After five long years, Camp Tontozona will soon be basking in sweet revenge for coach Dennis Erickson and his Arizona State University football team abandoning her in favor of a grotesque $8.4 million bubble practice facility on the school campus.
Payback is expected to arrive today, Nov. 29, or sometime this week, when ASU Vice President for Athletics Lisa Love dismisses Erickson with one year remaining on his contract.
In 2007, Erickson’s first year at the helm of the ASU program, he took the team to Camp Tontozona where the Devils had conducted preseason training since the late 1950s when legendary coach Frank Kush helped found the high mountain retreat.
After leaving Tontozona in the summer of 2007, which would be the final time ASU practiced there, the Devils finished 10-3 and advanced to the Holiday Bowl.
Beginning in 2008, the Devils opted to hold preseason training in Tempe, ending the annual visits to Camp Tontozona, which was one of the school’s richest and most storied traditions.
After ditching Camp T, the football team’s longtime sweetheart, in favor of the million-dollar harlot in Tempe, the Devils have been on a losing streak the likes of which the team has never before suffered.
The Devils were 5-7 in 2008, 4-8 in 2009, 6-6 in 2010 and are 6-6 this season.
Also, ASU has not been to a bowl game since ditching Tontozona at the ball with her dance card empty.
Most shocking about the 2011 season is the Devils opened 6-2 and appeared on their way to making a run at a Rose Bowl bid.
But ASU took a nosedive, dropping four straight games, which ultimately is expected to cost Erickson his job.
Around the state and across the country, ASU alum and Devils’ disciples know well what lies at the root of the football team’s problems — it’s the Curse of Camp Tontozona.
You see, the Grand Lady of college preseason football camps is upset that Erickson, his fellow coaches and the Sun Devil players abandoned her.
For the past four football seasons, she’s set alone in the majestic Tonto National Forest east of Payson receiving only a handful of visitors — other than mountain lions, skunks, deer, elk and snakes, that is.
A pole-vaulting camp has been there, as was a high school football camp and several school science outings.
But, for the most part, she’s been alone and not allowed to play the training camp role she once did for some of ASU’s greatest football teams including the Rose Bowl champions of 1987 and the Rose Bowl team 10 years later.
Alone, seemingly forgotten and abandoned in favor of the bubble gum-looking balloon in Tempe, Tontozona feels outraged and rejected by those who she graciously hosted for so many years.
Boosters and fans also continue to question why she was deserted, discarded and forsaken after so many years of loyalty and service.
Without ASU making annual visits and seeing no recourse as long as Erickson was at the helm of the football program, Tontozona reluctantly decided to slap a curse on the Sun Devils. It’s much like the Billy Goat Curse that was placed on the Chicago Cubs in 1945.
Since that famous curse, the Cubs have not returned to World Series just as the Devils haven’t been to a bowl since Camp T’s curse.
Erickson has never explained why he abandoned the scenic training camp located near Kohl’s Ranch just east of Payson, but apparently he decided the Grand Lady was too Spartan for his liking, and threw in the towel.
So, what can be done to end the curse? Will Erickson’s firing end it and the Devils be allowed to bask in the gridiron glory they once did?
Only time will tell.
It is said in the Midwest that the Curse of the Billy Goat can only be dispelled by the baseball team’s organization showing a sincere fondness for goats and allowing them into Wrigley field.
If ASU’s new coach, the man who will replace Erickson, returns the team to Tontozona for annual preseason training, the curse will end and the Sun Devil football teams will be allowed to flourish as they once did under legendary Hall of Fame coach Frank Kush, Bruce Snyder and others.