Archive for: August 2014

Tempe Chamber of Commerce Hosts Kickoff Luncheon

Ray Sparky

The Tempe Chamber of Commerce hosted another legendary luncheon in anticipation of the 2014 Sun Devil Football season. Frank Kush was there, Rose Bowl winning quarterback Jeff Van Raaphorst was there, the 2013 Pac-12 Coach of the Year Todd Graham was there and so was DieHard Devil.

It was a veritable “Who’s Who” of Arizona State football at the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel, just a stone’s throw away from Sun Devil Stadium. The ballroom was packed, and the Tempe Chamber of Commerce sold out the event with 520 passionate Sun Devil football fans in attendance.

“We enjoy a wonderful relationship with the University, we’re partners on many different levels” Sean Donovan, Vice President of Media and Program Development told me prior to the event. “This is one opportunity to show our support very publicly and very visibly. We are happy to celebrate the start of the new season and bring the wonderful people and passionate players of Arizona State University to the community.”

Tempe ChamberThe “Voice of the Sun Devils,” Tim Healey, hosted the ceremony and incited the room of fervent Sun Devil football fans with talk of Arizona State truly having “unfinished business.” While it is always nice to say that the Devils are the defending Pac-12 South champion, there is so much more work to be done. The Pac-12 Championship, the Rose Bowl, and, yes, even the National Championship are goals for the 2014 Sun Devil football team.

The daughter of legendary Arizona State basketball and baseball coach, Bill Kajikawa, Dr. Christine Wilkinson spoke to the crowd on behalf of the ASU Alumni Association. Dr. Wilkinson, the President of the Alumni Association, has worn several hats at the University, including interim Athletic Director, and has more knowledge about the school and its history than even the most passionate alum.

Healey’s partner for the past 20+ years, Jeff Van Raaphorst joined him to discuss where the Devils have been and where they are going, and it’s evident that the Rose Bowl is only a step along the way. Van Raaphorst admitted that current ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly has the ability to eclipse his records and has the opportunity to join him among ASU’s elite quarterbacks.

Vice President of University Athletics, Ray Anderson joined the hosts on stage to talk about playing with class. “There will be no trash talking on this team,” Anderson told the crowd. “Sun Devils will play with class, honor and integrity. This will also be evident in how they live their lives off the field as well.”

With Jamil & The Cup

With Jamil & The Cup

I was hoping to see more unorthodox footwear from head football coach Todd Graham at the event. He has worn boots to flip-flops to address the media this year, but today was just a pair of smart, black dress shoes while he spoke with Healey and Van Raaphorst.

“We have unfinished business this year,” Graham said. “Our goal is not only to return to the Pac-12 Championship Game, but also the Rose Bowl and the National Championship. While those goals may be lofty, I believe in our guys. We are faster, smarter and more physical than previous years, so that is what’s expected.”

The Territorial Cup made its appearance when Kelly and offensive lineman Jamil Douglas joined the panel. Kelly and Douglas reinforced the “unfinished business” mantra and voiced their desire to take the Pac-12 and the nation by storm.

When Healey asked Douglas “What part of the Territorial Cup victory was most difficult for you?” He responded “Hoisting the cup after the game.”

“It was more taxing holding the cup up for so long than actually winning it.” Douglas said in closing.

Let’s hope they have no problem keeping the cup for years to come.


Sun Devil Stadium’s Good Neighbor: An Update on the State Farm Insurance Building

State Farm

For students that attended Arizona State in the ‘90s and 2000s, the dreaded north portion of Lot 59 was the last result for students commuting to the Tempe campus. It was also the home to some of the best tailgate parties known to man.

Sun Devil Stadium was home to Super Bowl XXX in 1996 and the NCAA Football National Championship in 1999. The NFL Experience took over the entirety of Lot 59 while the tailgate in the north lot of 59 prior to the ’96 National Championship was legendary. I was a student for both games and was slinging drinks at private tailgate parties for corporate honchos and generous donors.

The GameDay Crew was greeted by raucous fans.

The GameDay Crew was greeted by raucous fans.

ESPN’s renowned program “College GameDay” filmed live there with the Tempe Town Lake as a scenic backdrop in 2005. Former Arizona State student Jimmy Kimmel did a piece for “Jimmy Kimmel Live” during the tailgate and I had the chance to talk to his Aunt Chippy yet didn’t make the broadcast.

The school stopped offering game parking in the lot a few years back and I remembered thinking that Arizona State was trying to shed its party-school image and closing down the rowdiest tailgate lot would be a logical first step.

When it was announced that the lot would be transformed into a two million-square-foot, 20-acre, $600 million mixed-use development, it was evident that the school was focused on developing around the legendary stadium and making use of the trendy lake-front property.

The Marina Heights development will be anchored by State Farm Insurance and will feature 2.6 million square feet of office space in five buildings, the largest office development in Arizona history. There will also be an estimated 50,000 sq. ft. of retail space to service the employees. The company based out of Bloomington, Ill., is also establishing regional headquarters in Dallas and Atlanta but will retain its main headquarters in Illinois.

The Arizona Board of Regents signed the pre-paid 99-year lease with SunBelt Holdings, Ryan Companies and State Farm Insurance for approximately $31 million, not a bad day’s work. Couple that $31 million payday with 8,000 jobs that will be created by the insurance carrier along with an estimated 6,000 retail employees by 2017, the Marina Heights project is a huge win for Tempe and Arizona State University.

Marina HeightsOn a side note, there will still be a huge parking lot that might be available for game day parking so it may be possible to have our cake and eat it too.

The completion date for the main building is scheduled for mid-2015 with total completion by 2017. State Farm has already held several career fairs and the regional headquarters will serve as a hub for claims, service and sale support, according to the press release.

Years of city planning are finally being realized after filling the dry riverbed and estimates are in the Billions, yes, with a capital B, in lakeside development that has been built or is on the way.

The centerpiece of development may be the lake, but I tend to believe that everybody just wants to be close to the hallowed grounds of Sun Devil Stadium. 

Arizona State Football: Third Down and Pac-12 Championship To Go


We are less than a month away from kickoff of the 2014 season, summer workouts are complete and the team returns to Camp Tontozona is less than two weeks. Pac-12 Media Day was a resounding success and the Sun Devils were predicted to finish third in the Pac-12 South by media members that cover the league.

There’s that number again…three. It must truly be a magical number.

Keeping in the context of the magical number three, let’s examine the all-important third down. In the perfect world, we would never need third downs as Taylor Kelly and his arsenal of weapons would nail a first down, every down.

ASU leading receiver Jaelen Strong

ASU leading receiver Jaelen Strong

This is a world where the University of Arizona still has a football team and the University of Southern California was predicted to finish above the Sun Devils in a preseason poll, so this world is far from perfect.

Third downs tell the story of how the offense responds under pressure and how it deals with adversity—will they extend the possession or will they fold?

In 2013, the Sun Devils third conversion rate was less than stellar, converting only 39 percent of the time. The bright side of the coin, however, is that Taylor Kelly will still be under center this year.

Kelly led the team last year with 30 rushes on third down. Half of those crucial runs netted the necessary yardage to extend the drive while six of the runs ended up in the end zone. The entire team totaled only three third down touchdowns all season…three.

Kelly’s 7.6 yards per carry on third down led the team and his six touchdowns on third down was second best in the country. If history tells us anything, the future looks bright on third down as long as Kelly is on the field.

The top teams in the country do well in their third down conversions so it’s no mystery that extending drives leads to winning games. National Champion Florida State finished third nationally with a 52.2 percent conversion rate while Pac-12 Champion, Stanford led all teams in the conference at 49.7 percent and tenth nationally.

Lame LaneArizona State’s 39.1 percent conversion was quite pedestrian, finishing eighth in the conference and 77th nationally. Kelly has a multitude of weapons other than playmakers Jaelen Strong and D.J. Foster.

The Sun Devils lit up opponents in 2013 with a record-breaking six games of 50 or more points including a stretch of four games against Pac-12 opponents and one opposing coach fired on the tarmac.

We know that the team can score early and often, but imagine if you will, how dominant the team would be if they could convert third down conversions half of the time like Pac-12 North foe, Stanford…they would be unbeatable.

This is the year that it all comes together, and after claiming victory in the brutal four-game stretch against UCLA, USC, Stanford and Washington, the nation will notice that Arizona State football is a legitimate contender for not only the Conference title but also the National Championship.