THIS SPORTING LIFE

There has been so much speculation surrounding the Arizona State University and Phoenix Cardinals football teams that I decided to see for myself.

I drove over to Tempe to see the ASU-UCLA game hours before it was scheduled to start. It was a sunny day with temperatures in the 80s. I arrived in less time than I expected. Downtown Tempe was bustling. There were even policemen assigned to cover intersections so that nobody would dare cross against the traffic signals.

I pulled into the press parking area and then doubled back down the street to the courtyard outside the Mission Palms hotel. It was like a bazaar. There must have been a dozen different ASU shirts for sale. There were also various caps. Almost everyone going to the game was dressed in an ASU shirt and cap. The only suit coats I spotted were those worn by the two TV announcers from CBS.

I went to Changing Hands bookstore. The place was crowded. I have always been a sucker for anything that promises to make me a better writer.

For this reason, I immediately picked up a copy of a book called Tools of the Trade, edited by Dodi Schulz. It promised to be "an indispensable reference guide for making the writer's task easier." Why am I such a sucker for this kind of thing? The only thing that helps a writer is to sit down and begin plugging away. There is never actually an inspired moment.

"Remember to get the weather in your goddamned book," Hemingway once wrote to his friend John Dos Passos. "Weather is very important." Conversation overheard on Fifth Street while walking to the stadium:

"I've been a Hawkeye fan for 42 years. When they lose, I die. But since I left Iowa to live in Arizona, I've been a season-ticket holder for Sun Devil games. I've been coming to these games for ten years. I like to see the Sun Devils win. But it isn't the same. When the Sun Devils lose, I don't die. The sun will come up tomorrow. It's the same way with the Cardinals." I am almost certain I read a story describing this mental state in an article in the Arizona Republic this past week. I am familiar with the sentiment. I sometimes feel the same way.

Sight seen in press parking lot: The license plates on a new white Cadillac read "VOICE." This must be the car of a radio or television announcer. But who?

The press box is only half filled. I notice something that always hits me upon getting off the elevator and reaching the three rows of press seats.

The press box is so high you can't see the field very well. Far below, the players look like ants. I think this also affects television because the cameras are set up too far away to get a good picture.

The declining attendance in the press box is a direct reflection on ASU's current status. It is regarded as being an ordinary team with limitations. One sure tip-off is to see how many scouts for bowl games are present. There were just a few and they represented smaller bowls. It's clear by the turnout that this year's ASU ball club has already been written off.

Overheard in the press box, these words from a Sun Angel official clearly disappointed by the small turnout for the game:

"Our fans aren't used to coming out to day games. I remember when you couldn't get a seat for a game against UCLA." He is putting it kindly. The sense of urgency for Sun Devils fans has been removed. It's as though they were merely biding their time until ASU football coach Larry Marmie is fired and replaced by a big-name coach.

But perhaps a lot of fans are like me. They have stopped reading everything in the newspapers about the Sun Devils. The football season is passing them by even before the World Series has been played to its conclusion.

The crowd is announced as being 46,872, but it seems to be much less than that. As it is, the stadium is only about half filled.

"That's what is really putting the nail in Marmie's coffin," I overheard someone say. The athletic department is losing money. At this rate, the school is actually losing money on football.

Once the game starts, I'm surprised by the players ASU has recruited. Some are outstanding athletes.

Eric Guliford is as fine a wide receiver as you'll ever see. During the loss to UCLA, Guliford was superb. He made nine catches for 134 yards. He must make tremendous leaps because he is only five-feet-nine. But after he catches the ball, Guliford is as tricky and explosive a runner as you have ever seen.

The Sun Devils quarterback, Bret Powers, had been out with an injured shoulder. But Powers played well, too, connecting on 28 of 48 passes for 295 yards.

Two fumbles turned the game against the Sun Devils. The critical one came late in the fourth quarter when Powers and a running back, Parnell Charles, messed up a hand-off and UCLA recovered.

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