In October 1926, "Button" Salmon, one of the most popular players on the football team and president of the Student Body, was critically injured in an automobile accident on the Phoenix highway. Shortly before his death on October 18, 1926, Athletic Director J. F. McKale visited him, and asked if he had any message for the team. Whether truth or legend, "Button" is reported to have said, "Tell them . . . tell them to bear down".
A year later, in December 1927, the men's junior honorary organization, Chain Gang, sponsored a fund-raising dance to paint "Bear Down" on the roof of the gymnasium. A professional sign painter was hired to outline the letters, and the Chain Gang members filled them in early in 1928.