ASU's home field advantage is real, and it's spectacularPosted: Updated:
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Oh no. This can't be happening. Not again.
Notre Dame had just scored another touchdown, cutting ASU's lead to 34-31 with 6:37 left in the game. The Fighting Irish were now on a 28-0 run that began just before halftime. Once up 34-3, ASU was reeling, on the verge of a nationally televised embarrassment that would eliminate their playoff hopes.
Back to the Holiday Bowl, kids.
However, ASU's student section wouldn't allow it. Not this time.
The sea of gold in the southeast corner jumped in unison as they started the "I Believe That We Will Win" chant. They did so loudly and with feeling.
Just moments before, the large Notre Dame fan contingent had engulfed Sun Devil Stadium with pro-Irish chants. That quickly stopped. The energy from the student section soon spread across the rest of the stadium, and suddenly, the ASU fans that were waiting for the other shoe to drop were right back in it.
At the time, I was standing on the field behind the south endzone. The change in the atmosphere was almost tangible. It was the football equivalent of when "Gonna Fly Now" kicks in during a Rocky movie: you know that the champ is about to get up off the mat and deliver the knockout blow.
On the ensuing drive, ASU's offense—dormant for the entire second half—marched 75 yards in just five plays to score a touchdown. Coincidence? Nah.
"My favorite part of the game was when Notre Dame made it a three point game and our entire crowd just started chanting," said ASU head coach Todd Graham. "That was awesome. That is something I haven't seen. I am very grateful of our fans."
For good measure, the student section then put on another impressive and deafening display, this time to the tune of "Seven Nation Army".
Three Notre Dame passes later, ASU cornerback Lloyd Carrington was running back an interception for another touchdown. Boom. Ballgame.
With the 55-31 win soon secured, the players went over to the student section to offer their thanks, as they do after every game, home or away. The Sun Devils realize the role that their fans play.
In the post-game press conference, quarterback Taylor Kelly asked to make a statement before taking any questions.
“I just want to thank our fans, all 65,000 of them that came to Sun Devil Nation. We couldn’t get it done without you guys. You’re the best student section in the nation."
It was another example of a larger change that has been taking place among the ASU fanbase, especially among students. People actually, truly give a damn about this football team now.
Yet a lot of work remains to be done.
In the afterglow of a program-defining victory, it's easy to lose sight of how seismic of a change this has really been for Sun Devil Nation.
SI.com's Martin Rickman is one of the top college football writers around, and he was in Tempe covering the game. His initial post-game article (sinceupdated here) caused a vitriolic reaction among ASU fans, who were offended by their portrayal.
The thing is, Rickman was spot on.
ASU has a well-deserved national reputation of having an apathetic fanbase with largely disinterested students. Years of mediocre football and a large non-native population will do that. When you field a team that consistently rewards loyalty with heartbreak, it's to be expected. Even now, with the Sun Devils' recent success, filling Sun Devil Stadium has been a significant challenge for the program.
Reversing those years of decay takes time and significant effort. While there is nothing ASU or the fans can do about the former, they've certainly done some great work towards the latter.
Since taking over the program, Graham has made repairing the relationship with the fanbase and alumni a top priority. He understands not just the value of invested supporters, but also their necessity. With Graham and Associate Athletic Director Bill Kennedy leading the way, ASU's work to bring fans and students back into the fold has been a resounding success.
The students have responded by taking that lead and running with it.
The recent tradition of Camp Fargo, in which dedicated students camp outside of Wells Fargo Arena for the best student section seats, is perhaps the best known and most visible example. With campers showing up a full week prior to the Notre Dame game, Camp Fargo grew to an astounding 272 campsites by Saturday.
Other groups, such as the 942 Crew for basketball games, have helped to instill Sun Devil pride into the students, win, lose, or draw. Slowly but surely, being a Sun Devil means something now. Notre Dame found out first hand just what that can do.
For the Notre Dame game, ASU hosted several highly-ranked and coveted recruits making visits. Seeing the incredible support from the fanbase firsthand undoubtedly made a major impression.
Sun Devil Stadium has gone from a detour on the way to the bars to the destination. It has become a difference maker. It will just take time for the rest of the nation to notice, and that's OK. Just keep showing up and doing your thing, fans.
"It is a great time to be a Sun Devil," said Graham.
Each home win further proves the validity of the that sign hangs above the student section: "Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here".
Following the game, ASU safety Damarious Randall delivered the quote of the day.
"I wouldn't want to play ASU in Tempe."
After the display put on against Notre Dame, the rest of the country will soon agree with you, Damarious.