The 10 best things to happen to ASU football

A short collection of moments, players and key changes that have left an impact on the program.

Over 118 years, 23 head coaches, 17 conference titles, 589 wins and 14 bowl wins, ASU football has quite the history — and it's only growing.

Pat Tillman

There is not a more well-known, beloved and respected player in Arizona football than Patrick "Pat" Tillman, who left a legacy that is embedded into ASU football culture today.

The former ASU linebacker overcame his small stature and excelled athletically and academically, helping lead ASU to a Rose Bowl in 1997 and graduating from the University with a 3.85 GPA.

Tillman played for the Arizona Cardinals and eventually left the team after the Sept. 11 attacks to become an Army Ranger. After multiple tours, Tillman died in the mountains of Afghanistan in 2004. Today, ASU football runs out of the Tillman Tunnel before each home game and the community remembers him through the annual 5K "Pat's Run."

Read more: Honoring Pat: Tillman's legacy still alive at ASU

How I remember Pat Tillman: A Sun Devil and American hero

Frank Kush

Photo by Ben Moffat | The State Press

Frank Kush is arguably the most influential coach in ASU football history. Kush accepted an assistant coaching position in 1955. Reigning as head coach of Sun Devil Football from 1958 to 1979, Kush won seven Western Atlantic Conference Championships, a historic Peach Bowl victory in 1970 and four Fiesta Bowls, going 176-54-1 over his career.

Kush was dismissed from the University in 1979 when former punter Kevin Rutledge filed a $1.1 million lawsuit against ASU, accusing Kush and the coaching staff of mental and physical harassment.

Read more: Kush receives lifetime achievement award

ASU football holds annual Camp Tontozona scrimmage amongst record crowds

1970 Peach Bowl

1970 was a pivotal year for ASU football. ASU played a perfect 10-0 regular season, was crowned Western Atlantic Conference champions and secured the program’s first playoff berth in 20 years.

The Sun Devils were invited to the Peach Bowl, where they would defeat North Carolina 48-26. That year, ASU scored 405 points and allowed only 148.

The season put ASU on the map for bowl games in the following seasons and gave ASU the push it needed to further its athletic program.

Mike Bercovici and the JaelMary

Photo by Alexis Macklin | The State Press

After former starting quarterback Taylor Kelly suffered a right leg injury early in the 2014 season, then-backup quarterback Mike Bercovici replaced Kelly for three games. During those three games, Bercovici proved his potential as a starter and as a playmaker. One of Bercovici’s greatest displays of this was leading ASU football in a comeback win over USC.

Known to most fans as the “JaelMary,”  Bercovici threw the game-winning 46-yard “Hail Mary” touchdown as time expired. This play proved to be one of the most exciting plays in Sun Devil football history.

Read more: Best ASU fan reactions to 'Jael Mary,' 38-34 win over USC

Jael-Mary: Bercovici's last-second touchdown pass shocks No. 16 USC

Changing the mascot (many times)

Photo by Diana Lustig | The State Press

Public image plays a big role in how an athletic program is perceived, especially if that mascot plays a large role in crowd participation and sideline hype. Sparky the Sun Devil and his signature pitchfork is no exception. However, Sparky was not always the face of ASU.

Originally, ASU's mascot was an owl. That changed to a bulldog during the era of the Tempe Normal School. The ASU community, including The State Press, campaigned for the mascot to be changed in 1946. That November, the student council voted in favor of the change, 819 to 196.

In 1948, Bert Anthony, Disney cartoonist and ASU alum drew the concept for what would become Sparky. 

ASU worked with The Walt Disney Company on a redesign for Sparky in March 2013. Students, alumni and  the ASU community did not like the redesign. The University scrapped the idea and worked with student government to allow the students to vote for a new mascot. The Sparky you see today took 55 percent of the vote, giving ASU a new and far less eerie-looking mascot.

Read more: ASU chooses new Sparky mascots

1996 win over powerhouse Nebraska

After losing 77-28 in 1995 to then-top-ranked Nebraska, the Huskers came into Frank Kush Field with a 26-game win streak. ASU pulled off an unthinkable upset, ending Nebraska's winning steak by shutting them out 19-0.

1987 Rose Bowl

Considered to be one of the greatest moments in ASU football history, ASU's 22-15 win over Michigan State is its only Rose Bowl win. An estimated 40,000 Sun Devil fans filled the stands in Pasadena, California, greatly outnumbering Michigan fans. ASU fans were so loud that then-quarterback Jim Harbaugh stalled play. 

2010 Territorial Cup

2010 was not a bowl season for ASU. Despite finishing 6-6, the Sun Devils  won arguably the most important game of their season: the Territorial Cup. With 27 seconds left, UA quarterback Nick Foles connected with receiver David Douglas, drawing the Wildcats within one. ASU defensive end James Brooks blocked the extra point and sent the game into overtime.

Both ASU and UA successfully kicked field goals in the first overtime and the Sun Devils scored a touchdown in the second. UA responded with a touchdown and prepared to attempt the extra point. Brooks again leapt into the air and knocked the ball away from the goal post, blocking the extra point attempt and sealing a Territorial Cup victory.

Read more: Territorial Cup Series: More than just football

Instant recap: No. 11 UA 42, No. 13 ASU 35

Joining the Pac-12

Photo by Pac-12 | Courtesy photo

When ASU Athletics made the move from the Western Atlantic Conference to the Pacific 8 conference, they made an investment in its football team’s eventual success and bowl game future.

In 1978, UA and ASU joined the Pac-8, which became the Pac-10 and eventually the Pac-12 in 2010. This change in conferences helped ASU football receive more exposure. If ASU had never moved into a larger conference, it may have never signed certain recruits and may have never received the national attention it does today.

Rebranding of Sun Devil Athletics

In 2011, ASU entered the modern era of college football by re-branding its athletic program. 2011 brought new uniforms to the program, attracting fans and recruits alike. 

Sparky was removed from ASU helmets and a large pitchfork took his place as well as new lettering and numbers. The addition of a new slogan, “It’s Time” introduced a new mentality for the program; it was time to change as an athletic program and school by setting higher expectations.


Reach the reporter at anicla@asu.edu or follow @AndrewNiclaASU on Twitter

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