Nov. 12, 2012
By Preslie Hirsch, Digital Communications Intern
The 2012 Sun Devil football season has brought about many changes put forth by head coach Todd Graham. He is embracing the tradition of ASU, and not only drawing attention to the history but also using it to create energy for the future of the program.
One of Graham’s first visions was brought to life in August with the renovations of the third floor in the Carson Athlete Center. The third level is where the players watch film, the football offices are located, and players’ families and friends can take in the Sun Devil experience. It’s been completely redesigned to include the acknowledgment of every single ASU coach, player, military member, hall of famer, bowl game, season record and more. NFL football helmets line the walls listing players who have gone on to play at the next level on a floor Graham describes as “first class.”
Graham also wanted to honor and involve the individuals who have fastened on a Sun Devil helmet into game day. Now when the Sun Devils leave the locker room to take the field, ASU football alumni are invited to line the Tillman tunnel out to the field, joining in the excitement from a role model standpoint.
“No one is more important to me than the former players. I would not have this job and we would not be where we are at without the former players. I want you to know we talk to our players about it every day,” Graham said. “It is a very big honor and big responsibility that I take on to know that I represent them (the alumni). They have strapped that Sun Devil helmet on and that is sacred. That is more important that any check that is written. It is so important to remember the price those paid that came before us.
Former Sun Devil quarterback Danny White, who has his No. 11 jersey retired at ASU and is in the ASU, AFL and the NCAA Hall of Fame and the Ring of Honor, has participated in the new pregame ritual this season. Although White went on to play in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys, he will always call himself a Sun Devil.
“ASU has a very rich tradition of great players,” White said. “I can’t even express what an honor it is to be included in that group.”
Another face that has become familiar in the Tillman Tunnel on game days is Ron Pritchard. Pritchard played linebacker for the Sun Devils and also went on to play in the NFL for the Houston Oilers and Cincinnati Bengals. Pritchard too is in the College Football Hall of Fame.
“I think it means more to the players obviously, that’s why we’re doing it. But it causes the old guys to feel like we’re back into it again and we’re a part of that team,” Pritchard said. “Even though we’re forty years older than these kids, one time we were those kids. That’s what it feels like when we’re patting them on the head, head-butting them, do all those things; it really feel great.”
Pritchard’s pregame enthusiasm hasn’t gone unnoticed by Graham.
"Pritchard about head butts me when I come through the tunnel,” coach Graham said. “But I love the fact that we invite all of the alumni to line Tillman Tunnel before that game because I want our players to walk through the men that came before them before they take that field."
The tradition is new, but the impact and positive feedback has been immense so far.
"Just seeing the former players still around the program gives us the sense that we are part of something bigger," linebacker Brandon Magee said. "It really is an exclusive group to be in, and it makes you realize that we when we take the field, we are representing not only ourselves and our team, but all Sun Devil football players."
View a video of Tillman Tunnel on game day below.