It is not the sum of the hours in the weight room, the extra-conditioning, the recruiting, the game-planning, the film study, and the two-a-days that have guided the Arizona State Sun Devils to the Rose Bowl in the past—but the tortillas wielded by the maroon and gold faithful.
The road from Tempe to Pasadena is paved with tortillas.
On August 7, 2014, RedditCFB exposed the Arizona State athletic department for prohibiting tortillas into Sun Devil Stadium. While delicious, yes, these Spanish delicacies double as a flour-based flying saucer when hurled by ASU fans toward the gridiron.
I guess I can understand why those arn't allowed pic.twitter.com/du5XxF0Zsg— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) August 7, 2014
Amidst the outrage that spread like wildfire throughout Twitter, Bill Hanstock of SB Nation, outlined chapters of the tortilla tossing legacy at Arizona State that were preserved through online archives.
As student reporter Tim Agne described in his 2002 article for The State Press, the origins of the tortilla toss are relatively unknown, undocumented and shrouded in the course of the debauchery in which the idea was incepted.
Doug Tammaro, a Sports Information Director at Arizona State since 1993, believes the tortillas were a celebration by the students directly correlated to All-American offensive lineman Juan Roque - who "tortilla'd" opponents instead of "pancaking" them.
That was in 1996, the year of the Sun Devils last trip to the Rose Bowl. A season of magic.
The Sun Devils finished with an 11-1 record that included a 19-0 shutout of the then #1 Nebraska Cornhuskers, a double overtime victory versus USC, and one of the worst beat downs of any Territorial Cup matchup to this day.
Bruce Synder's squad entered the 1996 season ranked #20, and capped off the historic season with their first Rose Bowl birth in a decade.
Justin Prestegard, an ASU alumni who was a student during the 1996 season, recalls a democratic time in Tempe when one was free to toss any type of food as they please:
"...I saw them thrown at every game I attended. Not a whole lot, but enough to be noticed after TDs. I sat in the front row on the 35 yd line closest to north end zone, but every time I looked down towards the student section closer to the south end zone, that's where I remember seeing them fly towards the field."
Led by Jake Plummer and Pat Tillman, the Sun Devils fell to the Ohio State Buckeyes in Pasadena on New Year's Day 1997...and everything changed.
The facist crackdown on tortillas began to take hold during the 1997 season, crippling the Sun Devil's chance to return to Pasadena. That season, as the tortilla resistance began to emerge, the Sun Devils fell one game short of a return to Pasadena in the worst possible way--a season finale loss to their in-state rivals, Arizona.
Coincidence? I think not.
A call for the reemergence of the tortilla to Sun Devil prominence came as recently as 2005. On October 1, the #14 ranked Sun Devils faced off with the #1 USC Trojans in Tempe, hosting College Gameday. One rebellious soul, Laura Thorson, called for the student to "let the tortillas fly."
Some responded to her call. And the Sun Devils entered into halftime with a 21-3 lead.
A Berlin Wall constructed to keep tortillas from crossing onto the playing field led to a 35-point USC second half and eventual Sun Devil defeat. The loss sent the Sun Devils into a tailspin.
The pitiful attempt to honor the tradition of the tortilla began a three game-skid and eventual 7-5 record. It had nothing to do with the prowess of Pete Carroll's Southern Cal dynasty or Koetter's inept defense, but everything to do with the tortilla.
Whether it was fear of the executive powers at ASU or fear of the power of the tortilla itself--it did not make another documented appearance in Sun Devil Stadium for nearly a decade. But during the 2013 season, the Sun Devil's excalibur reappeared in the north end zone.
During a non-conference bout versus Big-10 opponent Wisconsin, a few brave souls of the Sun Devil faithful offered themselves up as a sacrifice by launching tortillas onto the end zone after Marion Grice's first of four touchdowns. Hardly any tortillas landed on the field (I assume the throwers were out of shape due to the tortilla toss hiatus), but that was enough to get the "tossers" kicked out and grant the Sun Devils the edge needed to win.
The magic of the tortillas disseminated throughout all levels of the Arizona State football team, and appears to have even gripped the minds of the Pac-12 officials. With seconds left in the game, Wisconsin's QB, Joel Stave, knelt and placed the ball on the field to set the Badgers up for a potentially game-winning field goal. And then the tortilla intervened.
In a moment of sheer genius or ignorance, ASU's spur linebacker, Anthony Jones, covered Stave's placed ball like a, well, uh tortilla, and the officials let the clock run. The Sun Devil's were victorious, as the wizardry of the tortilla manifested itself on Frank Kush field once again.
Months after the tortillas' appearance, the Sun Devils found themselves forty-eight minutes away from a return to "The Grand Daddy of them All."
Sun Devil fans have to wonder--what would have happend during the Pac-12 Championship had they summoned the tortilla and made them rain like Rick Ross at Club Liv on a Sunday?
There is only one way to find out.
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