Nov. 4, 1997
Spann Perseveres for Sun Devils
by Luanne Muller,
ASU Sports Information Student Assistant
The 1996 football season was supposed to be one that everyone would remember. With an undefeated regular season, and the first Rose Bowl berth in 10 years, everyone will remember it. But, in times of great triumph, some things are often overlooked.
The Cinderella season started out as expected. The Sun Devils defeated Washington in their home opener with a field goal in the final seconds of the game. Junior-college transfer Creig Spann was instrumental in the win. A wide receiver from Phoenix College, Spann was expected to be a playmaker in the season that had just begun, and that he was. He had two catches for eight yards in the game, but his big play came on a reverse late in the third quarter. The 32-yard scamper led to ASU's fifth touchdown.
Arizona State's second game of the 1996 season was a 52-7 blowout of North Texas. What could possibly go wrong in a game that featured such domination? Simply put, Creig Spann's 1996 campaign was ended.
An ASU punt sent Spann running down the field. In his final step onto his right foot, his weight shifted and his knee went out on him. A torn anterior cruciate ligament was the final diagnosis.
Sitting on the sideline with his face buried in his hands, Spann let the doctors examine his knee. They knew the severity of the injury before he did. The fans applauded, but they didn't know how badly he was hurt either.
He was carried off the field on a cart with his knee in a brace. As the team celebrated a well-deserved victory, Spann could not be on the field to share it. This was not the only victory that Spann was not able to be a part of. He remained on the sideline for the rest of the season as his team made a run for the Rose Bowl. The 1996 football season featured a lot of great things, and in the midst of those, Spann's injury seemed not so bad.
It was, however, bad for Spann. When told of the nature of his injury, Spann didn't know how to react at first. "It didn't really hit me right away," he said. "It took a day or two to sink in that I had blown my knee out."
When it did sink in, he was very upset. "I cried a little bit, but I knew I had to deal with it."
Having to deal with adversity is not something that is completely foreign to Spann. When he was two years old, he faced a situation that taught him what adversity is.
It was the fourth of July, and the Spann family went to Lake Pleasant to enjoy the festivities. The Phoenix native was somewhat familiar with the lake, but he was not familiar with the barbecue pit that was in the ground next to where he was playing.
His mother called him, and when he turned around to go to her, he tripped on a rock and fell into the barbecue pit. The family went to the hospital right away and doctors told them that the toes on both of Creig's feet had been burned beyond repair. He was left with stubs.
The doctors wanted to amputate his left foot, but Spann's parents wouldn't allow them to. They then told his parents that if he was ever lucky enough to walk again, it would be with crutches or a walker.
Less than six months later, Spann was taking baby steps. Day by day, he was able to walk more and more. Finally, he reached the point where he was walking just like an other child. Walking soon led to running, and that is when Spann began to play sports.
He picked up a flier from school that was advertising a soccer league, and he wanted to play. His parents were hesitant to let him because of his toe injury.
"The doctors had told my parents to never hold me back, and to let me try anything," Spann remembers. So, his parents decided that he could try it. If it hurt him, then he would stop.
Not only did it not hurt him, but he had the time of his life. "Being in sports at a young age has helped me," Spann said. "It gave me the chance to be with my friends more, and it instilled a healthy sense of competitiveness in me."
Spann doesn't even think about his toes now. "I can't remember that far back," he said. "As far as I know, I have been this way from the get-go. It is all I have known."
With this is mind, Spann continued to play soccer and became very good at it. When he reached high school, all of his friends tried out for football, so he did too. He didn't like it very much. As a 5-2, 190-pound freshman, he didn't get much playing time. He didn't play his sophomore year, and in his junior year he finally started liking it. As a senior, he liked it so much that he played at the level of a first-team all-conference player.
He played three sports at South Mountain High School -- football, soccer and track -- and was a member of the school's state champion 4x100-meter relay team. Soccer had been his first love, though, and he was the school's leading scorer as a senior.
"I would still play soccer right now if it was not in the same season as football," he said.
This year is Spann's final year of eligibility, and he wants to make it a special one.
"The NFL motivates me to keep playing," he said. "I love the sport. Catching balls and scoring touchdowns is what I love to do."
This year, Spann is expected to do just that.
With his brother and dad supporting him, Spann is even more motivated to make a name for himself. Since his dad is a professional bodybuilder, he is used to having to deal with adversity and injuries. He gives his son advice on how to play football and how to overcome the difficulties.
With the toe injury at a young age and last year's knee injury, that advice is definitely something that Spann can, and has, used. The advice has helped him to overcome his knee injury.
"I think I am getting better and better each week," he said. "I almost feel 100 percent now."
So, with Spann in top condition, the 1997 football season will be one to remember as well. This time, however, Spann is hoping to be a lasting part of it.