Sun Devil Stadium

A Coming of Age for Arizona State University

In 1958 Proposition 200 passed in a statewide election by a 2-1 vote and Arizona State College became Arizona State University. That same year Sun Devil Stadium opened, and the team moved from the smaller Goodwin Stadium. The new stadium, opened with a capacity for 30,000 fans, twice the capacity of the 15,000 seat Goodwin Stadium. Later renovations increased the size to nearly 75,000 seats. In many ways, the construction of Sun Devil Stadium represented a coming-of-age for ASU!

University President Grady Gammage, who became president in 1933 led the statewide campaign to pass Proposition 200 through which the college became a full-fledged university. Also, under his leadership, the school added the first master's program and saw enormous growth in attendance. The greatest increase in attendance occurred following World War II largely due to the GI Bill when student populations increased across the United States. For example, from a population of about 3,000 students in 1945, enrollments tripled to more than 10,000 by Gammage’s death in 1959. Increasing student populations allowed Gammage to secure federal funding for a number of new buildings to accommodate the students' needs, including Sun Devil Stadium and Grady Gammage Auditorium.

Naming the field at Sun Devil Stadium after former head coach Frank Kush in 1996 reveals another aspect of the stadium’s history--the growing importance of college sports on campus. Kush came to Arizona as an assistant coach for the Sun Devils in 1955 and was promoted to head coach in 1958. He was also active in the drive to pass Proposition 200. During his 22 year tenure as head coach the Sun Devils only had one losing season. The Sun Devils won a number of conference championships and the first three Fiesta Bowl Games. Kush’s legacy was not without controversy. Kush was fired as coach in 1979 for interfering with an investigation into allegations of physical harassment of a former player. He was found not liable but in 1980 the NCAA punished ASU for multiple violations while Kush was coach.

Sun Devil Stadium emerged as one of the most prominent sports venues in the Valley, contributing to the broader sports tourism industry with the inauguration of the Fiesta Bowl in 1971. In the 1960s, then-President G. Homer Durham originally suggested the bowl and eventually, a committee was formed to petition the NCAA. The Fiesta Bowl was founded to ensure that Western Athletic Conference champions would have a bowl game to compete it after multiple years of champion teams, including the Sun Devils on two occasions, were not invited to any major bowl games. In 1968 Sun Bowl officials said they would invite the winner of the territorial cup (the game between ASU vs UofA) but UofA insisted on an invitation ahead of the game, saying they would otherwise decline following their assumed victory against the Sun Devils. The Sun Bowl organizers agreed. The Sun Devils beat the Wildcats 30-7 in the game that would have garnered them an invitation had the Wildcats not issued their ultimatum prior to the game. In 1970 the Sun Devils were undefeated but still only invited to Peach Bowl. The Sun Devils have won five of their six Fiesta Bowl games, including the first three years of the bowl. The game was moved in 2006 to Glendale when the city created a larger, more modern venue to host the Arizona Cardinals professional football franchise.

Sun Devil Stadium also was home to Arizona’s first professional football team. 1988 the stadium become the home of the Arizona Cardinals, who would share the stadium with the Sun Devils until moving to their new facility in 2006. Traditionally NFL teams wear uniforms in their colors during home games and white for away games. The Cardinals did so for their first home game at Sun Devils Stadium then switched to wearing white at home during the warmer months so the opposing team would have to wear darker colors in the heat. In 1996 Sun Devil Stadium hosted Super Bowl XXX. The field was painted by ASU Athletics Facilities Maintenance Manager, Peter Wozniak, who has painted the Sun Devil Stadium field prior to games since he was a student at ASU in the 1980s. Following Super Bowl XXX, the NFL asked him to continue painting the field for pro title games and he has done so internationally, spending about three weeks working on each field.

The Cardinals remained at Sun Devil Stadium much longer than anyone expected. The Cardinals came to Arizona with an agreement that a dedicated stadium would be built for the team. This would allow the organization revenue streams that they were cut off from as a tenant of the university. Funding for the new stadium was delayed due to the savings and loan crisis of the 1990s but was eventually approved by Arizona voters. The original plan called for a new stadium in Tempe to take advantage of the existing infrastructure but was blocked due to the proximity of Sky Harbor International Airport. The state-of-the-art stadium was built in Glendale, at a cost of $455 million, with over $300 million paid by the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority and the city of Glendale. Naming rights were awarded to the University of Phoenix for $154.5 million for twenty years but were terminated after eleven years due to financial problems on the part of the for-profit school. The new stadium also generates revenue from luxury skyboxes and outside concerts. The 2018 Taylor Swift concert brought in over $7 million dollars for the team.

As a central venue for large events, Sun Devil Stadium played an important role in regional music and arts as well. In March 1976 a press junket and concert was held for the filming of Barbra Streisand’s remake of “A Star is Born.” The concert was a full-day event, featuring multiple artists, and several songs were filmed for the movie. Other performers included her movie co-star, Kris Kristofferson, as well as Peter Frampton and Santana. The tickets were $3.50. Part of The Rolling Stones’ concert film “Let’s Spend the Night Together” was filmed at Sun Devil Stadium in 1982 as well as some footage for U2’s rockumentary “Rattle and Hum” in 1988. In 1987 Pope John Paul II performed Mass at Sun Devil Stadium. Before his visit, all images of Sparky, the Sun Devils mascot, were covered. In 2009 President Barack Obama spoke the Spring Commencement Ceremony, held at Sun Devil Stadium. The University did not grant an honorary degree to the President during his visit, citing his lack of accomplishments at the time. This caused some controversy prior to his visit but Obama joked about it during his speech, saying his wife would agree with the statement and that he would “never pick another team above the Sun Devils in his NCAA bracket.”

Sun Devil Stadium has undergone a number of changes in recent years as it finds its place in the community with the move of the Arizona Cardinals to the newer stadium in Glendale. ASU asked a group of student interns to come up with ideas on how to better utilize the stadium year-round, not just during Sun Devil games, and how to make it more profitable for the University. Renovations were needed anyway because the original construction did not use waterproof concrete because of the desert location. However, the stands were hosed down for cleaning after all Sun Devil and Cardinal games, leading to rusting foundation supports. Three phases of renovations totaling $307 million were done between seasons to minimize the disruption for the team, with the third finished in August 2018 before the first game of the season. The renovations reduced the overall seating capacity to approximately 53,000 but combined the two student sections into one and connected the east and west sides of the stadium so the entire stadium can be accessed from any entrance. Amenities, such as restrooms and concessions were also upgraded. A new video board was installed and a Student-Athlete Facility was constructed. The university plans to use the stadium to host a number of events year-round.

edited 1/15/2020:wt

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