Students' parallel storylines have become intertwined through an ASU tradition: the student turnaround trip this year was to Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, CA. It was the last time Sun Devil football will compete against the UCLA Bruins for the foreseeable future as ASU makes the switch to the Big 12 in 2024.
ASU students, old and new, assembled to travel, engage at Sparky’s tailgate and cheer on their team one last time at Rose Bowl Stadium.
The game of football rallied these three pairs of fans together, connected through the loss of the Rose Bowl game, while each gained something different from the experience.
Rachel Benoit, a sophomore studying global management and Purbahna Khaund, ansophomore studying international trade, went on the turnaround trip orchestrated by the Student Alumni Association. The trip is a yearly tradition that allows students to attend an ASU football away game.
As the sun rises, students board ASU charter buses, arriving at their destination with time to explore, tailgate, watch the game and journey back to campus, all within 24 hours.
The two sophomores also went on the turnaround trip to USC last year and said their experience inspired them to participate again.
"Since it was our freshman year, we were trying to make the most of our experience here," Benoit said. "Neither of us are from Arizona, so trying to really have new opportunities to meet people."
Benoit and Khaund are roommates who venture from the West campus and take an interest in such adventures. Earlier that morning, before departure, the two girls returned from a trip to the Grand Canyon with only a few hours to spare before boarding the turnaround bus.
While they enjoy watching football, Khaund admitted the experience is "the selling part of it."
"(It’s) the community aspect of it," Benoit said. "We’re all going together to experience this thing because we are all sharing the same experience, going to the same college."
With the fate of turnaround trips in the air, Benoit and Khaund said it’s still something they would like to partake in, whether it’s farther away to a location such as Utah or Texas or even in-state trips to Tucson.
"That just means we get to see more cool places," Benoit said.
Under the upperclassmen's leadership, the two sophomores embarked on the trip with them. This includes both the leadership of the Student Alumni Association and older fans leading the student spirit.
Mateo Cruz, a first-year graduate student studying sports law and business, attended ASU for his undergraduate degree and hasn’t missed a home game since his freshman year.
He also traveled on the turnaround trip last year and to other away games, dedicating himself to bleeding maroon and gold even when the team falters. Cruz recognizes the program's growth, which inspires him to continue making the treks to away games.
"I really believe in what Coach Dillingham is doing, and obviously it’s a rough year," Cruz said. "I want to see coaching and schematic competency, which I think I'm seeing, so once we get more of our guys in, in the future, hopefully that’ll translate to wins."
To Cruz, this being the last Rose Bowl appearance for the Sun Devils is crushing. As a West Coast kid, he believes ASU has cultural ties to the West Coast. This has made it fun for Cruz to watch ASU matchups against Pac-12 schools, an element impacted by the conference fragmentation.
"Something I loved about the Pac-12 is that we would go head-to-head with the biggest brands, the biggest teams on the West Coast, and to not have that anymore really sucks," Cruz said. "But the Big 12 also provides exciting new opportunities and an ability to still compete at the highest level."
Kailin Kentigian, a senior studying organizational leadership, emphasized the community aspect of the turnaround trips. As the Student Alumni Association President, she is passionate about maximizing students' time at ASU.
Kentigian said this turnaround trip is livelier than last year's, with the outdoor setting and the end of ASU Rose Bowl games being possible factors. She said the change doesn’t affect her much as a senior but acknowledged the difference for younger students.
"I am sad for some of our younger students who won't necessarily be able to make the trip to California," Kentigian said. "However, I know our team, and I know that we're going to make the most of it."
For Kentigian, the trip wasn’t about football but rather the experience of traveling with some of her best friends from the club. She also has a message for fellow Sun Devils.
"You’re not a fan if you only love the team when they’re good," Kentigian said. "The spirit is what it's all about; it's not even about how well we're doing. It's the tradition of doing it and making sure that we're still feeling proud of who we are as Sun Devils."
Jump to students who are years postgrad, and they are still proudly attending games as Sun Devils, scattered around the tailgate amid the student fans. The loss of the Rose Bowl games is bittersweet for the alumni.
For some, the Rose Bowl game is reminiscent of fond memories created at previous matchups. One married couple at the tailgate, a Cronkite graduate and a UCLA fan, met at a Rose Bowl game years back.
"(Her friend) was trying to introduce her to guys during the snack bar line at the Rose Bowl, and she starts talking to me – 30 seconds in, 'Have you met Brianna?'" Dennis Wilson, an avid UCLA fan, said. "We talked for the entire half and went out on our first date a week later."
That iconic first meeting happened almost seven years ago to the day. For couples like the Wilsons, the Rose Bowl ending for ASU is a bittersweet feeling after years of cherishing a sweet memory that formed because of this game.
Will and Claudia Puga have also been to multiple Rose Bowl games as both ASU alumni and residents of California. The atmosphere of the Pasadena matchups has always convinced them to come back.
"It’s just more the camaraderie here," said Claudia, who graduated from ASU in 2021. "I feel like the atmosphere just lends itself to be just a lot of fun, I think a great time and being in such a beautiful background here … The weather is perfect for football on a fall day."
Her husband Will, who graduated in 2001, also understands that the team’s growth is a work in progress. The team’s transition into the Big 12 also allows him to visit the Valley.
"When I go to a game, it’s either USC or UCLA whenever they’re playing ASU," Will said. "So now this game is not going to exist anymore. I’ll be more inclined to go to Tempe for games now."
The Rose Bowl game was never just a football game between two teams but rather a setting where connections were forged between students, there for the team, no matter the outcome. The win does help on the bus ride back, though.
Edited by Alfred Smith III, Walker Smith and Grace Copperthite.