I would never write “I told you so,” especially when it comes to Arizona State University Sun Devil football.
But I was extremely leery about ASU’s success this season when coach Dennis Erickson and the school’s brass decided not to travel last summer to Camp Tontozona for the traditional preseason training.
Instead, Erickson decided to keep the team on the school’s campus in Tempe and train in a new $8.4 million bubble built last year.
I’ve followed ASU football for many years and noticed a disturbing trend that in the post-Frank Kush era, every team that left Tontozona early, went on to have a lousy season.
It appears my worries were well founded because the Sun Devils have struggled all season long.
The team is 4-6 overall, 2-5 in the Pac-10 and for the second successive year, will not be going to a bowl game.
Which means, my predictions about Camp T being vital to ASU’s gridiron success remain intact.
Maybe it’s time ASU AD Lisa Love and Erickson stick a pin in their Tempe bubble and return the Devils to where they should be each August — at Camp Tontozona.
This is what I wrote on Aug. 4 in Extra Points:
My theorem is mostly unscientific, but if Euclid can generalize “the measure of an exterior angle of a triangle is equal is the sum of the measures of the two non-adjacent interior angles,” I feel safe in postulating, “ASU football teams who leave Camp Tontozona early (or don’t go at all) go on to wallow in sub-par seasons.”
While Euclid — a Greek mathematician known as the “Father of Geometry” — certainly has the credentials to pen rules about spherical geometry, number theory, conic sections and rigor, I believe I have the qualifications to spout sets of laws about Camp Tontozona and the Sun Devils.
As an ASU alum, I have faithfully made the pilgrimage to Tontozona every August since 1963 for a free and up-close peek of the Sun Devils at their preseason camp.
But those days are no more — one of the greatest ASU traditions ended when the Sun Devils held their final practice last year at the scenic mountain retreat.
Coach Dennis Erickson and the big wigs on the ASU campus obviously decided Tontozona is no longer adequate for Sun Devil players.
I think I might know one of the reasons some believe the camp is not quite up to par.
Two years ago, I heard a player grumble his cell phone had no reception at the high mountain retreat. Another said there was no Circle K around to get a slush and one groaned he hadn’t seen his girlfriend in six days.
Goodness, times were tough at Camp T.
When ASU brass decided to put the camp on the chopping block, Rudy Campbell — a former Arizona Board of Regents member and on the Sun Angel Foundation Board of Directors for 25 years said, “Not coming here to practice ... is like going in the Army and not going through boot camp.”
With the camp no longer being used, the university is negotiating to sell the drop-dead gorgeous 36-acre property located near Kohl’s Ranch.
If the sale is ever a done deal, ASU not only loses a tradition, it loses a piece of its soul.
Instead of traveling each summer to the cool pines of Tontozona, the Devils are practicing in a grotesque bubble-like structure on the Tempe campus.
In late August of 2008, storm damage deflated the bubble resulting in costly and lengthy repairs.
Some of my alumni friends theorize it was the spirit of all the former Devil players who sweated, toiled and trained in the isolation of Camp Tontozona that caused the bubble to blow a gasket.
Some also argue former coach Frank Kush, the man who in 1960 turned Tontozona into a preseason training camp, also had a hand in the demise of the big ugly dome.
At the conclusion of last year’s single practice session at Tontozona, one Devils’ disciple walked off the sidelines proclaiming the only time future ASU players would practice in tall majestic pines, near a crystal clear running stream and in front of fans that included mountain lions, skunks and bears is if the coaching staff paints them on the inside of the bubble.
Some call me a traditionalist because I believe Camp Tontozona was invaluable for the camaraderie and toughness it instilled. It was also tremendously unique, giving ASU one of the finest training campsites in collegiate football.
But back to my theorem.
ASU trained at Camp Tontozona in 2007 and finished 10-3 earning a berth in the Holiday Bowl.
The following year, the team spent all of its practice time in Hubba Bubba, traveling only once to Tontozona. Erickson’s agreement to go north that day was only throwing a bone to ASU fans clamoring for the team’s return to the camp.
The following season, not only did the $8.4 million bubble in Tempe burst, so did the Devils’ bubble. ASU finished the season 5-6 and lost to archrival Arizona, 31-10.
ASU football history
Not only do those gridiron happenstances prove my theorem, so does history.
In the 22 years that ex-coach Frank Kush took the Devils to Tontozona, never once cutting the trip short by even a day, ASU was 176-54-1.
From 1969 to 1971, the team strung together a 21-game, school-record winning streak. Kush and some of his players continue to attribute the winning streak in part to the mental toughness learned at Tontozona.
Looking back, I remember Larry Marmie, a fine coach and a great man, departing Tontozona once during his tenure from 1988 to 1991.
He took the team to a Tempe hotel for preseason training. The team struggled to a losing record that year and Marmie compiled only a 22-21 record at ASU.
In 1998, if my memory serves me, Bruce Snyder cut the team’s stay at Tontozona short due to rain and wet fields.
The team finished 5-4 only two years after going 11-1 and to the Rose Bowl.
It was widely known Dirk Koetter (2001-2006) wasn’t particularly enamored with Tontozona and possibly allowed his players to talk him into shortening the stays.
Koetter was 40-34 before being released.
As an ASU alumnus, I hope my theorem concerning Tontozona and winning seasons is off-base and the Devils this year wear the Pac-10 crown.
That will disprove my well-researched theory and I probably won’t be thought of ever again in the same ranks with Euclid.
But what the heck, it’s a sacrifice I am willing to make in the name of ASU football.