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Original Issue

Arizona State


All right, let's try it again. From the top, please. And try to get it right this time. What you see here once more is the Arizona State football team. Consistent quantitative analyses show it to be a very successful specimen. It wins 75% of its games (are you listening, Los Angeles?). Its given name is Sun Devils. A characteristic of a Sun Devil is that it runs very fast. Sun Devil linemen have to be uncommonly nimble to keep from being plowed over by Sun Devil backs, who move like prairie rabbits and spend a great deal of time hopping across goal lines. They run up scores like 79-7, 66-0 and 48-17 (pay attention, New York). According to NCAA statistics, the Sun Devils were the most offensive team in the nation the past decade, averaging 27.7 points and 359 yards per game.

They are coached by Frank Kush. That's K-u-s-h. Kush has a reputation for toughness. His September basic training bivouac east of Phoenix is not to be confused with a Boy Scout camp. One of 15 children of an impoverished Pennsylvania coal-mining family, Kush played a mean middle guard at Michigan State and made All-America at 170 pounds. When he reaches across a training table, grabs a handful of shirt and snarls, "Tough? You don't know what tough times are!" he means it. In 12 years at Arizona State, Kush has never had a losing team. (Scared, maybe. But losing, no.)

Nor have his teams been truly appreciated. And this is what makes introductions of Arizona State tiresomely redundant. Three years in a row the Sun Devils have won eight of 10 games. Last year they also won the Western Athletic Conference championship and will probably win it again this year. Their star players—Tony Lorick, Curley Culp, Charley Taylor, Jerry Smith, Travis Williams, et al.—go on to make names for themselves as professionals, and Arizona State continues to make a name for itself in Tempe, Scottsdale and Mesa. Off the spine of the Rocky Mountains hardly anybody knows the name. The Sun Devils are accorded no high national rank, no bowl games.

No doubt this forced anonymity has weighed heavily on a single-minded man like Kush, but he no longer wrings his hands. In Arizona, Kush is now a big, big fish. He shows his team in a 51,000-seat stadium, with a 15,000-seat addition planned, and no competition from the pros because the school won't allow them to play there. His family has grown accustomed to the outdoorsy face of the land, and Kush has bought part interest in a fishing boat called The Polish Navy. He claims to be "perfectly content." But is he really? "Well," says Kush dreamily, "it would be a terrific shot in the arm to go to a major bowl game...."

To that end Arizona State will be a typical Kush creation this year: excellent running backs and receivers and enough solid No. 2 cuts of beef in the line (the Coast schools continue to get the prime) to make a good stew. And, of course, speed to burn. The Devils have to have speed to perform the precise traps and quick openers Kush designs. In the application of speed Kush says, "the advantage is always ours."

Of 16 returning Devil regulars, seven were All-WAC: Halfback Dave Buchanan (908 yards, 90 points), Tackle Mike Tomco, Guard Gary Venturo, Split End Calvin Demery (45 catches, 816 yards). Defensive End Junior Ah You, Middle Guard Ted Olivo and—saving the best for last—Quarterback Joe (Spaghetti Joe) Spagnola. This is Spaghetti Joe: 6'1", 175 pounds; born in Naples, Italy; came face-to-face with a football for the first time as a high school sophomore in Paterson, N.J.; a winner in 14 of the 17 games he has started at Arizona State. As a play-action passer, he led the WAC in total offense (1,745 yards).

Now once again: the team (wake up, New Orleans) is Arizona State. The coach (you, too, Miami, Jacksonville and Dallas) is Kush, as in push. As in push harder....