A BRISK, CHILLY ARIZONA MORNING GREETED US, as we arrived for an 11:00 a.m. kickoff, a rare occurrence in the desert. The early start time did not put a damper on tailgating, as many had parties set up and rolling, shortly after sunrise. This was to be a huge game for the Sun Devils in their quest for a PAC-12 South crown. An unexpected loss the week before at Oregon State had the fan base questioning just if the Sun Devils were good or bad. To have a shot at playing Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game, ASU needed a victory.
Arizona State began a football program in 1897 under Frederick Mortimer “Cap” Irish, an administrator and science teacher at the university. He served as the head coach for eight seasons compiling a 12-8 record. Arizona state played their early years as an independent, before joining the Border Conference in 1931. They enjoyed moderate success in the conference, winning or sharing seven conference titles. In 1946, the team formerly known as the Bulldogs, became known as the Sun Devils. After a 30-year affiliation with the Border Conference, the Sun Devils made the move to the bigger Western Athletic Conference. The team competed in the WAC for 16 years claiming or sharing six conference titles. In 1978, Arizona State made the move to the Pac-12, where they still play. Since moving to the Pac-12, the Sun Devils have won three conference championships, and appeared in two Rose Bowl Games.
IT WAS DEVINE In 1955, Dan Devine took over a struggling football program when he accepted the head coaching job, joined by assistant Frank Kush. During his three years with the Sun Devils, Devine compiled a record of 27–3–1, an .887 win percentage is still the best in coaching history at ASU. In 1957, his last season, the Devils went a spotless 10–0. In that last season, Devine’s team led the nation in total offense and scoring, averaging just under 40 points per game. Devine went on to have successful stints at both the University of Missouri, Notre Dame and became the head coach of the Green Bay Packers in 1971.
THE FRANK KUSH ERA BEGAN IN 1958. During his time at Arizona State, Kush was known for being one of the most physically demanding coaches in the game. His daily football practices in the heat of the desert day are still legendary. One of his drills was known as “Bull in the Ring”, whereupon he would have the players form a circle. He would put a player in the middle, often a player he felt needed motivation, call out a uniform number, and blow his whistle. That player would charge the player in the middle and the two would engage in contact until Kush blew the whistle again. Whichever of the two players gave the best effort would go back to the circle, while the player “dogging it” would stay in until Kush decided he could quit. Former NFL and Arizona State player Curley Culp once broke a teammate’s facemask during this drill. Kush would run a running back into the line time and time again so he could get used to the pounding he would take in games. Another of his drills (which was designed to see if his running backs could take punishment carrying the ball) consisted of having only a center, quarterback, and two running backs line up on offense, with no other offensive lineman. They would run running plays against the entire defense. The most famous of Kush’s motivational techniques was called “Mount Kush.” Mount Kush was a steep hill near the Sun Devils’ practice facility with several large rocks, cacti, and no shade from the Arizona sun. If a player needed discipline in Kush’s opinion, that player would have to run up and down that hill numerous times.
His methods seemed to work. During his lengthy career in the desert, Kush compiled a record of 176–54–1, with only one losing season! In his first 11 years, he captured two conference titles and finished as runner-up five times. That success led to him accepting the head coaching job at the University of Pittsburgh on January 4, 1969. However, just five days later, Kush had a change of heart and stayed at Arizona State.
Kush’s would then begin a memorable era in Sun Devil football history with five consecutive WAC championships, as the team won 50 of 56 games from 1969 to 1973. During this time, Arizona State won the 1970 Peach Bowl and the first three editions of the Fiesta Bowl. In 1974, the team dropped to 7–4. The Sun Devils bounced back the following year, going 12–0, capped by a thrilling 17–14 win over the Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl. In that game Kush’s son Danny kicked three field goals including the game winner.
The training methods Kush employed came into question in September 1979 when former Sun Devil Kevin Rutledge filed a $1.1 million lawsuit against the school, accusing Kush and his staff of mental and physical harassment that forced him to transfer. The most dramatic charge was that Kush had punched Rutledge in the mouth after a bad punt in a 1978 game against the Washington. After the lawsuit was filed, overzealous fans turned things ugly, as the insurance office of Rutledge’s father suffered a fire and the family’s attorney received multiple death threats.
On October 13, 1979, Kush was fired as head coach for interfering with the school’s internal investigation into Rutledge’s allegations. Athletic director Fred Miller cited Kush’s alleged attempts to pressure players and coaches into keeping quiet. The decision came just three hours before the team’s home game against Washington. Kush was allowed to coach the game, with the Sun Devils pulling off an emotional 12–7 upset of the sixth-ranked Huskies. The win gave him a 3–2 record on the season, but all three victories would later be forfeited when it was determined that Arizona State had used ineligible players.
COOPER COMES TO THE COPPER STATE. In 1985, John Cooper took over as head coach, leading his teams to three consecutive bowl games, including the 1987 Rose Bowl. During his tenure, the Sun Devils went 25-9-2. He was hired as the head coach at Ohio State on December 31, 1987. It is rumored that he became the front-runner for the head coaching position at Ohio State because of his 1987 Rose Bowl victory over Michigan.
BRUCE SNYDER WAS HIRED FROM CAL IN 1992 TO TAKE OVER A PROGRAM THAT WAS FLOUNDERING. Snyder’s 58 wins and nine-year tenure as head coach at Arizona State each rank second in school history to marks set by Frank Kush. Snyder led ASU to four bowl games including a win in the 1997 Sun Bowl. More than 40 ASU players coached by Snyder were selected in the NFL draft, including seven in the first round and he was twice named Pac-10 coach of the year in 1996. His most memorable Sun Devil team was the 1996 unit, led by Jake Plummer at quarterback. The Sun Devils finished 11–1, highlighted by a season opening victory over top-ranked and two-time defending national champion Nebraska. Arizona State reeled off the third undefeated regular season in school history en route 1997 Rose bowl where they came within 19 seconds of a victory over Ohio State. Had they won, the Sun Devils would have likely won at least a share of the national championship, as they would have been the only undefeated major-conference team in the nation. In 2008, Snyder was diagnosed with stage four melanoma. He died less than a year later at his home in Phoenix.
Dirk Koetter and Dennis Erickson coached the devils from 2001 to 2011, compiling a 71-65 record. The university decided to part ways with Erickson in 2011 after the Sun Devils had failed to have a winning season since 2007. Todd Graham was hired away from the University of Pittsburgh. In his first season at Arizona State, the Sun Devils went 8-5 securing their first winning season in four years. With a win against Naval Academy in the Kraft Fight Hunger bowl, the 2012 Sun Devils won the final three games of the season for the first time since 1978.
- Songs – The fight songs for Arizona State are “Maroon and Gold” and “Go Go Devils”. After a touchdown “Maroon and Gold” is played. After a field goal “Go Go Devils” is played. For big plays, a shortened version of either song is played.
- Mascot – Arizona State’s mascot is “Sparky the Sun Devil”. Sparky was adopted as ASU’s mascot in 1946 following a vote was held to replace the Bulldog, the mascot at the time.
- Devil Walk – Prior to each home game, fans and the Sun Devil Marching Band welcomes the team inside Wells Fargo Arena as they head to the football stadium. At the conclusion of the event, the marching band performs a short concert.
- Marching Band – Arizona State fields a 300+ member marching band that performs at all home football games, bowl games, and the rivalry game with the University of Arizona In addition to halftime shows and stand tunes, the Sun Devil Marching Band always play the Arizona State fight songs and the Alma Mater.
THE DUEL IN THE DESERT
Arizona State has had a long and intense rivalry with Arizona. The football rivalry game between the schools is known as “The duel in the desert” and is played for the Territorial Cup. Arizona State won the first matchup in 1899, 11-2, but the University of Arizona has the all-time series lead, 47-39-1. The Sun Devils have recently enjoyed more success in the series, winning six out of the past 10 meetings.
- 2012 – Will Sutton, Defensive Tackle
- 2007 – Thomas Weber, Kicker
- 2006 – Zach Miller, Tight End
- 1996 – Juan Roque, Offensive Tackle
- 1987 – Randall McDaniel, Guard
- 1986 – Danny Villa, Tackle
- 1985 – David Fulcher, Safety
- 1984 – David Fulcher, Safety
- 1983 – Luis Zendejas, Kicker
- 1982 – Mike Richardson, Safety
- 1981 – Mike Richardson, Safety
- 1977 – John Jefferson, Wide Receiver
- 1975 – Mike Haynes, Cornerback
- 1973 – Woody Green, Running Back
- 1972 – Woody Green, Running Back
- 1968 – Ron Pritchard, Linebacker
PAT TILLMAN – Perhaps the most famous alumnus is Pat Tillman. He started his college career as a linebacker for the Sun Devils in 1994, when he secured the last remaining scholarship for the team. Tillman excelled as a linebacker at Arizona State, despite being relatively small for the position. As a junior, he helped his team go undefeated that season as well as helping them make it to the Rose bowl. In 1997, he was voted the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. Academically, Tillman majored in marketing and graduated in three and a half years with a 3.85 GPA. He also earned many academic awards including: the Clyde B. Smith Academic Award in 1996 and 1997; the Sporting News Honda Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 1997; and the 1998 Sun Angel Student Athlete of Year. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
Tillman was selected as the 226th pick by the Arizona Cardinals in the 1998 NFL draft. Tillman moved over to play the safety position in the NFL and started ten of sixteen games in his rookie season. Tillman finished his career with totals of 238 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 interceptions for 37 yards, 3 forced fumbles, 12 pass deflections, and 3 fumble recoveries in 60 career games. In addition he also had 1 rush attempt for 4 yards and returned 3 kickoffs for 33 yards. In 2002 Tillman turned down a contract offer of $3.6 million over three years from the Cardinals to enlist in the United States Army. Tillman later lost his life in 2004 in Afghanistan.
The early start time clearly seemed to catch the Sun Devils napping. The Washington State Cougars jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead on a Luke Falk touchdown run. The Devils answered with a D.J. Foster 17-yard run scamper on the first play of the second quarter to knot the score at 7-7. Fireworks were on display throughout the second quarter as big plays by both teams led to 31 points in a 10-minute span. The Cougars walked off the field with a surprising 24-21 halftime lead. The Sun Devils came out of the Pat Tillman Tunnel, fired up to start the second half. Taylor Kelly led a second half explosion, that saw the Devils explode for 31 unanswered points en route to a 52-31 victory.