ASU Sun Devil Stadium and Tortillas

Recently, renovation of ASU’s Sun Devil Stadium neared completion (Phase II, anyway), with the stadium opening for its first game yesterday (September 3rd 2016). When putting out the new clear bag policy, an item on the prohibited items list jumped out at me: Tortillas. Zero explanation was given but during a staff meeting I had, the significance of the tortilla became clearer to me not just for ASU, but for collegiate sports in general.

Sun Devil Stadium - Two Second Street -
Photo courtesy of John M. Quick

Tortillas and ASU

At my meeting, I was told that the students used to throw tortillas on the field in the early 2000s as a way to celebrate going to the Fiesta Bowl. Since ASU was the Fiesta Bowl, students would take to throwing the edible discs onto the field after every game, as they always played at the Fiesta Bowl. While it makes for a good story, I delved a little deeper to find a different story. Back in 1996, an ASU player by the name of Juan Roque was making a name for himself in collegiate football. He was being compared to the powerhouse Ohio State player (and future NFL linebacker) Orlando Pace. Pace was renowned for something called the “pancake block,” which was said to flatten the defense with its power. Not to be outdone, fans of Roque dubbed his blocks as “tortilla blocks.”

Towards the end of that season’s ASU v USC game, students from ASU began tossing tortillas onto the field. Roque, surprised, asked the fans why they were throwing them. Once the connection was made, the fans gave it life, and tortillas were tossed for a good decade after Roque graduated.

The first tortilla bans were put into place back in 2009 at ASU but many, like myself, who were unfamiliar with the tradition found ourselves scratching our heads at the oddly-specific item on a list of banned goods. A little asterisk with a footnote would help to clarify a lot of things, so in lieu of ASU adding an asterisk, consider this your brief footnote.

Tortillas - Two Second Street -
Photo courtesy of Steve Miller

Tortillas elsewhere

Tortillas have reared their flat corn or flour-based heads elsewhere in college sports. In 1993 at Texas Tech, when a rival Texas A&M quarterback said that Texas Tech was “good for nothing but making tortillas,” students began hurling tortillas on the field to mock his negative statements. University of Arizona, UCSB, and Baylor all have their own tortilla traditions you can read about in this article here, which has a splendid history of the circular treat.

Without this context, the tortilla ban seems very oddly against a certain food item and those who enjoy it. As a Hispanic man, reading the banned list gave me a moment of pause, but now having the knowledge I do, I can chuckle at the foods fabled history at ASU.


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