When making your first-ever appearance on the grandest stage in college football, expectations are high. Pressure is everywhere. Rose petals line the streets.
In 1987, the Arizona State Sun Devils got their first taste of the Rose Bowl after a regular season that saw them go 9-1-1. Having only one loss in conference play, the Pac-10 champion Sun Devils earned the invitation to Pasadena to take on the mighty Michigan Wolverines, the co-champions of the Big Ten.
Michigan's season was a grueling gauntlet, facing tough out of conference foes Notre Dame, Oregon State, Florida State and Hawaii. By the time they got to the Rose Bowl, they were 11-1 and ranked fourth overall in the AP Poll. ASU, on the other hand, was ranked seventh.
The matchup was highly anticipated, and Arizona State fans made a loud statement by purchasing the majority of tickets available. What was supposed to be a neutral site turned into a de facto home game for the maroon and gold. But even with the stadium packed with Sun Devil fans, this talented Michigan squad would not go down easily.
In the second quarter, the Wolverines held a 15-3 lead on the back of quarterback Jim Harbaugh and running back Jamie Morris. Michigan decided to use some trickery on the extra point attempt of their first touchdown, with kicker Mike Gillette throwing the ball to an open Gerald White while the rest of the team stayed off to the side.
Down 12 to an excellent team? Many teams would roll over. Not these Devils. Not this defense. Between senior quarterback Jeff Van Raaphorst and a motivated defense, nothing could get in the way of destiny.
The Sun Devils dominated on the ground, carving up the Michigan defense for 188 net rushing yards. They also ran 81 plays to Michigan's 52, while picking up 381 yards to Michigan's 225. Van Raaphorst hit Bruce Hill for two touchdowns, while kicker Kent Bostrom put ten points on the board for ASU.
The real story of the game? ASU's crushing defense. Forcing three interceptions and three fumbles (none recovered by ASU), the Sun Devils defense kept Harbaugh and company reeling in the second half. Stacy Harvey led the team with 11 tackles while Eric Allen, Robby Boyd and Greg Clark were responsible for the interceptions.
Van Raaphorst ended his career on a high note as he was crowned the Rose Bowl MVP. His statistics speak for themselves: 16 for 30, 193 yards, two touchdowns.
ASU fans could sense the impending victory in Pasadena. Rising to the occasion, they delivered a bone-chilling level of noise that overwhelmed Harbaugh and Wolverines everywhere.
Winning the Rose Bowl in 1987 is the greatest thing that has ever happened in the history of ASU football. Now, 25 years later, we look to write the next chapter in our epic story.
Tomorrow, we reveal the final Countdown post and then look forward to NAU on Thursday. You don't want to miss it.