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ASU Football Bowl History: The 1940 Sun Bowl

With the Sun Devils going bowling for the 26th time, let's take a look back at their very first postseason trip

Sweet jerseys...
Sweet jerseys...
(Photo: ASU)

Following their instant classic victory over Arizona on Friday, the Arizona State Sun Devils closed out a 7-5 regular season and will be heading to the 26th bowl game in the program's history.

So with more than a month to go until the team takes the field in a yet-to-be determined game, let's take a look back 72 years at the very first bowl game that the program played.

The 1939 Arizona State Teacher's College Bulldogs under head coach Dixie Howell put together an impressive 8-2 regular season. The Bulldogs boasted a terrific defense, which began the season with five straight shutouts and surrendered just 56 points through those 10 games. On the offensive side of the ball, a powerful line led by All-Border Conference guards Noble Riggs and Al Sanserino paved the way for a talented backfield of Joe Hernandez and Wayne Pitts.

That balanced Arizona State team was invited to El Paso to play in the 1940 Sun Bowl. Facing them on New Year's Day were the mighty Catholic Cardinals, one of the decade's top teams and owners of an 8-1 record that season. The Cardinals had a formidable defense of their own, giving up just over eight points-per-game.

Those two defenses lived up to their billing and then some in what turned out to be as defensive a battle as there can be.

The Bulldogs had one of the worst passing days the school has ever had. Quarterback Walt Ruth threw seven passes in the game, and the only two that were caught were interceptions by the Cardinal defense. Catholic's aerial attack fared little better, as Pete Sachon was just three-for-15 for 16 yards.

Things were better on the ground for each team. The Bulldogs had the edge in rushing, 205 to 182, but lost four fumbles on the day to thwart any chance at scoring. In the game filled with such defensive talent, as well as turnovers and mistakes by both teams, points were simply not in the cards as the game ended in a 0-0 tie.

Despite being seven decades before the Twitter age, each coach got off some pre-war, post-game smack talk.

"I believe we had the better team," Howell told the Associated Press after the game, "and would have won if we had gotten a break at the right time."

Said Catholic head coach Dutch Bergman, "Tempe is a fast, powerful team, but we didn't play our top game by any means. I think we are capable of beating Tempe six days out of the week."

Oh snap.

A scoreless tie is not exactly the postseason debut a team wants to make, and to further the program would have to wait 30 more years to secure that elusive first bowl victory. But we'll get to that later.