ARIZONA STATE FOOTBALL

What the end of the Pac-12 means to us in Arizona

Nov 23, 2023, 2:18 PM

Pac-12 mascots, Sun Devils, Wildcat...

Mascots of the Pac-12 Conference. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)

(Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: This story was first published on Aug. 4, 2023, after Arizona State and Arizona agreed to join the Big 12 and depart the Pac-12.

The Arizona State Sun Devils and Arizona Wildcats play their final Territorial Cup as members of the Pac-12 on Saturday before departing for the Big 12.

More broadly, it’s the final regular season week of Pac-12 play, with two teams (Washington and Oregon) vying to make the College Football Playoff before they leave for the Big Ten and the Wildcats still in the mix to make the conference title game.

Arizona would need an Oregon State road win at Oregon and a win against rival ASU to secure a Pac-12 Championship Game berth.

It sets up for a wild final week before bowl season. After that, the Pac-12 will cease to exist.

We asked our Arizona Sports show and podcast hosts in August for their best Pac-10/12 memories, be it an actual sports moment or a more general personal anecdote. Or both!

Here are their responses:

Best Pac-12 memories from our Arizona Sports perspectives

Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo

As an Arizona native, reading the question opened the floodgates. We grew up in a neighborhood about two miles from Sun Devil Stadium. My father was a Tempe police officer and as such had access to the parking lot next to the stadium. I think of all the Saturday nights spent at the stadium, no specific game. But I remember the tailgating, the food, bleacher seats in the stadium sitting next to Ladmo (of the Wallace and Ladmo show). On any given Saturday night, you would see a so many of your friends from elementary school or junior high. Being at the games carried a certain status symbol.

The 1987 Rose Bowl was a big enough deal for my whole family to skip a day on our ski trip to Durango, Colorado. I can still picture sitting in the hotel watching that game.

I was lucky enough to cover the 1997 Rose Bowl for the radio station I was working for at the time. If I close my eyes I can still see the David Boston catch; I was on the sidelines about 40 yards away. I’ve been working in the sports media in Phoenix since 1995, I’ve never had more fun covering a team than I did covering the 1996 ASU Sun Devils. I was late for a wedding because I refused to leave the USC game (double overtime) that year. A helluva argument with my wife ensued but it was worth it.

Vince Marotta and I were broadcasters for Arizona State during the 2002 season; I was the sideline reporter and he and I did the postgame show together. I’ll never forget Andrew Walter throwing for over 500 yards when the Devils upset sixth-ranked Oregon in Eugene.

And it’s not just ASU (sorry, Devil fans). I spent a couple of years attending Arizona, living in a dorm in the shadow of the football stadium. The day I won the lottery (yeah, an actual lottery) for basketball tickets was one I’ll never forget. It wasn’t Lute’s best team but sitting in McKale Center watching Chris Mills, Brian Williams and Matt Muehlebach in person … I get the goosebumps just thinking about it.

The day Arizona football upset top-ranked Washington in 1992 — somewhere I’m on that field having rushed onto it like thousands of others.

“Simon says…Championship!” Remember it like it was yesterday.

Thanks to our web team for the prompt. Survival trumps tradition, unfortunately. But I’ll cherish these memories no matter what conference the Arizona schools call home.

John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo

I arrived in the Valley the year Jake Plummer took ASU to the Rose Bowl. So many good memories from that year. I also vividly remember being in an elevator with Bruce Snyder and talking about the NFL Draft and Pat Tillman, and Snyder telling me that whoever gets him better realize he is going to beat people out and make the team and end up playing. He had so much faith in him.

My favorite memory, though, was a year after the Rose Bowl appearance. I was on the roof of Sun Devil Stadium when Ryan Leaf and Washington State were down five points to ASU and facing a 4th-and-3 in the final minutes. Leaf dropped back to pass and got blown up on a blitz by Fright Night Freedman with a ginormous sack and forced fumble that Hamilton Mee picked up and returned for a touchdown. It was a night game and, yes, a few of us were on the roof watching that one.

Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta

It is indeed a sad development. A 12-team conference that had the #2, #10, #11, #12, #16, #22 and #29 television markets is now a dinosaur in an industry consumed by potential audience and the never-ending pursuit of more television dollars. It’s really unfathomable.

But I’ll turn off my disbelief (anger) to follow the assignment.

My family moved to Arizona in 1979. I was a child, but I had an older sister who had made the trip West to go to school at ASU and we followed soon after. My parents came to Phoenix from New York for a pre-move visit and brought back a t-shirt for me with a cartoon group shot of all of the newly formed Pac-10 mascots. I loved the shirt and in a weird way, it started my love for the conference. I was a Sun Devil.

The Pac-12, as a fan, is all I’ve ever really known. I loved the geographic neatness of it. The fact that each school had a travel partner and natural rival. I also loved that over 45 years in the conference, ASU (and every other school for that matter) formed mini-rivalries and created lasting memories (both good and painful) against every other member school. Seeing the Sun Devils win two outright conference championships and play in two Rose Bowls is at the top of my list.

Ok, that’s enough of the warm and fuzzy stuff. I really hate that it’s come to this.

Luke Lapinski, co-host of Wolf & Luke

I don’t even know where to start with this because there are so many. Watching Jake Plummer and ASU go up against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl when I was a kid who didn’t even live in Phoenix, yet is a vivid memory. Maybe not the best memory though, just because I hated how that game ended.

More than anything, it’s the overall gameday experience I’ll miss. Nothing in sports is more communal than college athletics. Walking across campus with all the fans when I was a student at ASU, road trips with friends to see the team play in California, tailgating around Sun Devil Stadium before football games and just the general unique feel that Pac-12 sports have – those things won’t all disappear in the Big 12, but they’ll look different.

And then there are the rivalries. USC has ruined a lot of Saturdays for me, but I still look forward to that game every fall for some reason. And there might not be a better Pac-12 road trip than the drive to Pasadena to see Sun Devils-Bruins. Those are gone in 2024. Fortunately, the one with UofA isn’t going anywhere.

Which brings us to the one singular game that stands out above all the others for me: the 2010 Territorial Cup. The one in Tucson where James Brooks blocked an Alex Zendejas extra point late in regulation to send the game to overtime … and then did it again in the second OT to win it for ASU. Just craziness on the field afterward. Almost as crazy as Vontaze Burfict recovering the ball at one point, running over to the sidelines and yelling louder than I’ve heard anyone yell – right where Vince Marotta and I were standing near the bench. I think Vince’s life flashed before my eyes.

And yes, it helps that ASU won that day. But trust me, there are plenty of games the Sun Devils lost that are still the centerpiece of some crazy experiences that will be burned into my memory forever. That’s what I’ll miss about the Pac-12. Well, that and our Pac-12 fantasy football league that now has to become a Big 12 fantasy football league. Who ever heard of a Big 12 fantasy football league? Ridiculous.

Kellan Olson, editor of ArizonaSports.com

Once the likes of Texas, Oklahoma, UCLA and USC thrusted us into the new reality of money-grabbing super leagues in college athletics, I quickly accepted it was adapt or die for Arizona and Arizona State. As a Wildcat grad and basketball fan above all else, it was tantalizing to think of the possibilities in the Big 12. I have remained in that mindset since.

With that said, Pac-12 hoops had a rich history and was a fun watch every year. Programs like ASU, California, Colorado, Stanford, Washington, USC and Utah had multiple runs competing for conference titles amongst the big dogs in Arizona, Oregon and UCLA. Really, it was just Oregon State and Washington State that were the only two schools incapable of getting in the mix consistently enough.

The rivalry between the Bruins and Wildcats was a duel at the top that goes back nearly a half-century. Since 1985, Arizona and UCLA have combined to win 27 of the last 38 regular season championships. Including Gonzaga, the trio has consistently been the class of West coast basketball. And now all three are in separate conferences somehow.

That sucks. But I’m not down in the dumps because UofA and ASU are hopefully headed to the best basketball conference around. New, better rivalries will emerge. I’m already chomping at the bit for Arizona to get revenge on Houston for the 2022 NCAA Tournament loss, rekindle the magic from an awesome game the round prior against TCU and start something fresh with Kansas, Baylor and others. ASU fans already know how it feels to recently get a win in Allen Fieldhouse. I’d like to experience that as well.

And for those more on the football side, it’s honestly a conference more on our equal footing, as opposed to some of the brutes in the Pac-12. It’ll be better for both programs in the long run.

But more than anything, I hope Bill Walton is OK.

Mitch Vareldzis, co-host of State of the Sun Devils podcast:

When I was a member of the marching band at ASU, I was engulfed in the sports events across all seasons. Being able to travel to all the various cities for bowl games and tournaments is something I cherish and miss. I remember there was one of the games my junior year: we had a really tough field show. One of the movements was playing Rock That by Earth, Wind and Fire. For those familiar with the jam, there is a strings feature toward the end of the song that was translated for all the woodwinds. Somehow, the bari saxes got lumped into that grouping (laughs while crying emoji).

Gameday comes and we get through the toughest measures of music I had ever played. Can’t remember who ASU even played or if they won or lost. But afterward, then-coach Todd Graham walked a game ball over to our director, Hud. He awarded all of the woodwinds that game ball.

One of my most recent memories of hard work showing its worth.

There was also my freshman year when my family came to Tempe and see my dad’s alma mater, Stanford, play the Devils. Some rookie on the Cardinal team (who lived nearby me as a kid) muffed a punt return and it led to a key turnover for the Devils.

That rookie was Christian McCaffrey. I think he turned out OK.

Kevin Zimmerman, editor of ArizonaSports.com

Do I care that much about the Pac-12’s demise?

More than that, I would like the Arizona schools to get a little more hype for the sports entities they are, can be and should be. Hooray for exposure! Admitting the Pac-12 wasn’t working was a necessary thing, not a wanted one.

Growing up in the Mesa-Tempe-Chandler border and attending Arizona, I have separate thoughts about the rivalry that hopefully continues. Let’s save the wondering about that rivalry being at risk for later.

I’ll remember the Pac-12 as a whole for the early 2010s, when the quarterback talent included Andrew Luck, Nick Foles, Brock Osweiler, Sean Mannion, Brett Hundley, Matt Barkley, Marcus Mariota and Jared Goff. Ridiculous talent right there.

As a reporter at the Arizona Daily Wildcat, I was hashtag blessed enough to somehow have somebody pay for me to work the Arizona-UCLA men’s basketball game when John Wooden’s grandson, Tyler Trapani, scored the last bucket before Pauley Pavilion was renovated. I got to watch Isaiah Thomas cook in Seattle in person and again at the Pac-12 Tournament in what was underrated Gus Johnson’s best call as Derrick Williams’ Arizona team fell. I probably tweeted about those things. It all feels so long ago.

The Pac-12 to me will be remembered for the wonky stuff and the conference leaning into being different.

“Pac-12 After Dark” was a real feeling.

Like that time the Zona Zoo student section prematurely rushed the field at home against No. 11 Oregon. The Ducks tied the game up late in the fourth and in two overtimes secured a win as most of my classmates — I swear I only moved into the first few rows that were at that point empty — stood stunned next to Arizona’s players.

Nothing will ever beat spending the entire Pac-12 Tournament in Vegas, working literally every men’s basketball game during the day, doing Vegas things at night and heading to the pool before the next day to listen to Bill Walton on a microphone hyping up a crowd as the eliminated head coaches and players licked their wounds — also at the pool. The pool time toward the end of the tournament was the first time in three days that I saw the sun.

What an easy metaphor! The Pac-12 always thrived in the dark, after dark. Not seen enough, always wildly entertaining.

Maybe I do really care about losing that.

Jesse Morrison, co-host of State of the Sun Devils podcast:

My favorite Pac-12 memory was in 2014 when I had just started to consider attending Arizona State. I watched from my house all the way in Roanoke, Va., as Arizona State men’s basketball upset No. 2 Arizona 69-66 in two overtimes in Tempe. Jordan Bachynski’s block on T.J. McConnell followed by the breakaway slam by Jahii Carson to punctuate the victory are moments etched into my memory. Dave Pasch and Bill Walton were on the call and the game introduced me to the Territorial Cup rivalry.

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