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Legends Luncheon rewinds to the pinnacle of Sun Devil football

The 1971-73 Sun Devil football team poses for a group photo.

Members of the 1971–73 Sun Devil football teams gather for a group photo prior to the 2023 Legends Luncheon. Photo by Marion Rhoades/ASU Alumni Association

November 02, 2023

There they sat, more than 50 years since they were first brought together, sharing memories and recounting plays like they were college kids once more.

The tough practices, the gritty wins, the brotherhood — all the memories and moments that put Sun Devil football on the map in the early 1970s were being rehashed as if they happened yesterday.

This year’s Legends Luncheon, an annual event held by the ASU Alumni Association in partnership with the Sun Devil Club and Sun Devil Athletics, brought attendees back to the pinnacle of football in Tempe, celebrating the team’s three-year stretch from 1971–73 that saw them win the first three Fiesta Bowls.

Nearly 600 attendees packed the Omni Hotel’s Salt River Ballroom for an up-close-and-personal viewing of 50 players and coaches from the most dominant teams in Sun Devil history.

A panel led by Tim Healey, the longtime voice of the Sun Devils, allowed Danny White, Mike Haynes, Danny Kush, Steve Matlock and others to share never-before-heard stories. There were laughs and jabs, rivalries renewed, and a universal bemoaning of the physical and mental toll it took to play for Head Coach Frank Kush.

The morning began with a kick-off message from ASU Alumni Association President Christine K. Wilkinson, whose father, Bill Kajikawa, spent decades as the Sun Devils’ freshman football coach.

“I’m fortunate because I saw every one of you (play), and I know you never wanted to get off the field because you didn’t want Coach Kush to be upset with you,” said Wilkinson, drawing laughter from the players.

The former players and coaches were then addressed by the Sun Devils’ first-year Head Coach Kenny Dillingham. An Arizona native and ASU alum himself, Dillingham said his staff is attempting to replicate the brotherhood and on-field success exemplified from the early 1970s teams.

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The youngest head coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season, the 33-year-old Dillingham then extended an open invitation to these former players to attend practices, speak to the team and line the tunnel inside Mountain America Stadium before game days.

In year one, he’s striving to get his players to understand the rich history and tradition of Sun Devil football. Bringing these greats back to campus — with more regularity, too can help accomplish just that.

“The pinnacle of ASU football is in this room,” Dillingham said, whose near 10-minute speech ended in a standing ovation and handshakes from past players.

The celebration didn’t stop there. The following day, the Sun Devil legends walked in the ASU Homecoming Parade, scribbled autographs for eager fans at the Block Party and were recognized on-field during the football game against Washington State that night.

It was only fitting that the men who won 32 games in three years to steer ASU into the national spotlight were on-site for a thrilling upset win against the Cougars.

The thrill of gameday, the excitement of a packed crowd and a big Sun Devil victory  just like the good old days.

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