AllSportsTucson Phoenix Correspondent Brittany Bowyer
Brittany Bowyer is a freelance journalist who started her career as an intern for a small sports website back in 2015. Since then, she’s obtained her master’s degree in Sports Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU and is in her fourth year of covering various levels of sports across a broad range of platforms in Arizona. You can follow her on twitter @bbowyer07
In Casa Grande, an enormous 10×40 foot billboard donning a maroon background with the simple message of “70-7” and “No pity for the kitty” in gold was spotted just to the west of I-10 on Wednesday morning. The friendly, or not-so-friendly, reminder was generated by anonymous Sun Devil fans online looking to finally get back at the Wildcats for years of relentless mocking and bragging that they’ve taken for years.
Few words inflict more pain for an Arizona Wildcat fan, as it echoes the final score of the 2020 Duel in the Desert for the Territorial Cup between Arizona and Arizona State, or as some still like to call it, Tempe Normal. It’s a night Wildcat players, coaches and fans alike wish to erase from their minds.
“I’m still shook up about it,” former Wildcat and newly hired defensive backs coach Chuck Cecil said in a Zoom press conference last week.
“It’s still very embarrassing. No one likes to lose. No one likes to get blown out. But to get blown out AND by your rival is beyond embarrassing,” Al Bravo, a Tucson native and current Mesa resident.
“About the only thing that could wipe out that memory might be a 71-7 win in Tempe,” Bravo said.
But forgetting the past won’t come easy for many Wildcats, and Sun Devil fans made sure of it by installing a simple, yet firm reminder for those who may have forgotten.
Die-hard fans on the 247recruiting subscription-based site Sun Devil Source gathered together in the chat forum to discuss the rivalry game just as they would any other opponent. Right out of the gate, Arizona State brought the heat, lighting up Arizona Stadium and igniting the fire that left behind what seemed like a smoldering mess for the Wildcats’ Football program.
Sun Devil fans, in shock over what was unfolding, flocked to the forum to discuss what was happening. As they reveled in the success of the team, Sun Devils wanted to ensure the Wildcats wouldn’t forget just how badly their team had fallen, which is when the brainstorming began.
A number of ideas were tossed out by the fans, but one quickly emerged as the front runner: a billboard.
For years ASU students and alumni have complained of the billboards popping up not only across the greater Phoenix area, but the entire state, claiming “This is Wildcat Country.”
It also brought about flashbacks to the billboard Arizona Athletics put up in Tempe just off Loop 202, with Sun Devil Stadium to be seen off in the background, announcing the hiring of Kevin Sumlin back in 2017.
“These are just things that the community of really passionate ASU fans have undertaken,” Chris Karpman, the site’s leading writer and reporter said.
Karpman, who said it is essential for those in a position such as his to remain unbiased, he had no involvement with the overall planning. He did, however, think it was truly remarkable that they’ve been able to build such a strong community of such passionate members throughout the years.
“I think it’s really cool, not so much because of anything I’ve done, but because there is this really passionate group of fans that are trying in the ways that actually make sense and that work to support Sun Devil athletics and to showcase the program’s successes,” Karpman said.
In order for any collaborative brainstorming to become a reality, someone needed to take control of the project. In this situation, it happened to be a user on the site by the name of ForkEm6114, also known as “Tommy”.
“It struck a chord with me. I drive around the states for work and I see their billboards coming in and out of the state,” said Tommy. “They have every right to do that kind of stuff, but what mostly bothers me is that ASU doesn’t seem to be doing the same thing.”
This was an opportunity for Sun Devil fans to have a little fun in the rivalry and remind the Wildcats while they may have the upper hand in the overall record as of now, Arizona State is kicking up the dirt as they come running towards the lead.
After getting some details such as price, location and lighting, he made the executive decision of finalizing the plans, settling on the location just outside of Casa Grande. The location provides a solid view for anyone making their way to the Valley.
“At that point I realized because the prices were reasonable and so many people had already said ‘count me in for $70 or $100’, I knew it was realistic. So at that point I decided to push forward with it,” Tommy said.
He also was concerned about how other pro-ASU billboards in the Tucson area have been taken down quickly in the past and noted that he wanted to avoid having that happen by not putting the boards directly in their face, making Casa Grande a prime location.
Upon posting in a new thread on the site the finalized artwork and location, an even larger outpouring of members pledged and sent money for the project. Eventually, they raised enough money to meet their goal and then some, deciding to donate the remaining funds to the Snowden family as part of the Here for Haley fundraiser.
Haley, the two-year-old daughter of Sun Devil graduates Matthew and Lindsay, was recently diagnosed with Leukemia and is currently undergoing treatment. The fans decided instead of donating the leftover funds to the athletic department, they’d help out Haley, something they hope others who have the means will choose to do, too.
For the Wildcats, the billboard can be used as a token of the past to dwell on, or a beacon of light for future success and accomplishment.
“Any team better be extremely motivated after such an embarrassing loss. If you’re intimidated, you’re in the wrong place,” Bravo said.
The battle for the Territorial Cup ultimately expedited the process for getting rid of Kevin Sumlin, giving the athletic department little reason to keep him in a year when many could have argued it was not the year to part ways with him financially.
“That was an embarrassment for any U of A fan. I was definitely angry about that and felt like the coaching change had to happen at that point, no matter the cost,” Rudy Alvarado.
Alarm bells were sounding within the program prior to the game, but nowhere was the pending anxiety of the sky falling felt harder than the Wildcat locker room.
Sumlin was fired the following day. A number of the team’s top players, including quarterback Grant Gunnell and Tucson local wide receivers Stanley Berryhill III and Jamarye Joiner (who both have since decided to remain at Arizona), entered the transfer portal. Verbal commits for upcoming recruiting classes backed out of their pledge to the program.
Nobody could shake the feeling of the program seemingly hitting rock bottom, that was, until Jedd Fisch was hired. Just 12 days after the program-imploding loss, the University of Arizona officially announced the former New England Patriots’ Quarterbacks Coach as the program’s new leader.
Fisch quickly worked to put together an all-star staff, bringing with it a breath of fresh air for the program that looked to be modeling the successful “pro-model” Arizona State had recently implemented.
“I’m absolutely encouraged by the hiring of Jedd Fisch. Sure, the school is taking a chance, but we haven’t seen much success with established coaches the last several seasons,” Bravo said.
The staff has already hit the ground running, with ambitious goals of getting in contact with every high school coach across the state and extending offers to players. They’ve also been working to utilize the transfer portal this year to their advantage.
Former Chandler High and Northwestern University teammates Gunnar Maldonado and Drake Anderson both announced they’d be transferring to Arizona just days after the hiring was announced, along with former Higley High standout and current Colorado Buffalo Jason Harris. These are just a few new additions who will bring a boost next year.
“Given the new staff and transfers that they are getting from Northwestern and Notre Dame, combined with guys like Stanley Berryhill reversing course and leaving the transfer portal to stay says a lot. I think there is definitely motivation to be better than the product they put out there this past season,” Long-time Wildcat Scott Allen said.
“He brought in AZ guys from the transfer portal and convinced a number of guys to stay after entering the portal so he’s off to a great start. Literally nowhere to go but up,” Alvarado said.
For fans, there’s an excitement surrounding the program that hasn’t been felt since well before the start of the 2019 season. The tumbling program is once again looking like it’s getting back on the road to success, which the Wildcats’ hope to build on for years to come.
While things look promising, the full results of the hire are still yet to come and will hinge largely on how well this staff is able to close with recruits. Currently, official visits have been put on pause, but the Wildcats’ Athletic Department will still continue to face one final hurdle when it comes to campus visits, whether the visits are official or unofficial.
As of now, most fly in and out of Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, with their flight path taking them directly over Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe and the sprawling main campus of Arizona State University. The first, and last, thing players see as they arrive and depart is enemy territory, which could be good or bad, depending on the year.