When I start talking about college football, I typically tell everyone that I can sit down and watch any game. Unlike most other sports or leagues, I can watch two teams to which I have zero allegiance, and be enthralled in the event – either on TV or better yet, in person.
So, it didn’t take much to get me to head out to Tempe for the season opener of the hometown Devils vs their little brother, Northern Arizona University. The fact that the Sun Devils just finished some major renovations on their aging venue added a little more intrigue.
My wife and I were talking about going to the game all day, but it wasn’t until about 6pm that we finally made the decision. That’s one of the beauties of an early season, non-conference game. Tickets are usually in high supply, low demand.
Another part of the reason is that it’s still 105 degrees in the late afternoon and into the early evening – making tailgating virtually non-existent or more likely, indoors at one of the many bars and restaurants in and around the campus.
We found parking a couple of blocks way for a reasonable $10 fee and made the walk to the stadium area to scalp tickets and pick up a quick bite to eat. Sure, a sausage on the grill sounds awesome to go along with your beverage of choice, but on these searing days, no one wants to stand outside, let alone next to a hot grill.
Our choice? Jimmy John’s. Yes, it almost sacrilegious to eat a store-bought sub as your tailgate meal, but let’s face it, it was freaky fast. And we needed that because we still had to scalp tickets.
After our quick bite, we ran into a friend, Brother Bucha, and his daughter. How awesome that Dads and Daughters head out to games together!
After hitting up the scalping area, which sits about a 9-iron away from the stadium, we passed on a couple of offers that seemed to be pretty aggressive considering the amount of tickets being waved in the air. We grabbed a couple of 10 yard line seats, midway down for $30 each – after he started the bidding at $60 each. Obviously, this was not a game to make a lot of money for the scalpers.
During our walk to the stadium, I was able to drink a couple of my recently imported Paterno Legacy Series, Duquesne Light beers. An empty suitcases returning from move-in weekend in State College allowed me to transport the somewhat local product to a new venue. It fit perfectly next to my case of other beer from Pennsylvania, Yuengling!
We immediately noticed one change to the stadium – a new entrance to help avoid the crowding and usual long lines entering the stadium. The new path led us up to the first concourse. With our seats on the opposite side of the stadium, we inadvertently took the long way around, but we were able to take in some of the changes, including the new taller concourse – allowing air to move more freely while you’re in line for concessions.
Then heading around to the north end-zone, we passed the fairly large plaza area that includes concessions and restrooms. It will make for a great gathering area for fans. It reminds me of the Cardinal’s Red Zone area. This area sits directly behind what will be an enormous video board that will be installed in the next phase of construction.
One very cool feature of Sun Devil Stadium is that it’s nestled tightly between two mountain buttes – from which they launch fireworks throughout the game. As we made our way around to the east side, you can see how close the structure is to the mountain and you get a glimpse of the saguaro cacti that dot the buttes.
The east stands still need some work. Underneath, it’s dingy and dirty – with water leaking from above. Let’s just hope it was water. As we made our way to our seats, it was clear that the upgrades only took place on the west and north sides. Here, we’re still relegated to sitting on metal benches. Thank goodness that this was a night game and it was pretty empty. It will get pretty cozy when stuffed shoulder to shoulder. Throw in a late afternoon game and you better bathe in deodorant before kickoff.
It was from these seats that you can really see the difference in the upgrades. The west stands have all been upgraded to individual seats! Well done. I know of a few other stadiums that can use that upgrade. Next time, we’ll be sure score seats in the low number sections.
We also noticed that something changed in the upper deck, but we couldn’t tell exactly what was done. Our seats for the Cactus Bowl are in the first row of the upper deck around the 40 yard line. Now, it looked like you had to walk down to get to the first row. We’ll have to investigate to see what changes, if any were done to the uppers.
And one final change we noticed was that the student section was now moved to both the south and north end zones – with the south being the larger portion and the north also home to the band. I like this idea. Now, you have noise at both end zones. Clever.
In mind my, the atmosphere can’t hold a candle to that of many of the larger, more well-known football stadiums. But hey, it’s college football, so who cares?
That said, there are a couple of cool things I really like about Sun Devil Stadium. The entrance through Pat Tillman Tunnel has to be one of the best entrances in football. And the blaring AC/DC tune of Running with the Devil is the perfect accompaniment. Other than that, it’s pretty boring with little history or tradition.
With that, time to move on to the game!
After the National Anthem, the student section burst into cheer. To me, it sounded like a slam to a certain athlete who is disrespecting the very flag that gives him the freedom to speak his mind. But that’s a topic for another time.
The under-sized NAU Lumberjacks held their own against the Devils throughout the first half. They trailed 10-3 going into the locker room, but it could have easily been the other way around. With :05 to go in the half, NAU lined up for a Hail Mary from the 37-yard line. ASU tipped the ball and NAU came down with, but was pushed out at the 1 yard line as time expired.
Even coming out of the half, the Jacks held on tight and trailed 13-6 with only a few seconds left on the clock in the third.
But then, all heck broke loose. The bigger, stronger, faster Devils imposed their will on their in-state “rival” and pulled away for a 44-13 win.
Manny Wilkins looks like he’s secured his spot at QB for the Devils. He ran for 89 yards, including leaping over a defender and completed 20-27 for 180 yards with one pick.
The task gets much tougher this week when Texas Tech comes to Tempe with their gun-slinging head coach, Kliff Klingsbury.
To wrap it up, I love the changes to the stadium, now all they need a little more history, tradition and enthusiasm. A winning program is the start…
Welcome to College Football 2016!