By Jeff Munn
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear at the outset – University of Phoenix Stadium is a magnificent venue.
Everyone connected with the building and operation of the Arizona Cardinals’ home stadium should be proud of what they built and what it’s accomplished in 10 years of operation. In addition, Michael Bidwill deserves every amount of credit he can get for following through on his promise that if the stadium was built, it would make the Cards more competitive.
Still, in Tempe, there’s another football stadium that will celebrate its 60th birthday in a couple of years. It’s undergoing a badly needed facelift, and while some people think about all its shortcomings, for a lot of us, Sun Devil Stadium means so much more.
As a kid, I listened on the radio on Saturday nights when men like Al McCoy, Ray Cox, Bob Davies, and later Tom Dillon broadcast the exploits of ASU football from a place that seemed more Times Square than it did football stadium. It seemed like everyone in the Valley was either there or wanted to be.
As I grew older, the stadium between the buttes became the place where so many of my football memories, good and bad, were formed. I remember sitting in the north end zone in 1975 when Frank Kush’s undefeated Devils left the field at halftime leading San Jose State 10-0, and were booed off the field. In those days, 50-point blowouts were expected.
I watched on TV later that year from my sister’s house in California when ASU defeated mighty Nebraska 17-14 in the Fiesta Bowl, to end the season unbeaten and Number Two in the national rankings. The next day, placekicker Danny Kush (the coach’s son) was on the front page of the L.A. Times sports section beneath the banner headline, “ASU Stuns Huskers.”
In the 1980’s, I sat upstairs in the press box watching a novelty called the USFL. The Arizona Wranglers, later the Outlaws, seemed to be as close as we were going to get to a pro football franchise. Their early-season win over George Allen’s Chicago Blitz was one of the most joyous nights for football fans Sun Devil Stadium had seen.
Of course, five years later, we moved up in class. The arrival of the Cardinals seemed like man landing on the moon. Seven years later, Sun Devil Stadium again was in the spotlight, hosting Super Bowl 30.
Then there were all those Fiesta Bowl classics.
I sat in the upper deck in a makeshift press setting for Penn State and Miami in 1987.Notre Dame-West Virginia in 1989, Nebraska-Florida in 1996, Tennessee-Florida State in 1999 and Ohio State-Miami in 2002 all added to the luster in the name Sun Devil Stadium.
There have been lots of other memories made there. Barbra Streisand filmed the concert scenes for “A Star Is Born” at SDS. Artists ranging from the Rolling Stones to Donny and Marie (hosting a Fourth of July celebration in 1983) and U2 filled the stadium with music.
Pope John Paul the Second said Mass there in 1987. Yes, the word “Devil” was covered up. Months later, John Cooper led ASU to its first Pac-10 title, clinching a Rose Bowl berth at home. Bruce Snyder did the same 10 years later.
Think of the players who have played at Sun Devil Stadium. Names like Danny White, Dan Marino, Marcus Dupree, Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Fran Tarkenton, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Jake Plummer, Pat Tillman all played on that turf.
Then there are the coaches – Kush, the aforementioned Allen, Bill Walsh in college and the NFL, Lou Holtz, Dennis Green, Bill Belechick, Bill Parcells, Don James, John Robinson, Terry Donahue, Bill Cowher.
I saw soccer there – Pele played an exhibition with the New York Cosmos at SDS in the mid 1970’s. Had Martin Stone gotten a Major League Baseball expansion franchise the-then owner of the PCL Phoenix Firebirds said he thought Sun Devil Stadium could make a good temporary home. Not sure how it would have fit, though.
Graduates have gotten their degrees there during commencement.
A lot of us are very glad ASU figured out a way to stay at Sun Devil Stadium during this period when the old stadium gets a new look. It may seem a little behind the curve compared to some other venues, but as a new season begins, isn’t it nice in a community that has so little history that we have something that has meant so much to so many for three generations?
Even better, isn’t it great to know it’ll be there for generations to come?