Devils Den Blog

Top 5 Moments in Sun Devil Stadium History #2: John Jefferson Makes “The Catch”

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The ASU-UA rivalry has been raging since the teams first stepped onto the gridiron in 1899. In an interview for Shane Dale’s “Territorial: The History of the Duel in the Desert”, former UA head coach Dick Tomey said of the rivalry, “Of all the rivalries I’ve been part of in my coaching – with Kansas-Missouri, Kansas-Kansas-State, UCLA-USC – I almost think the ASU-UA rivalry is the nastiest because I think there is so much emotion, and at times, I think it’s unhealthy.”  In 1975, the Sun Devils were a perfect 10-0 going into the game against the Wildcats in Tempe; what happened on the field that night in November is still atop many Sun Devils’ list for best moments in team history.

 The 1975 season was a special one for Frank Kush and the Sun Devils. The team was led by future NFL hall of famer, defensive back Mike Haynes (Haynes was taken with the 5th overall pick in the following year’s draft by the New England Patriots; Haynes is also in the Patriots’ hall of fame). Haynes wasn’t the only first rounder on that team, linebacker Larry Gordon was taken by the Dolphins with 17th pick of the ’76 draft. Most people still believe that the 1975 Sun Devil squad is the best in team history.

However, the start of the 1975 Duel was not how the Sun Devils wanted it. In fact the undefeated ASU squad trailed 14-3 in the last two minutes of the first half. What happened in the last few minutes not only helped ASU seize momentum and win the game 24-21, it’s also the most famous play in the history of Sun Devil football. In fact “the catch” is almost a mythical event at this point.

Photo Courtesy of University Archives, ASU Libraries

Photo Courtesy of University Archives, ASU Libraries

With time running out in the first half, quarterback Dennis Sproul drove his team deep into Wildcat territory. Sproul looked for his man, receiver John Jefferson, in the back of the endzone for the touchdown. The throw looked like it would be too far out in front of Jefferson, but incredibly he was able to come down with the ball with a leaping catch for the touchdown. The touchdown and extra point cut Arizona’s lead to 14-10 going into halftime.

In Shane Dale’s Territorial, Frank Kush reflected on the play and John Jefferson.

“John Jefferson, to me, is the epitome of what college football is all about. He wasn’t the biggest guy, he wasn’t the fastest guy, but he had the ability, almost like it was a vacuum, that he would suck that ball into him. And that’s why he played pro ball and did a commendable job,” Kush said.

Jefferson added another touchdown catch in the 2nd half to give the Sun Devils their first lead of the game since scoring the first points on a 32-yard field goal in the first quarter. UA would take the lead back in the 3rd quarter on a 53-yard touchdown pass to Dave Randolph, but the Sun Devils sealed the victory with a 1-yard touchdown on the QB keeper from Sproul.

The win gave the Sun Devils a perfect regular season record of 11-0 and a Western Athletic Conference championship. A month later, the Sun Devils met the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Fiesta Bowl. ASU capped their undefeated season with a 17-14 win in the Fiesta Bowl, a 12-0 record, and a #2 ranking in the country.

Photos Courtesy of University Archives, ASU Libraries

 

About Bill Slane

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