Duel in the Desert – 2008

avatarthumbnail.jpgThis post originally was written last year in advance of the Arizona State-Arizona game. With me on the road today making the biennial trip into the Old Pueblo, I thought I’d pull it out of storage. Besides, for the 31st straight year, the joke at the end rings true.

I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t dedicate today’s posts to those who will be watching the game today … just not with us. So take a moment and remember Tom Dillon, the Voice of the Sun Devils; Bob “Coach” Moran, the man who gave voice to Sparky (and Wilbur, over sarsaparillas in Toltec); and Bob Eger, long-time color commentator for Sun Devil baseball and author of “Maroon and Gold.”

All passed this year and all are missed by those who knew them. And even some of us who only knew them slightly.

As this posts there are 18 hours remaining until kickoff of The Game, recently branded the Duel in the Desert (mostly by Fox Sports Net.) We’re told that the two teams will be playing for the oldest rivalry trophy in football, which until the past handful of years had been lost in a storage room somewhere.

This isn’t the Old Oaken Bucket or the Battle for the Ax or the game formerly known as the World’s Largest Cocktail Party or even Stanford-Cal’s wine-and-cheese laden Big Game. It lacks the national cache of an Alabama-Auburn or an Ohio State-Michigan or a USC-UCLA primarily because unlike those rivalries, ASU and UofA haven’t always been that good.

Just four years ago it was a battle for last place in the Pac-10 Conference, not exactly the stuff of which legends are made. If anything, it’s the Egg Bowl – Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State – with all the bile transferred a thousand or so miles to the west.

It’s nothing personal, per se. But there’s little to like about U of A when you’re a Sun Devil. And it extends well beyond the football field. It goes to the state Board of Regents, where U of A fought against Arizona State becoming a full-fledged university 50 years ago next year or where U of A consistently fought against Arizona State getting its own medical school lest there be any competition.

It extends to the cities and Tucson’s never-ending jealousy of Phoenix. Take away the views of the Catalinas and there ain’t a whole lot left … well, except for endless freeway construction and the view of the same burned out car at the corner of I-10 and Speedway.

I never worked for the State Press, Arizona State’s daily newspaper; I already had started my career at the Mesa Tribune. But there was little emotion spent when the Daily Wildcat briefly went belly-up. March Madness becomes much more enjoyable when the ‘Cats have been eliminated, preferably in a first-round flame out (like the three-year trifecta of Santa Clara, Miami Ohio and Middle Tennessee State. Or was it East Tennessee State? It’s been a dozen years so forgive me.)

Similarly, Arizona alums take pride in knowing the immortal Tommy T and Max Zendejas personally kept the Sun Devils out of the Rose Bowl in 1982 and 1985. In both cases, there was a major upset earlier in the day that opened the door for ASU – Washington State over Washington in ‘82, UCLA over USC in ‘85.

(Sounds like a familiar scenario doesn’t it, Devil fans?)

Both Rose Bowl trips for ASU have come with the Sun Devils clinching the week before the regular season ended. Chuck Cecil almost ruined one season with his 100-yard pick in the end zone and touchdown; beating Michigan in the Rose Bowl made up for it. There was no such opposition in 1996 in the 56-14 ASU win. And if you watch the replay, I’m the one holding the ASU flag with the rose taped to it in the intro. I’m also on film in the fourth quarter after ASU scores its final touchdown with its fourth-string running back.

Today marks the 19th consecutive ASU-U of A game I will have attended. It started with the tragic banana jerseys in 1989, continued with Leonard Russell’s fumble in Tucson the following year and reached a new level when Mario Bates ran for 200-plus yards in 1991 to snap the nine-game winless streak.

(As I mentioned earlier on Steve Belt’s blog, I had a piece of the Sun Devil Stadium turf for a half-dozen years after the game and still have the ticket.)

In 1992 I nearly stayed home but bought a ticket the night before the game. I ended up in a section filled with U of A fans before finding a seat about the ASU band. Trailing 6-0, Kevin Galbreath broke outside and streaked down the sideline for the finest moment of his career and a 7-6 victory.

UA won easily in 1993. 1994 was Jon Baker’s field goal that was wide, then started hooking inside the upright before staying out. Jake Plummer fumbled in 1995 moments after the TV broadcast showed the Freedom Bowl chairman presumably holding a bowl bid in hand.

I already mentioned 1996. 1997 was a the blocked punt that wasn’t. 1998 was a shootout, with Ryan Kealy keeping ASU close against a far superior UA team that went on to beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. That was UA’s last bowl bid. What a shame there, kids.

1999 was the fake punt that won for ASU. 2000 was the fake field goal that did the same. In 2001 we learned how clueless Dirk Koetter really was when UA ran out to a 20-0 first quarter lead in Sun Devil Stadium. 2002 was Terrell Suggs’ last game and the futile “one more year” chant.

We had another win in 2003 in the battle for last place and I still see Matt Miller dropping the pass from Sam Keller after Andrew Walter got hurt in 2004. 8-2 and lose to a terrible Arizona team. It happens. Back here in 2005 for the Terry Richardson’s punt return and the last-second winning field goal, then Tucson for Torain running loose.

Call it pathetic but everything you read in the preceding paragraphs was from memory. I could look up the final scores but the overall results are sufficient, as are the individual memories of each game that remain in my memory now and forever.

With ASU’s decision to move the visting band into the northeast corner of the lower deck, I will be sitting not 100 feet from the Arizona band tomorrow. Realizing the seriousness of the moment I decided the time had come to teach my 8-year-old the words to “Fall Down, Arizona” … sung to the tune of Arizona’s stultifying fight song. Amazingly, there’s not a single YouTube video of Fall Down, Arizona so this will have to suffice.

Fall Down, Arizona

Fall Down, Black and Blue

Fall Down, Arizona

You know when you’re through

Fall Down, Arizona

Fall Down, Black and Blue

TRIP! FALL! DROP THAT BALL!

Arizona, (expletive deleted) Fall Down!

Now, if you’re looking to buy a house and you happen to have a degree from U of A, I hope you can look inside long enough to see you feel the same way. And that you really don’t want to be represented by a UA grad anyway (though there are bonus points for having the sense to leave Tucson as soon as your mortarboard hit the ground.)

Truthfully, all of this mostly is in fun though it’s often hard to tell. The parenting plan in my divorce decree specifically says my 8-year-old can attend the university of her choice and I have to pay half the tuition. My ex-wife did that intentionally after me repeatedly saying not a cent of my money ever would go to UA.

What I couldn’t get in writing I’m winning through subversion and brainwashing. It works.

One final story …

A retired couple was driving from Columbus to Pasadena to follow their beloved Ohio State Buckeyes in the postseason. Somewhere along the line they made a wrong turn and found themselves in Tucson. Realizing their plight they stopped at a gas station and asked the attendant for directions.

“I’m sorry, folks, but I can’t help you,” the attendant said.

“Why not,” the man asked, taken aback by the response.

“You’re on the campus of the University of Arizona, sir. I’m sorry, but you can’t get to the Rose Bowl from here.”

FORK ‘EM DEVILS!

Jonathan Dalton

Jonathan Dalton is a 40-plus-year resident of the Valley and has been helping folks buy and sell homes since 2004. He can be reached at 602-502-9693 or info at allphoenixrealestate.com.

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