Meet ASU's Superfan

His name is Phil Root (no, we didn't make that up), but around Tempe is more known as the ASU Superfan. With his Mohawk haircut, which just like most of his body is smothered in maroon and gold paint, he's very easy to spot in the first row of the student section. We talked to the Devils' #1 cheerleader about everything from his run-in with opposing players to his choice of paint…

Phil is a senior in Secondary Education Chemistry, and with his deep passion for ASU sports he still manages to be an honor student. He's prolonging his studies, so he can student teach next fall.

Is there another reason?

"I'm taking one extra semester so I can get in one more season of Football and Basketball. (Smile)"

Root is originally from Montana, and when it came down to choosing a college his reasons were simple and practical: "I wanted to go to school out west, but I also wanted to go somewhere different than Montana. I got offered a scholarship at ASU, and I have some family down here, so it just all worked out."

He admits that he wasn't necessarily a big sports fan growing up. "Since we didn't have any pro teams back home, I just rooted for whoever was on TV."

For most of his life, he was subdued sports fan. He played strong safety in high school and I was also on the track team.

Ironically, off-season boredom introduced him to art of being a vocal spectator. "I didn't have much going in the winter, so I just watched my buddies play Basketball. I was sitting behind some older guys who were cheering the whole game, and I thought to myself that ‘this is really fun being an involved fan.' I didn't paint my face, but I just stood up and yelled a lot."

Root came to ASU in 1999. His cheering at this point was still limited to just being vocal, yet constructive.

"My first Football home game I wasn't going crazy with the war paint and all that. I was yelling a lot, but mostly a lot of words of encouragement to the players. I got the nickname ‘coach' from my dorm buddies. I was telling players to hold their blocks, keep their feet moving – stuff like that."

The transformation to Superfan started the following season.

"The turning point was my sophomore year. They were experimenting with putting speakers in front of the student section, and having guys just run up and down the field and in the stands. One of those guys asked me if I wanted some face paint, so we painted our faces and took home what was left. It was almost like I was pulled into this. Once I saw myself in the mirror with the paint, I thought to myself that I could have a lot more fun with this. My junior year I wasn't only painting my face, but my chest too."

His choice of paint is thought of very carefully. "They used to sell my paint near campus, but now they sell a different one, which isn't worth a darn. The old stuff I could only put on my face, because if I can barely take it off from there – it ain't going on my body. So, I go to Arizona Fun Services to get it there. They have the water-based stuff that clowns used; It's OK to put that everywhere because you know it will come off…

"I go with the ultimate warrior style. Others get the little sparky tattoo on their face, or just paint quarters on their face. So when you paint yourself like me, you have to back it up and cheer real loud."

While it's easy to recognize him at the Football and Basketball games, he's been a regular at all the baseball games, as well as Women's Hoops, Volleyball and Soccer.

"I can't say what sport I enjoy the most," he says, "Because each one has a different atmosphere. Football I try to keep the cheering up and just root hard for the team. Basketball you can yell more at players and get in their head a little more.

Baseball is the most fun because it's more interactive and you can heckle players individually when they come to bat. A lot of the players play back with the heckling – it's just part of the game. We look up players' bios and heckle them from that.

"But we also follow the laws of heckling that were published in The Sporting News in 1956 (smile), so we know our limits. We do clean heckling; at least we do so out loud. We still may curse underneath our breath (smile)."

Root says that he actually got recruited by the Baseball stuff, and they made him part of the heckling group called the "Dirty Dozen."

Granted, many fans don't appreciate fans such as Phil Root, which is OK by him. However, he does fret over the treatment he sometimes receives from the security personnel.

"I've never been tossed out of a game. But security was giving me a hard time having my megaphone. They say some fans were complaining. I feel that we're targeted by security from the moment we walk in. We're just there getting excited about ASU sports, and wanting to be part of the game. They tell us what not to do, where not to sit, and all that. It hurts because we try to go out there support our team, and make a difference – that's what fans are suppose to be.

It's like they think that being an enthusiastic crowd creates a hostile environment." Nevertheless, he says that in Football and Basketball he doesn't hear too many people telling him to sit down and be quiet. "That's the beauty of having a student section. I do see a difference in Basketball, where my freshman year not everyone was standing during the game, and last year everybody was. That's cool."

The most gratifying part of being a fan, according to Root, is having the recognition of various ASU players and coaches.

"Some of them give us props. So we know that we're doing something positive, and making some kind of difference. When players like Curtis Millage interact with the crowd in a game after a big play, that's the best feedback you can get. You get excited because the player kind of says ‘thank you for your support', and that's just pumps you even more."

And then there are the not so friendly encounters with opposing teams…

"We had one Baseball player who hit a big hit to beat ASU, and after that he just turned at me and yelled ‘That was for you (expletive)-head!' We had what we think was urine tossed at us from the Tennessee dugout, but at least their coach repeatedly apologized for it. In Basketball, we really managed to tick off Henry Bibby (USC's coach). It wasn't just me, it was the whole crowd. We maybe said some stuff that shouldn't been said, but that didn't justify one the USC assistant coaches pushing us."

While Root gives 100% of himself in no matter how big or small the game is, there's always a little more in the tank when the Sun Devils meet the Wildcats.

"You have to be pumped for the U of A games. I hate them and I hate Tucson! I can't stand anyone walking around in Tempe with U of A gear. If I see them and I had a little too much, I would start yelling at them. For those games, I'll make extra signs that are special for U of A, instead of just having my generic signs. One of the best memories I have is going to Tucson in 2000 and seeing us beating them in Football, and rushing the court after the Basketball game last year. I still have a stat sheet from that game in a sheet protector. (Smile)"

If there was ever a list of popular students on campus, Root's name is likely to appear there.

"Yeah, I get recognized on campus. People come and talk to me and call me Superfan and stuff like that. But sometimes I just get extended looks, maybe because I have the Mohawk haircut. But people that meet me are always supportive."

And what does this do for his love life?

"I don't know if the women find me approachable. But Phil Root is a nice guy. He won't yell at you when you come up to him (smile). I'm not a Devil, I just root for one (smile)."

Root knows that his ASU days are coming to and end, and sure enough he will have to pass the torch to another passionate Sun Devil fan. "I don't have any understudies, but they're a few guys painting GO DEVILS on their chests, and I'm encouraging them to keep it up. I just try and create more tradition and spark for ASU athletics." His plans for the future will probably make it a bit hard for him to attend games here in the valley.

"I'd like to teach in Alaska, so that's pretty far from Tempe (smile). I'll probably come back here for grad school. No matter where I'll be I will always follow ASU sports, and try to go to some games. I have a tattoo, so this is pretty permanent with me…"

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