Jeff Van Raaphorst scrambles in the 1987 Rose Bowl (Photo: ASU)
Danny White. Jake Plummer. Andrew Walter. Rudy Carpenter.
Over the years, Arizona State has been fortunate to have had some excellent quarterbacks. Yet for all of the yards, awards and honors, only one can lay claim to the most important title of all.
Rose Bowl champion.
Jeff Van Raaphorst secured that title--as well as Rose Bowl Player of the Game--in leading the Sun Devils to a 22-15 win over the Michigan Wolverines in 1987.
Nearly 25 years after reaching the highest point in the program's history, Van Raaphorst, as all great quarterbacks would, casts aside any individual praise and recognition and remembers it strictly as a true team effort.
"It's not an accomplishment for me, it's an accomplishment for the entire team. It's nice to win individual awards, but football is such a team game," says Van Raaphorst.
Since that day, the Sun Devils have only been back to the "Grandaddy of them All" once, falling short to Ohio State University in 1997. The biggest reason for those struggles, Van Raaphorst believes, is the lack of community support for the team and it's trickledown effect into recruiting.
"When we were there in the 70s and 80s, ASU was the only game in town. People went to the games and people supported it. It really manifested itself in recruiting when a recruit walks into a Sun Devil Stadium and you can say ‘This is what it's like every week.' It was like Southeastern Conference football."
However, he now believes that the team has a quarterback in Brock Osweiler who not only can fill those seats, but also has a chance to follow in Van Raaphorst's Rose-y footsteeps.
Over the last two seasons, Van Raaphorst, like many media members and fans, saw vast talent in the junior, but was unsure of how he would handle the fulltime starting quarterback role.
Ten games later and several school passing records in jeopardy, Van Raaphorst is now firmly a fan.
"Coming into the season, I thought he would be good, but I didn't think he would be this good."
While Osweiler's physical tools are immediately evident, it's been his intangibles that have most impressed Van Raaphorst.
"I had a chance to sit in on the offensive meeting in Oregon, and he (Osweiler) actually gave the pre-game overview of what to expect from the Ducks," says Van Raaphorst. But the maturation is not limited to off the field prepartaion, but also to a key area for any quarterback--turnovers.
"He's made some mental adjustments. If you look at his interception ratio from the first half of the season versus now, he's certainly cut it down."
Indeed he has. Over the first five games of the season, Osweiler tossed six interceptions, but in the five games since, he's only had two, both against Oregon four games ago.
But Van Raaphorst saves his biggest praise for the one area that is Osweiler's most universally praised--leadership.
"At the end of the day, the leaders have whatever it is, that have that it. Brock definitely seems to have it."
With two regular season games to go, either a game or two in the postseason plus the entirety of his senior year, the Rose Bowl winning quarterback doesn't see any glaring holes in Osweiler's game. In fact, he thinks the Osweiler is honing an already dangerous game.
"I think right now he's learning how to master the position, not improve. He's getting better and better."
So good, in fact, he sees Osweiler ultimately playing on Sundays.
"He's 6'8", throws the ball hard and is a smart kid. He's mobile and reminds you of a lighter version of Ben Roethlisberger."
That's quite a compliment, to say the least.
Despite the bright future he sees for Osweiler, he does have some words of warning, not just for Osweiler but for the entire program and the fans.
"Everybody this year is getting so far ahead of everything...Pac-12 championships and this and that. The late Bruce Snyder had it right. The degree to which a football team or anybody in life can focus on the objectives, determines if they can reach the goal. Let's focus on the objectives and the end will take care of itself."
For the 6-4 Sun Devils, the objective this week is beating Arizona and holding onto the Territorial Cup. Whether that objective leads to the ultimate goal of reaching the Rose Bowl remains to be seen, but having a player the caliber of Osweiler puts the program in a great position.
"At the end of the day, Brock is special because he goes out there and plays and he has fun."
Nearly as much fun as it is to watch him.