Devils May Care: Digging into the Fiesta Bowl’s ASU roots

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Nearly five decades ago, then ASU president G. Homer Durham conceptualized a college bowl game in the Valley of the Sun.

In 1971, his dream became a reality when ASU defeated Florida State in the inaugural Fiesta Bowl. At the time, the final score (45-38) was the most points attained in any major postseason game. With more than 50,000 spectators cheering from the stands of Sun Devil Stadium, it was also the largest first-year turnout in bowl game history.

The Fiesta Bowl hasn’t been held at ASU’s football stadium since 2006 and the Sun Devils haven’t made it to the bowl since 1983, but the ASU community still has close ties to the game and its ancillary events, like the parade, concerts and pre-parties.

The Fiesta Bowl’s 30-plus full-time staff and sizable volunteer base is a blend of current and former Sun Devils. Take Emily Holden, for example. She’s the Fiesta Bowl’s director of game and event operations and a proud ASU alumna. She’s responsible for parking, traffic, signage, staffing, security facility setup and coordinating the field design. She says there are a lot of moving parts — literally: She is also fork lift and aerial-lift certified.

“I’m involved in a lot and just making sure that everything flows,” she explains. “I connect people to make sure everything’s happening in the right way… It’s definitely a team effort… I just help connect the right people and make sure everything happens as it’s supposed to.”

Holden graduated from ASU in 2010 with a master’s degree in higher education administration. During her undergrad, she volunteered for the Fiesta Bowl in its Sun Devil Stadium days. It’s now held at the University of Phoenix Stadium, but there’s still a prominent ASU presence.

“We have a number of ASU alumni as staff members. We have ASU alumni in our committee. They play a huge role in helping us coordinate events,” she says. “They help with every possible thing you could think of and we truly could not do it without them.”

One such volunteer is Bryan Neddoff, who graduated from ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business in 1991. He says the Fiesta Bowl was a significant part of his childhood; he remembers watching practices at the high school by his house and attending the games. He now helps coordinate the cheerleaders and mascots.

“I’m a native Phoenician… so I’ve been going to Fiesta Bowls all my life,” he says. “I think it’s neat that ASU is so integrated into the starting of the Fiesta Bowl.”

When it first started, ASU’s football team was a force to be reckoned with. The Sun Devils were a highly rated team, but weren’t getting the opportunities to go to bowl games.

“They decided, with our beautiful weather and great facilities at Arizona State, to start our own bowl,” Neddoff says. “The Fiesta Bowl then was played at Arizona State for many years and there are so many alumni that live and work in the Valley. To me, it’s been a very symbiotic relationship. There are also a lot of ASU alumni on the committee, but I think it’s more about how it started and that continuation.”

According to Neddoff, ASU is always eager to offer its facilities for the visiting teams, cheerleaders and marching bands.

“They’re not in the game and they’re helping other universities; that’s such a neat thing to see from Arizona State — they’ll help other universities because they have that level of facilities.”

On December 30, the Penn State Nittany Lions match up against the Washington Huskies in the 47th Fiesta Bowl.

“One of the things I’m excited about this year is the opportunity to bring two great teams from the Pac-12 and the Big Ten… I think what’s exciting is that Penn State has never lost at the Fiesta Bowl and the coach for Washington, while he was at Boise State, has never lost at the Fiesta Bowl, so you have two trajectories of never losing,” Neddoff says. “For me personally, it’s exciting to see that play out and see excitement about it.”

47th Annual PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, University of Phoenix Stadium, 1 Cardinals Drive, Glendale, Saturday, December 30, 2 p.m.

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