Time for a Sun Devil Milestone

For sports fans such as my fellow maroon and gold faithful, there are definitive moments on the gridiron that in actuality become lifetime landmark memories.

For the lucky and the spoiled, those memories are produced with great frequency, whether it's New England fans hoarding World Series championships and Super Bowl titles, to the University of Florida taking college sports' "triple-crown" over the course of a few short years by winning NCAA Championships in baseball, basketball and football.

Not to say in any way that we Sun Devil fans are slighted or at all disadvantaged, simply it seems to be that only about once or twice a decade a victory or a moment comes along which creates a transcendent legacy.

Whether brand new to following the Devils or die-hard, tried-and-true since the days of Ed Doherty and Dan Devine, each of us has a story to tell as the tradition grows.

At 25-years-old, I'm too young to have experienced the thrill of legendary head coach Frank Kush leading the Sun Devils of the Western Athletic Conference to a groundbreaking Fiesta Bowl victory over Nebraska, rounding out a perfect 12-0 season in 1975. I was roughly four years from making my "career debut" when ASU took down second-ranked USC in the Sun Devils' first home game in league play as a member of the Pac-10 Conference in 1978, and I was likely more concerned with G.I. Joe and He-Man and playing World Class Track Meet on my Nintendo Power Pad when quarterback Jeff Van Raaphorst led the Devils over Michigan in ASU's first Rose Bowl appearance on New Year's Day of 1987.

However I, like many of us, vividly remember my first great Sun Devil football experience.

The day before my 14th birthday, my father surprised me with a pair of tickets to that night's Sun Devil football game. At the time I was a little bigger basketball fan, rooting on Mario Bennett, Ron Riley and company, not long removed from a rare NCAA Sweet-16 appearance. I had, although, still followed Sun Devil football fairly closely, and I knew that they had been an average team that hadn't been to a bowl game in a while, and that they had a pretty tough opponent that night. So in my mind it was thanks, Dad, for the bogus present. Why couldn't I have gotten a game for my brand-new Playstation or movie tickets to go see Independence Day?

As we arrived at Sun Devil Stadium that night and my friend and I separated from my Dad, who was off to the Sun Devil Stadium press box, I remember asking him, "If ASU wins, do you think the fans will rush the field?" To which he responded, "I don't think we'll have to worry about that, but yes, I'm sure the fans would rush the field."

Unbeknownst to any of us, the next four hours would, in all honesty, change my life.

The team I would begin to follow religiously, playing for the University from which I'd ultimately graduate some 10 years later shook Sun Devil Stadium and ASU history that night, shocking the college football world by upsetting top-ranked, two-time defending National Champion Nebraska, 19-0.

The images will forever be embedded in my memory; quarterback Jake Plummer finding a wide-open Keith Poole for the Devils first score, Derrick Rodgers, Pat Tillman and the Sun Devil defense dominating its way to three safeties, and the most memorable scene of all, joining the bevy of shocked and crazed Sun Devil fans as we mobbed the newly-dubbed Frank Kush Field and looking toward the scoreboard which read "Nebraska hasn't been shut out in a regular season game since 1973." A firm "I told you so!" was in order from me to pops.

The rest, as they say, is history. That game fueled an addiction to Sun Devil football, through highs and lows to follow as well as those which have yet to be experienced; it became a year-round conversation topic with family and friends and has also influenced my professional pursuits.

Time has marched on since that point; ASU has moved through a couple head coaches and hadn't been able to reach Rose Bowl contention or elite national glory…until now.

Thanksgiving evening provides us an opportunity which could create a similar legacy; an opportunity to come within inches of a Pac-10 Championship and sure Rose Bowl berth, and still maintain outside hopes of higher goals.

The University is taking full advantage of the game's magnitude, and in addition to the match-up of two highly-ranked, Rose Bowl-hungry teams, the game was declared sold out nearly a month ago and is to be televised nationally on ESPN, while ASU is structuring a Super Bowl-esque halftime show including a performance by Little Richard.

It all seems to be moving so fast; it feels like just yesterday that we were suffering through "Kellergate" while scratching out wins over inferior competition and settling for a spot in the Pac-10's final available bowl game assignment.

We asked for it, we got it. The coaches are taking care of business and the players are maximizing their potential, while fans are gravitating like moths to a flame. We're approaching the doorstep of where we want to be, it's high time to kick that sucker in.

Eagerly-anticipated match-ups like this bring new meaning to spirited and motivational speeches and quotes, whether a line in a movie or lyric in a song, it's natural to relate it to such a pivotal game. If you see or hear words that can't help but get you all riled up, many sports fans fantasize about delivering or receiving an emotional pre-game speech, or perhaps, in Rudy-like fashion, darting onto the field after overcoming lifelong adversity.

Seen Braveheart recently? Imagine Dennis Erickson in the saddle readying his squad for "battle"…

Phil Collins speaks it like a true Sun Devil fan, "Can you feel it comin' in the air tonight? I've been waitin' for this moment for all my life…"

"Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?! Was it over when the Sun Devils lost to Oregon?! Hell no! And it ain't over now!"

Games like this are what this is all about, folks. The stakes are rising each week and haven't been at this level in over a decade.

To quote actor Chelcie Ross, who played the role of former Sun Devil head coach Dan Devine in Rudy, "no one comes into our house and pushes us around."

Bring it, USC. I'm not afraid to say that, not these days.

Sun Devil Stadium will be rockin' with a packed house Thursday. Arizona State University will be rockin' Thursday. Hell, Little Richard will be rockin' Thursday. The maroon and gold will be rockin' Thursday.

And for those about to rock…we salute you.

Give ‘em Hell, Devils!

Joe Healey is a 2006 graduate of Arizona State University and will be a guest contributor to Devils Digest during the 2007 football season. He currently writes for ASU's Maroon and Gold Illustrated and his work has also been featured in Sun Devil football media guides and other official team publications.

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