It’s 6:45 p.m. and fans of the Arizona State Sun Devils are filing into their seats at Sun Devil Stadium. A big night awaits them as the California Golden Bears are in town for the team’s Pac-12 opener. Excitement is in the air.
2,000 miles away (or 1,873, from the Hudson Grille in Atlanta to the front of Sun Devil Stadium, to be exact), it’s not 6:45.
It is 9:45 p.m. and members of the Georgia-ASU Alumni Chapter are starting to arrive at the Hudson Grille’s Brookhaven location in the capital of Georgia. For them, the late hour isn’t a detriment. Kickoffs at 10:00, 10:30, and even 11:00 p.m. have become commonplace for graduates from a school that starts its games later than any other team in the country.
“Our group is highly involved with push-ups (after the Sun Devils score), the school fight song, and getting other patrons of the establishment to cheer with us,” says Danno Clark ‘91, the chapter’s leader of social events. “Most people show up 15 to 20 minutes before kickoff and stay until the end, which is sometimes 2:00 a.m. It’s an opportunity to relive our ASU days and shut down the bar.”
These watch parties, which typically serve as the biggest events of the year for individual alumni chapters throughout the nation, are at the same spot all season long.
For the Georgia Sun Devils (a chapter with about 2,500 registered ASU alumni, according to President Aimee Vondrak ‘09), arrangements were made with the Hudson Grille (one of the few Atlanta-area establishments that carries the Pac-12 Network) during the summer to ensure that all Arizona State games would be shown when the time came.
Luke Birkrem, who graduated from the school in 2012 and now serves as the chapter’s Vice President, notes how tough it can be just to find Sun Devil games on television at times.
“We are very limited in where we can consistently host game-watches as the Pac-12 Network is not common or easily accessible in the South,” Birkrem says. “Most of the time when we ask a sports bar if they have the Pac-12 Network, they stare back at us with a confused ‘I have no idea what that is’ look.”
Brad Webb, the Co-President of the Greater New York-ASU Alumni Chapter, says the New York Sun Devils have also experienced problems finding bars with the necessary channels needed to watch Arizona State games. They are now on their third bar in six years as the official home of the chapter.
“We now have a great partnership with a bar in midtown called John Sullivan’s,” says Webb ‘07. “The bar puts up flags, banners, and other decorations each week to raise the excitement and really make everyone feel welcome. It’s our home away from home.”
Sometimes, a home away from home infringes on someone else’s home.
Right in the heart of SEC and ACC country, geography presents some unique challenges for groups like the Georgia and New York Sun Devils - challenges that chapters from the West Coast don’t usually face.
While there isn’t any big rivalry between the Sun Devils and teams out east, the simple battle of trying to get the Maroon and Gold on a television instead of, say, a Georgia or Georgia Tech game can become a problem.
“It is unfortunate when games overlap,” Clark says. “The other conference’s fans can sometimes be...less than cordial.”
When asked about his relationship with SEC and ACC fans, Birkrem touches on the chance to spread some knowledge throughout the different fanbases.
“All in all, most fans are a lot of fun,” he says. “It is a magical moment to explain to them that Arizona has a State after it, and we give them examples like Florida and Florida State and how nobody calls LSU simply Louisiana. We’re definitely making strides.”
While the watch parties are the biggest events for these alumni chapters during football season, events like a shadow version of Pat’s Run (which the Georgia chapter had over 350 participants for) and the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center (which the Arizona State basketball team played in a season ago) can create lasting memories for the members of the association.
“The tournament in Brooklyn last year was awesome,” says Webb. “We tried to get an ‘Alumni Curtain of Distraction’ going last year but were shut down by the venue. It was also amazing to get to meet (athletic director) Ray Anderson during the team’s trip and discuss some of the challenges that the East Coast Sun Devils face.”
There are certainly plenty of challenges that go hand in hand with being a fan of a team that plays its games three time zones away, but thanks to alumni chapters in Georgia, New York, and many other locales throughout the eastern United States, those roadblocks are easily navigated.
It may not be easy to bleed maroon and gold from 2,000 miles away, but these fans find a way.