Koss Fondly Remembers the '86 Rose Bowl Year

This weekend, Arizona State will hold its champions weekend event, which will honor the school's 1986 and 1996 Rose Bowl teams. In this first of two Devils Digest articles celebrating those Sun Devils' Pac-10 championship teams, we sat down with Stein Koss who reminisced over the school's 1987 Rose Bowl 22-15 victory over Michigan.

Koss, who hails from Durango, Colo., was recruited by the Sun Devils as a quarterback. He redshirted the 1982 season, and later was converted to a tight end – a position he started at since his sophomore year in 1984. He often split time with ASU's other tight end Jeff Gallimore. "We were blocking more than we wanted to," Koss quipped, "but we just gave the team what they asked of us. I was by no means a dominating blocking tight end where I put people on their back, but I did my job."

Following his Sun Devil tenure, he was signed as a free agent by the Kansas City Chiefs, and played there for nearly a year when injury forced him out of the NFL. He then came back to the Phoenix area and has worked ever since in the industrial real estate field. These days he lives in Paradise Valley, Ariz. with his wife of seven years Gena, and his two daughters Alexis, 5, and Grace 3. The Koss family is expecting their third child and newest addition, a boy, this weekend.

"It does seem like the Rose Bowl was yesterday," he said. "It has gone by pretty fast. My memories are the camaraderie of our teammates and the respect we had for one another. Hard work, discipline, and enjoying our work together. We had a coach (John Cooper) who that put a lot of attention to detail and getting every little thing right. We had talented players, but every team has talented players at that level. It did come down to paying attention to detail and executing."

"Our coach said that at the end of every game, we should be able to look in the mirror and know that you gave everything you had to our teammates to help win the game. If you can look yourself in the mirror and say that, then you had a successful game. If you didn't win, you just got beat by a better team. But if you can look yourself in the mirror and say that, most times you'll win."

Arizona State finished 10-1-1 in 1986. Despite the enormous success the maroon and gold had that year, the former tight end said that thoughts of playing in what is knows as ‘the granddaddy of them all' bowl game, never entered his mind until it actually became reality. "We really didn't think about going to the Rose Bowl before we beat California, and that was the game that clinched it," he admitted. "We really took it one game at a time. We were very methodical, and we just were thinking about winning every Saturday, not about the Rose Bowl."

The Sun Devils joined the Pac-10 conference in 1978, and achieving the feat of representing as conference champion, despite being a fairly new league member in 1986, was especially important to the players that grew up in the state just west of Arizona, who felt that they have now earned the respect they never got before. "I think it was true when it came to the players from California, which we had a lot of on our team," recalled Koss. "Some of those guys, for whatever reason, didn't go to USC or UCLA, and in my five years at ASU we played those teams very tough and those were the teams to beat. Cal, Oregon, Oregon State…those were games we knew we were going to win going into the game – they couldn't stack up with us. UCLA, USC, and Washington were the teams that we knew that if we didn't play perfectly, we weren't gonna win. In the back of the minds of the players from California, they did rise to the occasion in those games. I was from Colorado so I was just thinking about getting my job done."

The 1987 Rose Bowl was one of extreme emotions. The Sun Devils found itself trailing 15-3 early in the second quarter, just to come back and pour on 19 unanswered points against the Wolverines. "They were 105,000 in the stands, and when we were getting introduced and ran on the field I couldn't even feel my feet," said Koss of his experiences that New Year's Day. "It was a real thrill. They jumped on us right away, but we never lost sight of what got us there."

"We just kept on pushing and running the ball. When we came up to the line of scrimmage, we could see the look in the defensive players' eyes and they had that look like ‘geez…not again…(laughs)' Every play we were getting five yards, seven yards…we kept pounding it in there. Jeff (Van Raaphorst) made some great throws, Bruce Hill made some great catches…none of us were hanging are heads when we were trailing."

The post-game celebration was certainly joyful, yet in many ways, according to Koss, also somewhat innocent. "We didn't even realize at that time what we just accomplished and if anybody said he did, he'd be lying," stated Koss. "We were just happy; the polls had us at #3 and #4 - it was a great way to finish the year. As that (1986) season went on, we expected ourselves to come out and play well and win games. We expected that of each other and the coaches expected that from the players. After the Rose Bowl, standing there victorious…we were just a bunch of young kids being happy and full of joy. Yeah, we were the Pac-10 champions and Rose Bowl champions, but we didn't realize the magnitude of it all."

Naturally, the game took place during the school's winter break. However, the celebrations were still in full force ten days or so after the victory. "Everyone not only on campus, but around town was celebrating," Koss commented. "They were doing construction on the 202 freeway and they were giant banners on there saying ‘congratulations ASU Rose Bowl champions.' Those banners were all over town, not only on campus."

Koss still considers himself an avid Arizona State football fan. While he's disappointed with how the 2006 campaign has unfolded, he states "I'll always bleed maroon and gold" and is excited for this weekend's festivities. "The birth of my son is probably gonna be more exciting for me this weekend, but it will be great to see a bunch of guys again," he said. "With the birth of my child, I don't know how many activities I'll be able to participate in, but I'll make the most of it."

Just like he did that one memorable 1986 season…

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