Over the first 56 seasons of Normal/Owl/Bulldog/Sun Devil football--ranging from 1897 to 1969--the team had registered a 0-3-1 bowl game record. Yikes.
In their first postseason venture, the Bulldogs battled Catholic University to a scoreless tie in the 1940 Sun Bowl, and despite a 94-yard touchdown run by Hascall Henshaw in the 1941 Sun Bowl, ASU fell 26-13 to Case Western Reserve. Nine years passed before Arizona State made another bowl game, but their fate was the same. In a pair of Salad Bowls in 1950 and 1951, ASU lost 33-21 to Xavier and 34-21 to Miami of Ohio respectively.
That winless record would remain for a long, long time, as, despite some successful seasons under Dan Devine and Frank Kush, the Sun Devils wouldn't get back to a bowl game until 1970. But what happened there made it worth the wait and makes our 100 Day Countdown List at No. 75.
Coming off an 8-2 record in 1969, the Sun Devils were primed for a memorable run.
They started hot, winning the first three games by a combined 125-25 and never looked back. By the time they reached the regular season finale against UofA, they stood at 9-0, with seven of those wins by at least 20 points.
As so often happens, the battle between ASU and Arizona was a hotly contested affair, with the Sun Devils eeking out a 10-6 win. As a result of their 10-0 record and WAC title, they earned a trip to the Peach Bowl to face off against North Carolina, in what turned out to be one of most important games in school history...and one entertaining game to boot.
Running back Bob Thomas got the Devils off to a strong start, rushing for eight and 33-yard touchdowns to give ASU a 14-0 second quarter lead. However, UNC's All-American running back Don McCauley had a monster second quarter. He scored three rushing touchdowns in the quarter, and a 67-yard J.D. Hill touchdown reception for the Sun Devils in the frame was negated by a Tar Heel scoring pass as UNC rode their stunning blitzkrieg to a 26-21 half time lead.
During the game, a ragging blizzard had struck Atlanta, turning the fast track into a wintery battlefield. Despite the icy conditions, the Sun Devils shone through in the second half.
With the conditions obviously hindering the passing game, ASU found success on the ground. Monroe Eley, ASU's talented backup running back, ran for two touchdowns in the third quarter, with the dynamic Steve Holden adding another. Meanwhile, the defense was able to hold McCauley in check and keep UNC off the board to head to the fourth quarter with a 41-26 lead. ASU was just 15 minutes away from their first bowl win ever. Could they hold on?
Yes, of course. Don't be ridiculous.
Thomas scored his third rushing touchdown of the game, and the defense maintained their second half shutout as the Sun Devils completed their magical undefeated season 11-0.
The victory helped ASU end the season ranked No. 8 in the Coaches Poll and No. 6 in the AP. The 1970 season would begin the "Golden Era" of ASU football that ran through 1975, in which the team went 62-9 and earned a spot in the hearts of Sun Devils for all time. That run began with the Peach Bowl win and placed ASU on the national stage, a fact not lost on Coach Kush at the time.
"This game is going to mean a lot to us in the future. I think that we've proven now that we can go on a football field with anyone in the nation."
See all the previous entries on House of Sparky's 100 day football countdown here.