Last fall, in just its second year of fool-ball, the Arizona Boys Ranch went 9-4 and advanced to the state 3A championship game before losing to Blue Ridge 41-13. Kush, who three weeks later would be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, said before the title game, "This is one of the biggest games of my career."
Odd things happen in the desert. In 1973, Suns center Neal Walk had his club-record streak of 273 consecutive starts snapped when team trainer Joe Proski inadvertently locked him in the bathroom just before the tip-off. "I searched the bathroom, even bent down to look under the stalls," says Proski, "but Neal—and I'm not about to ask a man his size why—had his feet up."
Last year inmates at the Maricopa County Jail in Phoenix began smuggling out prison-issue boxer shorts to be sold. Hard-line sheriff Joe Arpaio reacted by staging his own boxer rebellion: He ordered that prisoners be issued only pink underwear, a move hailed not only by taxpayers but also by Penthouse, which ran six pages on Arpaio. Naturally the pink shorts became even hotter contraband—among inmates and taxpayers alike. So just in time for Christmas, Arpaio started his own little business, peddling the boxers for $10 apiece (proceeds to be donated to charity) and showing up at malls to sign underwear—which, unlike bad-mouthing vegetables, is legal in Arizona.
But then, that was just Joe being Joe.
It was Westphal, the Suns' ex-coach, who coined the phrase "That's just Charles being Charles" as a way to explain the antics of Barkley, the All-Star forward who arrived in Phoenix after a 1992 trade with the Philadelphia 76ers. Now the phrase is an unofficial state motto, used to excuse everyone from Ryan to Arpaio to Dan Brennan, a Flagstaff High football player who last year was suspended from school for a day after eating a mouse on a $72 bet.
Barkley is another example of an odd fit in Arizona: a self-proclaimed " '90s nigger" in a so-called racist state. But just listen: "You know, I never liked fans until I came to Phoenix," says Sir Charles, who is planning to stay after he retires, as many former Suns have done. "But our fans are so giddy about us. Maybe it comes from being in the sunshine all day."
"Remember the day after we lost the ['93] NBA Finals?" says Westphal. "Three hundred thousand people stood outside America West Arena. In June. Three hundred thousand. That's one tenth of the state's population. I doubt that many people have ever been outside in Phoenix at that time of year without being in a pool."
The Arizona sun is too formidable to mention only once. The hottest temperature ever recorded in the state was 128°, in Lake Havasu City on June 29,1994. On that day a robbery suspect, obviously unfamiliar with the 10-Second Test, fled barefoot from Lake Havasu City police and was apprehended when the heat blisters on his feet became too painful to bear.
"For a place that discovered Pluto [at Flagstaff's Lowell Observatory in 1930], Arizona has a love affair with mercury," says Trimble, the historian. "We say, 'It's a dry heat.' Bull! It's blazing! But you'd almost rather die than be known as a whiner."
In 1978 a member of Rush's staff told the 17-year-old Neuheisel that he was not good enough to play football at Arizona State. Neuheisel, who had grown up four miles from Sun Devil Stadium and quarterbacked McClintock High to a state championship, was crushed. Kush had been a boyhood idol of his, but instead of accepting the coach's invitation to walk on at Arizona State, Neuheisel walked on at UCLA. "I'd have had a better chance of playing at ASU," says Neuheisel, "but my pride was wounded."