The first Arizona State football game I covered was against Michigan State.
It was Sept. 14, 1985, in East Lansing, not much more than a month after I moved from Colorado Springs, fighting back tears as I drove the first day to Albuquerque. Not regretting my decision to take a job with the Phoenix Gazette, but sad to be leaving my friends and co-workers in a city I loved living in for the first 10 years out of college.
I had advanced to sports editor at the Colorado Springs Sun newspaper in addition to covering the Denver Broncos during the early John Elway years and writing a column. But I realized my life balance was not what it needed to be and that I would be just as satisfied being a reporter minus the editor responsibilities.
A close friend and former Sun reporter, Dennis Brown, worked at the Gazette and contacted me about the ASU football opening. I interviewed, even writing a story during the process on my still friend Trina Painter, and spent some time at ASU assistant athletic director Herman Frazier’s sports bar in Tempe with Gazette columnist Tim Tyers encouraging me to make the move.
Grateful doesn’t begin to explain how I feel all these years later. For Dennis and Tim and the late Joe Gilmartin for hiring me. The Phoenix sports scene has grown up around me. There was no need to make another move to be in a major sports city. Covering ASU is endlessly interesting – c’mon Herm Edwards and Bobby Hurley are now the football and basketball coaches – and I’ve gone from covering one Olympics before I got here to 14.
I met my wife here and our son now is a student at ASU, who will be doing what raucous students do at a football game tonight.
Arriving in 1985 was good timing. ASU had a new football coach, John Cooper, and a new athletic director, Charles Harris, so I was even with others in learning about them. And there was plenty of help around to fill in the blanks on institutional knowledge especially when it came to the Frank Kush era.
Mark Brand, then and now ASU’s sports information director, took me to meet Cooper at ASU’s football offices, crammed into what was then called the University Activity Center. Now it’s Wells Fargo Arena, about to be renovated, and football has its own building built into renovated Sun Devil Stadium.
The game in East Lansing was my first time at Michigan State even though I went to college in the Big Ten at Illinois. Honestly, it’s too long ago to remember anything significant about the trip. ASU lost 12-3, a performance that even the home fans didn’t like per my game story.
Here’s some of what I wrote:
Arizona State University football, as defined by one-sided victories and hurling heroes that tickled the Western skies with after-touchdown fireworks, was born at Michigan State.
Dan Devine begat Frank Kush who began Darryl Rogers, all forsaking the crisp autumns of East Lansing for the desert’s endless summer and a brand of football that folks back in the Midwest only dream about.
How appropropriate then that on a crisp autumn day at Michigan State, the Sun Devils would expire. Rising from their ashes – Phoenix-like if you will – after Saturday’s 12-3 are the Run Devils, a team that must rely on rushing and defense to win in the first year of the John Cooper era.
“They did what they had to do to win the ballgame,” Cooper said of a truly Spartan-like Michigan State offense that managed only 217 yards, 125 less than ASU, and brought boos from a crowd of 62,797. “The fans were booing, but hey, that’s the nature of the game.”
Would he pull in the horns like Michigan State coach George Perles to win?
“In a New York minute.”
Offensive coordinator Jim Colletto agreed. “This is not going to be a high-scoring team. We need to score 2 ½ to three touchdowns, and the defense will keep us in games.”
That’s how it began, for me covering ASU athletics and for the three-year Cooper era that peaked with a bruising 22-15 win over Michigan in the 1987 Rose Bowl.
It’s full circle in a way for me to tonight, ASU vs. No. 13 Michigan State except this time the home-and-home series begins in Tempe. Where if the Sun Devils find a way to win, I’m not expecting the fans to boo over style points.