TEMPE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 09: General view of action between the Arizona State Sun Devils and the Missouri Tigers during the college football game at Sun Devil Stadium on September 9, 2011 in Tempe, Arizona. The Sun Devils defeated the Tigers 37-30 in overtime. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Over the fruitless Koetter and Erickson eras at Arizona State, the disappointment, heartbreak and frustrations far outweighed the successes. For every win over Cal moment, there were three blocked extra points against USC.
Those sustained failures have taken a significant toll on the fanbase, but at the end of the day, the fans continued to comfort themselves with a single recurring thought:
Arizona State is a sleeping giant.
Hate to break it to you. No. Not it's not. And it never has been.
First off, that phrase and supporting belief carries with it a degree of presumption that hasn't fit ASU on a legitimate basis since about 1977. It makes it seem like the lack of success for the Sun Devils has come from being just one or two steps away.
"Hey everyone, all we need to do is nudge the giant awake and watch the success roll in."
Supporters of the "sleeping giant" theory have pointed to the appeal of the area to recruits, the new and improved facilities, the assorted Pac-12 membership benefits and so on .
"All the pieces are in place. We just need to catch a break."
Not content with just being a rallying cry for fans, this view seemed to seep into the thought process of administration. Making decisions based on that belief had kept the program mired in mediocrity, having finished higher than third in the Pac-10/12 just twice since 1987.
That is not symptomatic of a comatose state, but rather a far more serious condition: complacency.
Left untreated for a few more seasons, the damage that such a perpetuation could have done may have been incurable. But in the nick of time, the proper diagnosis seems to have recently been made.
Since hitting rock bottom last December, the powers that be have finally realized the real issue with the program. It has not been in need of that elusive wake up call. Rather, it needed to be blown up.
No, a new coat of paint and some rearranged furniture wouldn't do. That's been proven (painfully). Sun Devil football needed to be stripped to it's foundation, then have that foundation smashed to pieces. This program needed a full-strength rebuilding effort.
Thankfully, the moves since that dark December have been with that focus firmly in sight.
They didn't just bring in a new coach, they brought in one who is instilling long forgotten--and necessary--values and standards.
They aren't just recruiting talented football players, they are targeting young men with character.
They are no longer dictating to a fan base, they are making them an essential part of the effort.
They are no longer ignoring the past, but letting those lessons and legends help shape the future.
Being successful in college football--beyond the ASU "one good season every decade" approach--takes a complete infrastructure. The giants that the Sun Devils hope to join have excellent coaching staffs, successful ideologies, fertile recruiting bases and ties, forward-thinking administrations, top notch facilities, and support from fans and boosters among many other key factors.
ASU never was just one piece away. They know that now.
The factors that many cited to support the "sleeping giant" theory were never incorrect on their own merits. ASU either has in place or has made great gains on many of those crucial fronts, especially over the last seven months. Those will help to speed up the rebuilding process...should they remain committed to the plan.
In any event, the building of a perennially successful program will be a long and difficult one. There will be losses on the field and anguish off of it. But instead of being wasted, those difficulties will hopefully each be another brick laid down, another beam set in place in the grand construction of Sun Devil football.
That should prove to be a better use of effort than prodding a giant who never existed.