TIGER KICKOFF: Ten things you didn't know about Arizona State

Friday, September 14, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The newborn rivalry between Missouri and Arizona State isn't exactly a historic one. The two teams have never played in the same conference, and their campuses are separated by more than 1,300 miles.

So what do Missouri fans know about Arizona State? Other than the fact that it beat the Tigers last season in a game most Missouri fans would rather forget, the Sun Devils may be somewhat of a mystery. To combat that lack of knowledge, we bring you 10 things you didn't know about Arizona State.


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10. There is a large hill just north of Arizona State’s campus called the Tempe Butte. Locals have another name for it, though – “A” Mountain. It is so named because of the 60-foot tall steel “A” placed on the side of the mountain facing campus. The “A” was originally placed there in 1938, formed mostly from loose rocks. It was destroyed in 1952, though, when vandals blasted the letter to pieces with dynamite. While the culprits were never found, the "A" was rebuilt with steel and concrete and still stands today.

9. One of Arizona State’s most famous alumni is a fictional one. Rod Tidwell, the loud but loveable receiver portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr. in the 1996 film “Jerry Maguire,” was a Sun Devil. Before demanding that Maguire “show him the money,” he announced his Arizona allegiances first.

“I'm from Arizona, Jerry! I broke Arizona records! I went to Arizona State! I'm a Sun Devil, man!”

Gooding Jr.’s overexcited, always vocal, money-hungry persona landed him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1997. Regardless of the fact that he never actually existed, there may not have been a more engaging Sun Devil receiver, before or since.

8. As for actual alumni, one of the most recognizable voices in sports broadcasting, Al Michaels, got his start in Tempe and graduated from Arizona State in 1966. While serving as sports editor of the school’s newspaper, “The State Press,” Michaels decided to pull a prank on the state’s leading paper, “The Arizona Republic.”

Michaels invented a fictional baseball player named Clint Romas, who allegedly went to high school in a small town in Arizona. He then called into “The Arizona Republic” several times and reported the player’s impressive box scores. “The Arizona Republic” published the stats, to Michaels’ delight.

7. Arizona State University wasn’t always Arizona State University. The school was founded in 1885 and called the Tempe Normal School. In the early 1900s the name changed again, this time to the Normal School of Arizona. In the 1930s it became the Arizona State Teachers College of Tempe, then simply Arizona State College. Finally, President Grady Gammage approved the school’s final name change, and it became Arizona State University in 1958.

6. While the Arizona State football team plays its home games at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, the site has hosted NFL teams and a Pope, too. Super Bowl XXX was played there in 1996, with the Dallas Cowboys beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in the game, 27-17. Pope John Paul II also made an appearance at Sun Devil Stadium on Sept. 14, 1987, when he held Mass there in front of a crowd of 75,000 people.

5. The first presidential debate held west of the Mississippi River was held on Arizona State’s campus in 2004. The debate happened inside “ASU Gammage,” a performing arts facility that was renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s final design. President George W. Bush and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry were each asked 10 questions during the debate, and they discussed issues such as immigration and the war in Iraq.

4. President Barack Obama gave Arizona State’s graduation commencement speech in May 2009. However, while many universities also give honorary degrees to their commencement speakers, Arizona State refused to give any such honor to Obama. The decision, which caused a whirlwind of controversy at the time, was made because the school believed Obama had not achieved enough yet to warrant the degree. “His body of work is yet to come,” ASU Media Relations Director Sharon Keeler said at the time.

3. In 1999, Arizona State running back J.R. Redmond was suspended for one game for receiving illicit benefits. Not even a wedding could save his eligibility.

Redmond had previously taken a cell phone offered to him by a part-time employee of the Arizona State athletic department, Francine Arthur. He racked up more than $400 worth of charges on the phone. After finding out that his transaction with Arthur was under investigation by the school, Redmond figured he could sidestep the punishment if Arthur was his wife. They got married in Mesa, Ariz., but Redmond was suspended for receiving benefits nevertheless.

2. Arizona State’s nickname became the “Sun Devils” in 1946. It was previously the Bulldogs, and before that, the Owls. But how did the unique nickname come to be? The answer seems to have been lost in history. The student body voted, by a count of 819-196, to change the nickname to the Sun Devils. But it is unknown who actually proposed the“Sun Devils” name.

1. The designs for Sparky, the Sun Devils' mascot, were drawn by ASU alum and former Walt Disney cartoonist Bert Anthony. Legend has it that Sparky’s likeness was meant to resemble Disney, who fired Anthony shortly before he was asked to make the drawings.

Designing a mascot that portrays your former employer as a “Sun Devil”? For Anthony, revenge never tasted so sweet.

Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.

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