A look back: 1983 Fiesta Bowl team brought winning culture back to Arizona State football

Jenna Ortiz
Arizona Republic

You wouldn’t know four decades have passed from the way the members of the 1983 Fiesta Bowl championship team greeted each other during a reunion luncheon at the Sheraton Phoenix Hotel. 

As the former players filtered into the hotel ahead of the luncheon, the memories flowed while the faces erupted in delight over seeing their chosen brothers after decades.  

“It’s like walking back in time and getting to see part of your family that you haven’t seen in 40 years,” former fullback Dwaine “Tex” Wright said. “It’s like you never missed a beat because once you get back with old friends, all the memories come back and it’s like it’s 1983 all over again.” 

All the joy in the room not only comes from the success of that year’s ASU team which won its first nine games, but also the comradery forged by third-year head coach Darryl Rogers. 

Rogers coached at ASU from 1980-84, going 37-18-1 and winning the 1983 Fiesta Bowl.

The Sun Devils came into the 1982 season hungry for a bowl game following the end of its two-year probation. The program flew under the radar coming into the year, but went 9-2 the previous season and returned its core playmakers. 

“(Rogers) was amazing and kept us all together,” Zendejas said. “He kept pushing us and he said, You know what? You guys kept crying that you couldn’t go to a bowl game because you weren’t bowl-eligible, here is your chance. That’s how I think he got the best out of us to perform.” 

The extra motivation from being freed from probation lit a fire for the Sun Devils, especially with the team eyeing its first trip to Rose Bowl.

“Starting out, we didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into,” Wright said. “Coach Rogers got us into that position to where he made us accept and take on the responsibility to be leaders and captains of the team. A lot of the older guys stepped up at the time we needed them.”  

The Rose Bowl became less elusive once ASU's stingy defense was a consistent force and wreaked havoc in the Pac-10. Behind defensive end Jim Jeffcoat and linebacker Vernon Maxwell, ASU’s defense consistently ranked within the top 10 in the nation. 

“With the offense, as long as we didn’t make too many mistakes, the defense is going to help us carry through,” ASU quarterback Todd Hons said. “I think we realized that as we went through the season.” 

Arizona State football players celebrate during the 1983 Fiesta Bowl held in Tempe.

The Sun Devils went on a 9-0 tear before dropping two close games against Stanford and Arizona to end the regular season. ASU finished sixth in the country in the AP and Coaches polls. 

ASU finished second in the conference and was primed for its first bowl appearance since the Garden State Bowl in 1978 and its first in the Rogers era.

“We didn’t let any type of adversity or loss stop us from what our initial goal,” former running back Darryl Clack said. “It was a loss, but so what. We had another game to play.”  

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Oklahoma came in heavily favored with freshman sensation Marcus Dupree headlining the offense. Playing the role of the underdog, ASU worked hard behind the scenes to keep its defense among the best in the nation. 

Despite exiting the game three times with injuries, Dupree still didn’t disappoint in the game before his final exit in the second half. Dupree set a Fiesta Bowl record of 239 net rushing yards that still stands today. However, the most startling aspect of his record is that he never scored a touchdown in the game. 

“Our defense really stepped up to the plate and for him to have almost 200 yards in that first half and not score a touchdown, it really tells about our defense,” Wright said. 

With ASU’s defense taking over against Oklahoma’s offense, ASU’s offense rallied from an early deficit and secured the 32-21 win with Hons’ 52-yard pass to Ron Brown in the fourth quarter. 

“We matched up with Oklahoma, whether it was speed, whether it was size, abilities, skill set,” Clack said. “There was no reason why we should lose this game. It was a big bowl game and that was our attitude that we would go out there and win this game. And that’s what we did.”  

For ASU, Zendejas’ 54-yard field goal in the second quarter set a record that hasn’t been matched by any other kickers yet. His four made field goals are tied for second-most in points scored from kickers. 

“At the end, you look at the game and say, how did we win the game?” Zendejas said. “Because we were together and we were a family and we leaned on each other. That’s how we became not one individual, but everybody was together.” 

Reach the reporter at or 602-647-4122. Follow her on Twitter @jennarortiz

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