildcat football team.

"We had lost Zach earlier in the week, and having the issues from a practice standpoint -- as I told Michael, any Wildcat fans that were on the fence about the Cardinals, I know they’re all Arizona Cardinal fans now."